A car driven by someone with apparent psychiatric problems rushed through a Vatican gate Thursday evening and sped past Swiss Guards into a palace courtyard before the driver was apprehended by police, the Holy See said.
The car drove through the Sant’Anna entrance to the Vatican at 8 PM, the Holy See press office said in a statement. After initially being turned away by the Pontifical Swiss Guard, the car left the gate and then returned at a high speed, “forcing his way through the two control gates,” the statement said.
In an attempt to stop the car, one of the Gendarmarie inspectors guarding the gate fired at the car’s front tires. The car didn’t stop, even though the bullet made contact with its front left fender.
The driver was arrested after voluntarily exiting the car in the San Damaso courtyard. Two guards immediately arrested the 40-year-old man. He was subsequently examined by doctors at the Directorate of Health and Hygiene of the Vatican City State, who found him to be in “a serious state of psychophysical alteration,” the statement said.
It wasn’t clear if Pope Francis was anywhere near the incident, which occurred after 8 p.m. at the Santa Anna gate, one of the main entrances to the Vatican City State in the heart of Rome.
Francis lives on the other side of Vatican City at the Santa Marta hotel, where at that hour he would normally be having dinner and retiring to his room.
The incident was a rare incursion into the city-state, much of which is off-limits to the general public, especially at night.
While visitors can access St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums during business hours, and people with doctors’ prescriptions can go to the Vatican pharmacy, permission is required to get into other buildings in the enclave.
The Apostolic Palace, which houses the papal apartments, key reception rooms and offices, is guarded around the clock by Swiss Guards and gendarmes who man various checkpoints.
It’s not the first time that someone with apparent psychiatric problems caused a disturbance at the Vatican. During a 2009 Christmas Eve Mass, a woman jumped the barricade of St. Peter’s Basilica and tried to attack Pope Benedict XVI. He was not harmed, though a cardinal walking in the procession broke his hip in the ruckus.