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Sorry gals, but Swiss Guard to stay all-male

The Vatican told women on Tuesday they have no chance of becoming members of the Swiss Guard, the world’s oldest and most colorful mercenary force.
/ Source: Reuters

The Vatican told women on Tuesday they have no chance of becoming members of the Swiss Guard, the world’s oldest and most colorful mercenary force.

The "women need not apply" position was underscored at a news conference unveiling plans for six months of celebrations next year to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the elite corps which protects the Pope and guards the Vatican.

The corps has not seen real battle for centuries and its current commandant, Col. Elmar Mader, made it clear that one battle he did not want on his hands was that of the sexes.

“I can’t imagine that we would open up the Swiss Guard to women,” he said in response to a question, adding that barracks in the Vatican were “small and cramped” and he did not want disciplinary difficulties.

“They are young and I don’t want to enlist problems. I’m not saying that women are not qualified to be in security forces but it is a question of discipline,” he said.

No question of changing uniform
Mader also said there was no question of changing the colorful blue, gold and red Renaissance-style uniform.

“This is the uniform the world recognizes. Changing the uniform of the Swiss Guard would be like changing the meaning of the world,” he said.

Mader was flanked by two ramrod-straight Swiss Guards in full ceremonial uniform, making a rare appearance in the Vatican press room.

One highlight of the celebrations, which run from January to July 2006, will be a 450 mile, 27-day march from Bellinzona, Switzerland to re-enact the Guards’ entry to Rome when Pope Julius II hired them to protect him.

A ceremony on May 6 will commemorate the day in 1527 when 147 Guards were killed in St Peter’s Square defending Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.

They were also involved in minor skirmishes in 1870 when the Church lost the Papal States in the Unification of Italy.

Battlefields aside, the darkest night in the guard’s history was a mysterious murder-suicide in 1998, when young guard Cedric Tornay shot dead commandant Alois Estermann and his wife and then shot himself, according to a Vatican account.

The Vatican said Tornay had acted in a “fit of insanity” because he was passed over for promotion but Tornay’s family has contested some aspects of the Vatican’s version of events.

Today, the guard numbers 110 men, all Catholics who hail from the Swiss Army and have to be at least 5 foot, 9 inches tall to apply for the job.

Apart from concerts, masses and marches, the celebrations in Rome will include special issues of two things for which both the Vatican and Switzerland are famous — stamps and coins.