Mutiny is threatened in Vatican's Swiss Guard

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There is mutiny afoot in the Vatican's Swiss Guard, the world's smallest but probably most pampered army.

The focus of discontent at the barracks is what many papal bodyguards see as the heavy-handed policies of the current commanding officer, Colonel Elmar Theodore Mader, who has banned men from holding the traditional year-end parties on the terrace atop their barracks. Even senior officers have been forbidden to give cocktail parties, say Vatican sources.

Ordinary guardsmen are angry that rules preventing them from staying out at night in Rome after midnight are being rigidly applied in the holiday season while Capt Mader himself is frequently out at parties until the early hours of the morning.

One of the halberdiers was angry after discovering that the commanding officer had ordered the confiscation of a crate of wine that admirers of the corps frequently send the soldiers from Switzerland. "We received 25 bottles of good Swiss wine but when we came back from guard duty there were only five left in my room," said the guard. "The other 20 had been seized on orders of the commander, evidently for his own use."

Capt Mader in private remarks has shrugged off suggestions that he might fall foul of mutinous tendencies, claiming that, far from being a martinet, he has a "meaningful dialogue" with his 130 Roman Catholic troops. Many guards would question that, however, complaining of double standards inconsistent with the traditions of sacrifice celebrated this year during ceremonies to mark the 500th anniversary of the corps.