Sacking of Rome: Pope removes head of Vatican's Swiss Guards for being too strict

The Pontiff was shocked recently to find the same guard had been on duty outside his private rooms all night

It’s not easy being a member of the Swiss Guard. There’s the silly uniform to wear, and occasionally you might have to step in and risk your life to save the boss. But now the current Pontiff, “People’s Pope” Francis appears to have done them a favour then by letting their current commander go – he was a bit too strict.

In 1505, Pope Julius II turned to Switzerland for help when he needed new personal guards. Back then, before clocks and wristwatches were big business, the country only had manpower – often in the form of mercenaries – to offer.

Over 500 years later, and true to the Swiss Guard’s origins, it appears the commander, Colonel Daniel Rudolf Anrig, 42, is a bit of a hard nut. Too hard a nut, even, because softly-softly Pope Francis has given him his marching orders for being overly strict and autocratic.

Vatican insiders say the commander’s sacking on Wednesday came as a complete surprise, and so far the Holy See has provided no official explanation.

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The commander of the Swiss Guard Daniel Rudolf Anrig (Getty Images)

But Franca Giansoldati, a Vatican specialist for Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper, said: “From what we have been able to reconstruct, there is a different vision between the Pope who wants relationships inside the Vatican to be humane, brotherly, even paternal.”

“And then, there is the vision of the Colonel who is the colonel of the smallest army in the world, but it is still an army, with very rigid rules, very severe and soldierly.”

The 77-year-old Pontiff was said to have been shocked recently when he emerged one morning from his private suite of rooms to discover that the same Swiss Guard had been on duty outside all night.

When he told the soldier to sit down, the guard reportedly replied: “I can’t, it’s against orders.” Francis said: “I give the orders around here,” and promptly went off to get his exhausted bodyguard a cup of coffee.

The BBC’s veteran Vatican watcher David Willey suggested that the famously-ascetic Pope Francis was also unimpressed by Commander Anrig’s opulent refurbishment of a large and luxurious penthouse apartment for his family above the barracks inside the Vatican where the Swiss Guards are quartered.

 

Col Anrig studied civil and Canon Law in Switzerland before ex-Pope Benedict XVI appointed him commander of the Swiss Guard in 2008. As head of a criminal investigation team in Switzerland, he was investigated by the Red Cross and Amnesty International for alleged human rights violations during a raid he led on an immigrants’ refugee centre in 2003. He denied any wrong-doing. A judge found that police had humiliated the refugees and ordered him to pay £210 in legal costs.

The latest alleged recipients of Mr Anrig’s discipline are still all Swiss but these days they are specially trained soldiers between the age of 19 and 30. They receive a modest salary of €15,600 (£12,350), but it is tax-free and it comes with room and board and the chance of overtime.

The young men have certainly earned their keep in the past. In 1527, when the troops of Emperor Charles V invaded Rome, 147 guardsmen lost their lives in front of St Peter’s Basilica as they bought precious time that enabled Pope Clement VII to escape unhurt. An undercover Swiss Guard  helped shield Pope John Paul II during the failed assassination attempt in 1981.

In 1998, the Guard was engulfed in scandal when one soldier apparently murdered a commander and the man’s wife in what many suspected was a gay love triangle. After the killing, stricter conditions for entry into the Guard were introduced.

In January this year, a former guard told the Swiss newspaper Schweiz om Sonntag how he’d been propositioned and even groped by gay priests at the Holy See. One even invited the young soldier to dinner only to announce that guard would be “served for dessert,” according to the report.

The Vatican has yet to name Anrig’s successor, although the French news agency I.Media has predicted that Col Anrig’s current number two, Christoph Graf, will be appointed.

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