Vatican 'is in grip of mini crime wave'

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The Independent Online

Long famed as a holy city, the Vatican is also one of the world's most welcoming destinations for petty criminals, it was reported yesterday.

Long famed as a holy city, the Vatican is also one of the world's most welcoming destinations for petty criminals, it was reported yesterday.

With 18 million visitors a year and a resident population of only 500, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church already has one of the highest per capita crime rates on the planet. Worse still, nine out of 10 crimes committed inside the tiny city state in Rome go unpunished.

Most of the incidents - petty thefts, pick-pocketing and vandalism - take place among tourists in St Peter's Basilica, St Peter's Square and the Vatican Museums. But the culprits fade back into the constant crowds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists.

Yesterday a Vatican official complained his city is in the grip of a mini crimewave - which also includes incidences of fraud, embezzlement and insulting the police.

"There is a notable increase in litigation and in the complexity of cases, with consequences internationally and above all for the public," said Nicola Picardi, the chief prosecutor. He was presenting a report to the pontifical court at a ceremony to open the judicial year.

The report said that the Basilica and museums provide a kind of "earthly paradise" for pickpockets, resulting in a per capita offence rate 20 times higher than the rest of Italy. Ninety per cent of the perpetrators are never identified or found.

Even when they are caught, the thieves and vandals rarely face charges because of the bureaucratic complications arising from dealing with foreign citizens.

The last serious crime in the Vatican was in 1998 when a disgruntled Swiss Guard shot dead his commander and the commander's wife before turning the gun on himself.

But there is plenty of opportunity for repentance, should the wrong-doer experience pangs of guilt after the crime as priests hear confessions in St Peter's Basilica from morning to night.

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