Entitled "The Pope's Guardian Angels," published by Utet, the book is the first dedicated to revealing the hidden world of guards, bodyguards and intelligence staff dedicated to protecting the Holy Father and the Vatican.
In this interview with ZENIT, Glauco Benigni director of technological strategies of Italian Public Television (RAI), explains the basics of this system.
Q: To what point can we know who are the Pope's bodyguards, an essentially hidden profession?
Benigni: The Pope's personal security exists on many "levels" and is organized between security at home and security on the road. First of all, it must be clarified that there is both a visible and an invisible level. The members of the first level cannot be described as "secret," though undoubtedly they are "very discreet."
Additionally, those of the invisible level are clearly hidden and, therefore, to speak about them is inappropriate and impossible.
The visible level comprises three large areas. Within the Holy See there are the the Swiss Guards, the Pope's personal bodyguards, and the Vatican Gendarmerie, heir of the Noble Guard and the Palace Guard of the Papal States.
Outside the Vatican walls, in the Italian territory, inspection agents of the Italian police operate, a commando dedicated in particular to the defense of the Holy See.
On the international level, the Pope's security is entrusted to the security corps of the nation to which he travels.
Q: Are there no women? Why?
Benigni: On the visible level, we have always had men due to an old tradition and probably because a certain physical presence is required. On the invisible level, who knows?
Q: How are these men selected?
Benigni: Within the Holy See there are, without a doubt, selection criteria, according to personal reliability and trust. For example, the colonel in chief of the Swiss Guard is appointed personally by the Pope, as is the chief of the present Vatican Gendarmerie.
Outside the Vatican the selection is made by superiors of the Italian Ministry of the Interior, who certainly take into account many factors: requests, indications, experience in the area of close protection of famous men, etc. During trips, the best of the defense corps of the host countries are mobilized.
Q: How many people are we talking about?
Benigni: The total number on the visible level may rise to several dozens of people, but, as I have pointed out, they are not only Italians and they mobilize according to areas of intervention. During some trips, in very difficult territories, in addition to the escort members, thousands and thousands of agents have also been used.
Q: What is their main role? What is their most unknown role?
Benigni: Their most obvious role is to "defend the sacred person from furors and enthusiasm." This definition was formulated at the end of the 15th century and has continued, in some way, in force with the passing of time. Some are also prepared to be human shields in the case of extreme necessity.
Their most unknown role is that of adapting themselves to the different security plans, according to the different information that comes from the many intelligence sources.
Q: Has John Paul II changed the security guard in any way?
Benigni: The great reform occurred in 1970 with Paul VI. With the present Pope, because of the 1981 attack and his many trips, vigilance has been extremely reinforced, especially on the international scale.
Q: Is the Pope worried about his security or does he entrust himself to Providence?
Benigni: According to the information I have had access to, the Pope entrusts himself almost entirely to Divine Providence.