An apparently psychiatric driver escaped Swiss guards on Thursday and drove his vehicle through the Vatican gates and into a palace courtyard before being detained by police, the Holy See said.
The Vatican press office said in a statement that Vatican police personnel shot at the front tire of the car after it drove through the door at high speed, but the vehicle continued on its way.
Once the vehicle reached the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace of San Damaso, the driver got out of the car and was immediately taken into custody by Vatican gendarmes. The Holy See noted that the suspect is approximately 40 years old and presents “a severe state of psychophysical disturbance”. He was kept in custody in the Vatican barracks.
It is currently unknown whether Pope Francis was near the incident, which took place just after 8 p.m. at the Santa Ana Gate, one of the main entrances to the Vatican in the heart of Rome.
Francis lives at the Santa Marta Hotel, at the other end of Vatican City, where he would usually be eating dinner and relaxing in his room. The Vatican statement said the door that blocks access to the square in front of the pontiff’s hotel was locked as soon as gendarmes activated the raid’s alarm.
It is an unusual foray into the city-state, much of which is off-limits to the general public, especially at night.
While visitors can enter St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums during business hours, and those with prescriptions can go to the Vatican Pharmacy, access to other buildings in the city requires a permit.
The Apostolic Palace, which houses the papal apartments, reception rooms, the Vatican archives and some offices, is guarded 24 hours a day by elements of the Swiss Guard and gendarmes who man various checkpoints.
This is not the first time that a mentally ill person has caused riots in the Vatican. On Christmas Eve in 2009, a woman jumped over the barricades of St. Peter’s Basilica and tried to attack Pope Benedict XVI. The pontiff was uninjured, although a cardinal who had been part of the procession suffered a broken hip during the incident.