A Swiss Commandant Departs

In an unexpected decision, the current head of the Swiss Guard was dismissed. Why?

Commandant Anrig in 2011 during a press conference.

Commandant Anrig in 2011 during a press conference.

On the front page of the Tuesday, December 2, edition of L’Osservatore Romano newspaper, in the popular column known as Nostre Informazioni (“Our Information”), readers learned that “the Holy Father has arranged for the end of the term of office of Colonel Doctor Rudolf Anrig, Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard Corps, effective January 31, 2015, at the conclusion of the extension conceded after his five-year term.” This short piece fell like a bomb on the Swiss bishops. They were in Rome for their ad limina visit, and had not been informed of it by the Pope, even though he had met with them for two hours the previous day. There was a general feeling of surprise and bewilderment, and not only on the part of the Swiss prelates.

Who is Anrig? He was born 42 years ago in Walenstadt, in the canton of St. Gallen, and graduated from the University of Freiburg, in utroque jure, in 1999. He was Chief of Criminal Police, and then Chief of the entire corps, in Canton Glarus, and on August 19, 2008, he was named by Benedict XVI as the 34th Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard (GSP). (Anrig had already served as a halberd-bearer for the Guards, from 1992 to 1994.) His five-year term as Commander had expired on August 19, 2013. Pope Francis granted him an extension (which had also transpired for other high Vatican positions). But Anrig wasn’t reconfirmed for another term (contrary to many others on the “extended” list).

Why was Anrig removed? Much has been said, and it is hard to sift through the information, to arrive at the truth. Still, it is valid to see Anrig’s removal through the lens of the rivalry in the field of papal security between the Swiss Guard and the Vatican Police. This is no new rivalry, but with Pope Francis’ election, tensions have increased.

There are two main reasons for this. First: the new Pope has chosen to reside at the Dom­us Sanctae Marthae, which is “territory” of the Vatican Police (while the Apostolic Palace falls under the Swiss Guard). Second: the Vatican Police, trained mainly by experienced ex-officers of the Italian police, would seem more capable of responding to today’s secur­ity threats. The Swiss Guard is made up of a majority of “drafted soldiers,” many of whom are quite young, and who have less experience in that specific area.

Anrig was aware of this trend, that the Swiss Guards were facing the possible loss of its privileged position as the personal defenders of the pontiff. It has been documented that many times Anrig argued this point forcefully within the Vatican Administration, but he never received any satisfactory replies.

Pope Francis himself has shown on different occasions that he doesn’t thoroughly appreciate the forcedly strict military discipline imposed on the Guards (in his first days as Pope, it bothered him to have them at his door; later, he showed a certain disapproval on his visit to their headquarters). In his speech to the Guard on May 5, 2014, he called attention to their colorful uniforms, reminding them that “it is not the uniform, but the person wearing it, who should make an impact on others, in terms of kindness, spirit of welcoming, and an attitude of charity towards everyone.” The next day, when Anrig made his own speech on the occasion of the new Guards’ Oath of Allegiance, he showed a preference for different qualities: with a vehement tone, he stated, “It is not money, nor fun, nor consumerism that enrich life, but rather dedication and sacrifice. Where is it that you have heard talk of sacrifice? In your education, in your scholastic or professional formation, on television or the internet? Let me provoke you: you haven’t heard about it anywhere!”

Lately there is a growing suspicion that Francis intends to transform the Guard into a corps more geared toward tourists than defending the Sacred Palaces. Is this suspicion well-grounded? It is true that Anrig seems to have taken it into serious consideration. When offered the chance to accept a consensual breach of his service contract, he refused, preferring to be sent away, “dismissed.” And so it was. He was dismissed with that short, blunt ar­ticle in L’Osservatore Romano which makes not the slightest mention of thanks or appreciation for the professional qualities he showed during his years of service.

Later it could be read, in the press, that Anrig had been “too strict,” that he was a bit “conceited,” or that he had “spent too much” for renovating the Commander’s apartment (he does, after all, have four children). In essence, these are molehills and not mountains.

On December 20, two Swiss citizens, one an ex-Guard, launched an online petition asking the Pope to officially reaffirm his faith in the Guard, and criticized the manner in which Anrig had been dismissed. The petition collected only 340 signatures in three weeks. The Central Committee of the Association of ex-Swiss Guards took a critical stance, calling it “Unnoetige Petition, ja kontraproduktiv” (a useless petition, actually counterproductive). In the end, it was withdrawn.

Now a new Commander needs to be found. Will it be Christoph Graf (with 27 years’ experience in the Guard) or someone from Switzerland? This latter hypothesis isn’t to be excluded, but — after what happened to Anrig, who, incidentally, had to move away halfway through the school year — the search may not be easy.

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