March 24, 2008

There was tension behind the scenes here in Rome throughout Holy Week, as Vatican security and Italian police tried to preempt a possible attack on Pope Benedict”€”and thousands of Christian pilgrims”€”a threat implied in the latest message attributed to Osama Bin Laden. The terrorist leader accused Pope Benedict of leading a “€œnew Crusade”€ against Moslems around the world, and blamed him in part for the republication of cartoons in Danish newspapers which depicted Islam’s founder, Mohammed, in an unflattering light. (Moslems largely consider any depiction of their prophet as an act of blasphemy.)

While the Islamist threat to the Vatican was widely publicized, less attention was paid to the Vatican response. Any attack on the person of the pope or Catholic holy sites would be met by “€œmassive, disproportionate retaliation,”€ warned Monsignor Arcimboldo Bugiardo, Prefect of the Congregation for Armaments, speaking to this reporter behind one of the pillars of Bernini’s famed Colonnade, which surrounds St. Peter’s Square. “€œThese people have no idea who they’re screwing with,”€ he said.

Msgr. Bugiardo would neither confirm nor deny widespread reports that the Vatican city-state has acquired an independent nuclear deterrent—purchased, sources suggest, from Eastern-rite Catholic Ukrainians in 1992, at the insistence of the hawkish Pope John Paul II. “I have nothing to say about that,” the priest said. “I am definitely not saying that under the right circumstances, the dome of St. Peter’s could open up like a missile silo. That is not what I’m saying,” he said.

The 57-year-old Vatican official, himself a veteran of the “€œDraghi”€ unit of the Italian special special forces unit 185° Reg. R.A.O. (a unit trained in desert warfare), declined to offer specifics, but noted that the Vatican’s Secret Archives contains a list of Islamic leaders and holy sites that could be targeted, ranging from Islam’s holiest site, the shrine of the Qaaba in Mecca, and important Sunni imams, all the way down to “€œthose stinky hookah pipe cafes over by Termini.”€ Bugiardo confided. “€œThey could get a lot smokier, if you know what I mean.”€

Teams of Vatican-sponsored commandos are “€œalready in place”€ at many such sites, Bugiardo noted”€”while others are “€œjust a few phone calls away. I call a guy in Naples, he calls a guy in Sicily, he calls a guy in Sardinia”€”do I have to spell this out for you?”€ Bugiardo explained.

On the other hand, Bugiardo disclaimed knowledge of the shadowy “€œdirect-action”€ group of international pro-papal terrorists calling itself “€œAl-Chiesa,”€ which operates in some 43 countries, and has claimed responsibility for dozens of assassinations, and acts of vandalism against coin-operated condom machines in truck stops and discos around the world. “€œWe have nothing to do with those people, do you understand me?”€ Bugiardo averred, holding this reporter by his lapels. “€œWe are a religion of peace.”€


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