- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A German man tried to jump into Pope Benedict XVI’s uncovered popemobile as the pontiff began his general audience today and held onto it for a few seconds before being wrestled to the ground by security officers.

The pope was not hurt and didn’t even appear to notice that the man had jumped over the protective barrier in the square and had grabbed onto the white popemobile as it drove by. The pontiff kept waving to the crowd and didn’t even look back.

At least eight security officers who were trailing the vehicle as it moved slowly through the square grabbed the man and wrestled him to the ground.

The man was a 27-year-old German who showed signs of “mental imbalance,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

“His aim was not an attempt on the pope’s life but to attract attention to himself,” Father Lombardi told reporters.

The man, whom Father Lombardi declined to identify, was interrogated by Vatican police and then taken to a hospital for psychiatric treatment, he said.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Vatican has tightened security in St. Peter’s Square when the pope is present. All visitors must pass by police to get into the square, with some walking through metal detectors or being searched with metal-detecting wands.

Nevertheless, virtually anyone can attend the audience. Though tickets are required, they often can be obtained at the last minute — particularly in good weather when the audience is held outside in the piazza.

When the pope uses the popemobile in St. Peter’s, it usually is uncovered; when he travels overseas or outside the Vatican, he usually uses one outfitted with bulletproof glass.

The pope is protected by a combination of Swiss Guards, Vatican police and Italian police.

Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was shot in the abdomen and seriously wounded on May 13, 1981, as he was riding in St. Peter’s Square at the start of his general audience. The gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca of Turkey, was caught and served his sentence in Italy before being transferred to his native land.