Will gender ideology get the better of the traditions of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, an institution almost half a millennium old? This is possible, if we consider the layout of the new barracks intended for the quartering of those who are called upon to watch, night and day, over the person of Peter's successor.
The building should be inaugurated in 2027. This year will be the 500th anniversary of the sacrifice of the 189 guards who heroically protected the flight of Pope Clement VII to the Castel Sant' Angelo.
The future barracks, with funding estimated at 50 million Swiss francs or 46 million euros, includes a wing designed with single rooms and private bathrooms.
“From the start, it was important for us that the new building would provide a space that could be used by women,” admits Jean-Pierre Roth, former director of the National Bank of Switzerland, now head of the Foundation for the renovation of the barracks.
An initiative welcomed by the president of the Foundation of the Swiss Guard, Ruth Metzler-Arnold, who specifies that “as soon as women are admitted, the recruitment potential of the Guard will also increase.” A project that seems to have passed the stage of hypothesis.
To justify a possible revolution in the Swiss elite corps, it is argued that it is difficult to renew the workforce: around thirty new guards enter service each year, against as many departures. Three years ago, Pope Francis decided to increase the number of troops from 110 to 135 soldiers due to the growing security risks.
Openness to women would, according to the promoters of the project, facilitate recruitment which requires the candidate to be Catholic, of Swiss nationality, with no criminal record, to have completed recruitment school and to be in good physical and mental health.
An argument of little weight when you know the Swiss Guards who have never had much trouble, throughout their history, finding motivated recruits from the Swiss Confederation.
However, the final decision to expand the corps of the Pontifical Swiss Guard rests with the Sovereign Pontiff: a member of the Holy See press room traveling with Pope Francis to Hungary and Slovakia, said on September 12 that he was not aware of the project, while another source replied: “we'll see.”
Have they gone too fast? In any case, the embarrassment is such that a clarification was requested: “I was asked about the project to renovate the barracks and I said that the construction project provided for the opportunity to integrate women there since there will eventually be individual rooms,” defends Jean-Pierre Roth on September 13.
He added: “If the Vatican decided to do so, then there would be no problem. But that doesn't mean it will be soon!” he insists, regretting that the press had “created confusion.”
According to him, when the Secretary of State studied the project, he did not comment on this point. What is missing is the crux of the matter: the Vatican is not ready to invest in the project; it is up to the foundation to find generous donors, according to Il Messagero on September 14th.
Basically, everything remains open. When questioned by SonntagsZeitung, a Swiss Guard officer suggested that it was “conceivable” to open up the Guard to women in the future.