Heavy Security for Milan Visit by Scandal-hit Pope

By Silvia Aloisi
June 1, 2012

Some 15,000 policemen deployed in Milan on Friday to keep protesters at bay during a visit by Pope Benedict which is unlikely to provide much respite from the worst crisis of his papacy.

The pope, who has expressed sadness and pain over a scandal which exploded last week when his butler was arrested for stealing his private documents, will begin a three-day visit to Italy's financial capital on Friday evening.

Before his arrival, heavy security was in place with snipers on rooftops along his route from Linate airport to Milan's majestic central square in front of its huge gothic cathedral, where the pontiff will greet pilgrims.

Access to the square was to be blocked an hour before his arrival and the nearest underground railway stations closed.

The three-day trip for the seventh World Meeting of Families comes at a difficult time for the pontiff and the crisis is unlikely to be far from his mind or those of pilgrims and onlookers.

He arrives after a turbulent week in which the head of the Vatican bank was fired, his butler Paolo Gabriele was arrested, and a book was published alleging cronyism and corruption in a Vatican riven by conflict between plotting cardinals.

The book reproduced leaked papal documents to back up its allegations of large-scale graft in the awarding of infrastructure projects in the world's smallest state.

Vatican police or gendarmes are scouring the Vatican for more informants but they switched focus on Friday to their more normal task of protecting the pontiff during his trips.

Their chief, shaven-headed former Italian secret service officer Domenico Giani, is expected to break off his extremely rare criminal investigation to jog alongside the popemobile as Benedict's chief bodyguard.

Giani has described the case as tragic.


While the pontiff might have hoped the Milan trip would give him a break from the scandal shaking the top of the Roman Catholic Church, messages posted on Twitter gave a foretaste of the sort of protests he may face in Italy's financial capital.

"The pope's trip is costing 13 million euros, and all they can think about is the butler," said one.

"There are people sleeping in tents or killing themselves because they have no work. Shame on you," said another tweet, referring to thousands of people left homeless by two earthquakes over the past two weeks in northern Italy and the country's deep economic crisis.

A recession and tough government austerity measures have hit Italy's industrial centres in the north particularly hard, with a string of suicides of businessmen in the Veneto region east of Milan.

Leftist groups are organising a protest on Saturday against the "family model" promoted by the Church.

Nevertheless, trip organisers are doing their utmost to take the pope's mind off his travails.

Later on Friday he will attend a concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at Milan's famous La Scala opera house.

The weekend events include a meeting at Milan's San Siro stadium on Saturday with youths who recently received the sacrament of confirmation, and an open-air Mass expected to attract 1 million followers on Sunday.








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