Papal pilgrims complain of ‘police state’ security

Philadelphia Inquirer

LAST UPDATED: Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Retired schoolteacher Matt Cinelli came to Philadelphia to experience the joy of the papal visit.

He was met, he said, by “the confusion and terror of a police state,” one in which edgy National Guard soldiers barked contradictory orders and seemed prepped for confrontation.

“The security did not make me feel safe,” said Cinelli, 56, who grew up Catholic and lives near Reading. “It made me feel like somebody was going to fight me, that there was a combativeness.”

On Monday, hours after Pope Francis left Philadelphia for Rome, people who attended weekend events shared stories of disconcerting encounters with the massive security apparatus erected in advance of the visit. Center City was transformed into a fortress of steel fences, concrete barriers, and armed law enforcement officers from federal, state and local agencies.

Special Agent David Beach of the Secret Service, which was in charge of protecting the pope, said the high level of security was “one of those necessary evils” in staging a large event.

“We’re responsible for the pope’s safety but also the safety of all those attendees,” he said. “I think we were successful in that mission.”

Others disagreed with the tactics to accomplish that.

Austen Ivereigh, author of a definitive papal biography, who covers Pope Francis for news organizations like the BBC, said security in Philadelphia was wildly over the top, beyond the strict measures imposed when three million people saw the pope in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

“If that was excessive,” Ivereigh said, “this was pathological.”

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