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'Speedy probe' promised for pope attack

Vatican to decide within a week on woman who pushed Benedict

29 December, 14:29
'Speedy probe' promised for pope attack

(ANSA) - Vatican City, December 28 - Vatican authorities promised a ''speedy investigation'' into an attack by a woman who knocked down Pope Benedict XVI during a Christmas Eve Mass to decide whether she should be charged or not.

Susanna Maiolo, 25, has been in a psychiatric hospital since Thursday when she leapt over the railing at St Peter's Basilica to seize Benedict by the collar and drag him to the ground before a holiday crowd of nearly 10,000 faithful.

Though the 82-year-old pope was uninjured in the fall, Maiolo also knocked down Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, who suffered a broken leg.

The Spanish cardinal is said to be in ''good condition'' after an operation to repair his femur.

Maiolo, a dual Swiss and Italian citizen with a history of mental problems, said that she only wanted to touch the pope and hadn't meant to hurt him.

The attack placed the pope's security under intense scrutiny after it came to light that Maiolo made a prior attempt to lunge at Benedict at the Midnight Mass last year, but was restrained by the pope's body guards.

Maiolo is the second person to rush the pope after a German tourist in 2007 jumped the security barrier in St Peter's Square and reached the back of the pope's car before he was brought down by security guards.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict had forgiven the woman and promised leniency in view of her mental history and evident lack of malice.

Lombardi said she would not be charged if shown to be psychologically unstable.

Vatican investigator Nicola Picardi on Monday said he would take ''less than a week'' to review the facts and make a decision.

If she is charged, Maiolo will stand trial in a Vatican court, which could sentence her to jail time to be served in either Switzerland or Italy.

The assault on the pope came less than two weeks after Premier Silvio Berlusconi was hit in the face with a souvenir replica of Milan's Duomo by a man who also had psychiatric problems.

The premier's nose and several teeth were broken in the attack, which he blamed on a climate of hatred fomented by political opponents.

Expressing his solidarity with the pope, Berlusconi said it was ''time to do something about all these lies, extremism and hatred''.

The pope, who made tolerance and forgiveness the keynote of his Christmas address, spoke out against marginalization while lunching with around 150 homeless at a Rome soup kitchen on Sunday.

Though the pope's security has been stepped up, he refused additional measures during the visit, in which he distributed sweets and presents to children and shook hands with their parents.

Papal sources this weekend said the attack would not interfere with the Pope's busy holiday schedule.

Benedict is still expected to deliver a vespers service on New Year's Eve, hold a special mass the next day with another planned for the Epiphany on January 6.

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