Pope Francis dismisses head of Swiss Guards

Pontiff believes that Colonel Anrig is too strict

Pope Francis will not renew the appointment of the commander of the Swiss Guards, Colonel Daniel Anrig, when his contract expires on 31 January 2015, according to a report on the front page of the Vatican daily newspaper L'Osservatore Romano on 3 December.

Apparently the pontiff is unhappy at Anrig's excessively strict, authoritarian style. 
It is also believed that Pope Francis was not impressed with Anrig's refurbishment of a luxurious penthouse apartment for his family above the Swiss Guards' barracks in the Vatican.

Anrig, a 42-year-old father of four, is a former head of the criminal branch of a Swiss police force and served as a Swiss Guard at the Vatican from 1992 to 1994. Anrig will leave the Vatican after eight years in his current role, and will likely be replaced by his deputy Christoph Graf. Anrig was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and had his mandate extended by Pope Francis shortly after the pontiff's election in March 2013.

Over the last year and a half Pope Francis has built up a friendly rapport with the Swiss Guards – many of whom he knows by name – and apparently he wants the force to be less militaristic and more “brotherly”. In May this year, during the swearing-in of 30 new Swiss Guards, Pope Francis noted that the force should be known for its "spirit of hospitality, kindness and an attitude of charity towards all."

Colonel Anrig's dismissal is viewed as a continuation of the Argentine pope's ongoing reform of how the Vatican is run. Since his election the pontiff has replaced the former secretary of state Cardinal Bertone, three other members of the commission of cardinals, and the entire board of the Vatican's financial watchdog. In March this year he permanently removed the bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, better known in the press as the “bishop of bling”, over his €31 million construction of a private residential complex in Germany.

Recently Pope Francis removed the conservative and influential American cardinal Raymond Burke, who is known to be critical of some of the pope's reforms, from his post as head of the Vatican's highest judicial authority to a largely ceremonial post as cardinal patron of the chivalric religious order, the Knights and Dames of Malta.

The Swiss Guard is the oldest standing army in the world and celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2006. The guards must be male and of Swiss nationality, as well as being Catholic, unmarried and aged between 19 and 30. They must also have undergone intensive Swiss military training and be a minimum height of 174 cm.

In addition to protecting the pope, the army performs ceremonial duties and assists at Vatican functions, and soldiers serve for between two and 25 years.

There are currently 110 guards in service. In recent years recruiting new guards had presented difficulties but the popularity of Pope Francis has triggered a boost in numbers applying.

The Swiss Guards became embroiled in a scandal 16 years ago when their commander Alois Estermann and his Venezuelan wife were assassinated in their home on Vatican territory on 4 May 1998. They were murdered by a young Swiss Guard, Cédric Tornay, who then killed himself, according to the official Vatican reports. Formerly the guards’ acting commander, Estermann had been installed in his new position earlier the same day. Mystery still surrounds the case which has led to numerous conspiracy theories.

Photo Reuters