The Deacon's Bench

Could one of the most famous all-male bastions at the Vatican be ready to welcome women into the ranks?


The Vatican’s Swiss Guards will swear in 32 new recruits Wednesday amid suggestions from their new commander that women might one day join their ranks.

Col. Daniel Anrig said Tuesday he was open to the idea of women serving in the elite, 500-year-old papal security force, reversing the long-held position of his predecessors.

“Personally, I could imagine it for one job or another, surely,” Anrig told private Mediaset television. “One could think about it.”
He acknowledged there might be logistical problems, since the Vatican barracks housing the Swiss Guards are already crowded. “Sure, there could be problems, but every problem can be resolved,” he said.

The housing crunch has long been cited by previous commanders as the reason why women couldn’t join.
Anrig, a former Swiss police commander with a degree in civilian and church law, was tapped by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Swiss Guards last August.

The 110-strong force provides ceremonial guard duty, assists at Vatican functions as well as helps to protect the pope. The guards are ubiquitous around the Vatican, in their trademark blue-and-gold uniforms, halberds and crimson-plumed helmets.

Currently, each recruit must be a Catholic male, between the ages of 19 and 30, have completed mandatory Swiss military service, have an impeccable reputation and agree to sign up for at least two years.

On Wednesday afternoon, 32 new recruits will join their ranks in an elaborate swearing-in ceremony in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. The ceremony is held each May 6 to commemorate the 147 Swiss Guards who died protecting Pope Clement VII during the 1527 Sack of Rome.

During the ceremony, the new recruits raise three fingers and swear to uphold the Swiss Guard oath to protect Benedict and his successors “and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them.”

The Swiss Guards were founded by Pope Julius II in 1506.

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