Pope Francis removes Swiss Guard chief
The surprise news that Daniel Anrig, who had a reputation for being rigid and “teutonic”, would step down was contained in a four-line notice on L’Osservatore Romano, the Holy See’s daily newspaper.
The 42-year-old father of four was appointed by Pope Benedict in 2008 and his five-year contract had been extended indefinitely.
“The holy father has ordered that Colonel Daniel Rudolf Anrig end his term on 31 January, at the conclusion of the extension of his mandate,” the notice said. The Vatican and the Swiss Guard declined to comment.
Anrig’s removal is the latest example of the pontiff’s efforts to reform the Vatican, including the institution that has protected it since the 16th century – even at a time of heightened security concerns following unspecified threats against the pope.
The pope’s apparent discomfort with the gruelling shifts and strict rules of the Swiss Guard, which were enforced by Anrig, has been evident since his election in 2013. Italian press reports said the pontiff wanted to see a less rigid military corp and one that was less obsessed by rules.
The Argentinian pope is known to relish direct contact with people and has shunned security efforts that would limit his exposure to threats but cut him off from the public.
In a trip to Rio de Janeiro last year, the pontiff’s desire to travel in an open vehicle at a slow speed through throngs of people caused alarm, even among some cardinals watching the spectacle from afar.
When Francis shook hands with one of his guards in October, a moment that was immortalised in a photograph, it was said to have caused a stir because the physical contact was a break in protocol.
Although the Swiss Guard is known for its Renaissance-age uniforms, a note by Anrig on the guard’s website suggests visitors ought not to be fooled by the outfit. Underneath the uniform is “actually a state-of-the-art trained Swiss security professional,” he said.
Just like the Swiss mercenaries of the 16th century, he added, today’s guards understood that “Christ’s church and his vicar on Earth deserve, no demand … to be defended” even if it means sacrificing their lives.
Anrig’s appointment in 2008 stirred controversy after press reports revealed the former Swiss police chief had been involved in an alleged 2003 abuse case in which immigrant prisoners were forced to strip naked before being photographed in degrading positions. A Swiss judge found that there was evidence of abuse but ultimately closed the case because he found that the officers had not acted with malice.
Anrig, who was ordered to pay some of the court fees, denied any wrongdoing at the time of his appointment at the Vatican, saying: “I had an investigative police job to carry out, and that is what I did.”
The commander was again in the news earlier this year when he was credited as a co-author of a Vatican cookbook that included the Argentinian pope’s favourite recipes.
“A soldier can only fight and wage war when he has eaten well, and enough,” Anrig said at a press conference at the book launch.
The pope recently told his security personnel in a special service in their honour that the biggest threat facing the Vatican was not from a bomb or a bullet, but the gossips who “threaten the life of the church and the life of the Vatican every day” as they sow destruction and “destroy the lives of others”.