US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Former Swiss Guard alleges he received unwanted advances from clergy

By Eric J. Lyman | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

c. 2014 Religion News Service

ROME (RNS) A former member of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard said he received more than 20 “unambiguous sexual requests” from members of the clergy—many of them high-ranking—while serving as part of the Holy See’s 110-member elite security force.

The detailed interview appeared Monday (Jan. 6) in the latest edition of the Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Soontag, which also quoted Urs Breitenmoser, a Swiss Guard spokesman, as saying a rumored secret gay network in the Vatican “was not a problem.” The Vatican did not immediately issue a comment about the claims.

The interview was big news across Italy and Switzerland, which has exclusively provided the Vatican with members of the Swiss Guard since 1506. The former guard, who was unnamed, reported receiving sexual advances from priests, bishops, a member of the powerful Vatican Secretariat of State, and at least one cardinal.

“One night, after midnight, I received a call on my mobile phone,” the former guard told the newspaper. “The person on the other end said he was a cardinal and he asked me to come to his room.” In another case, the former guard reportedly said a priest invited him to dinner, saying the guard himself would serve as dessert. He also reported he once found a bottle of whiskey along with a calling card from an influential bishop, and he said he was fondled by clergy many times.

He said he reported the unwanted attention to his superiors, but was told he misunderstood the conversations, which he said took place in Italian, a language the guard conceded he did not speak fluently. The man served in the Swiss Guard during the papacy of John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 to 2005. He did not say why it took him so long to disclose the allegations.

The Swiss Guard, best known for their colorful uniforms, are charged with the pope’s security. Started in 1506 by Pope Julius II, members must be Swiss citizens, unmarried men between the ages of 19 and 30, and of a “good moral ethical background.”

A year ago, in the final months of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, reports circulated of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican. Benedict commissioned a special investigation, and the findings were passed on to Francis but never publicly released.

Allegations of homosexuality within the Swiss Guard and between members of the unit and clergy have arisen occasionally in the past. The most significant was from 1998, when a commander and his wife were gunned down by a member of the guards, who then turned the gun on himself. The scandal was widely reported to have been the fallout of a secret affair between the two men.