Written by Harry Porter
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Topics: Pope, Catholic

Thursday, 1 June 2006

image for Swiss Guard Faces Axe from Vatican
The Swiss Guard – facing an end to its 500-year monopoly.

The Swiss Guard may soon be marching out of the Vatican as Pope Benedict XVI revolutionises Catholic Church finances with a sweeping programme of competitive tendering.

Just months after the photogenic Pontifical protectors celebrated their 500th anniversary in Rome, the highly trained unit may have to stand aside and relinquish its monopoly as rival military outfits bid for the lucrative contract.

London 3rd Yeomanry and 1st Battalion The Black Watch from the UK have confirmed their interest as they stand on the brink of dissolution under Prime Minister Tony Blair's military review.

The 600-strong Silesian Parachute Brigade, facing severe cuts in Poland, is also bidding, along with Northern Ireland's Paramilitary Defenders of the Faith, which has thrown its metaphorical bowler hat into the arena, believing its striking orange sashes would be a suitable replacement for the historical Swiss Guard tunics.

It has been confirmed that a crack commando unit from the outlawed Taliban failed to make the shortlist due to poor references.

The role of the Vatican Guard has changed dramatically over the years, from mercenary bodyguard to elite, highly-trained, intelligence gathering service.

Few can match the Swiss Guard's expertise, however troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and the wind-down of operations in Iraq means a glut of military expertise is now hitting the global market.

Monsignor Sefton Delmer, who is overseeing the competitive tendering process on behalf of the Vatican administration, said: "The Swiss Guard has served His Holiness well, and those who have stood in the Shoes of the Fisherman before him.

"Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to the faithful to be prudent with our spending and the Guard must be re-examined to determine if we are receiving best value for money.

"This is no reflection on the Swiss Guard, which is much loved by visitors, and this is just one area that we are putting out to tender.

"CCTV, the Vatican newspaper and even our own postal services are all part of the tendering process."

The Swiss Guard took up its duties in January 1506 after being blessed by Pope Julius II, though an alliance had been made earlier.

While their bright gold, blue and crimson tunics have become recognised the world over, the Swiss Guard was also responsible for the Swiss Army Knife. This was developed in the late 17th century to remove the pulverised flesh of the many weary pilgrims who fell under the hooves of horses as Papal carriages raced through the Vatican.

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