March 2024 Church & State Magazine - March 2024

Swiss region declines to pay for new barracks for Vatican guards


No free guards: Swiss reluctant to pay for Vatican security (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Political leaders in Switzerland pulled a request to rebuild barracks for the Swiss Guard, who traditionally provide security for the Vatican, after complaints that the money would subsidize religion.

Officials in the Swiss People’s Party, a right-wing populist unit, proposed allocating 500,000 Swiss francs (about $575,000) for renovations of the facility that are expected to reach a cost of $60 million. They pulled back after members of the Green Party objected to the move.

“The sum is not the real issue in this text,” Green Party Parliamentarian Pierre Eckert said. “Although it does not house clergymen, this building is intended for a police force in the service of a religious authority. The Swiss Guard supports the Vatican’s religious services.”

Eckert noted that officials in the Swiss canton of Geneva had issued a legal opinion stating that allocating the funds would be a violation of required religious neutrality.

This is not the first time public funds for the project have been rejected. In 2022, voters in Lucerne Canton overwhelmingly rejected allocating about $400,000 in tax funds for the barracks.

Swiss guards have protected the papacy since 1506, when Pope Julius II requested a contingent of 200 to act as his personal bodyguards. Swiss mercenaries at the time had won a reputation for being fiercely loyal and tough in battle. Julius had admired their work protecting the king of France and brought them to the Vatican. Members of the Guard swear an oath of fealty to the pope.

Today, there are 135 members of the Guard. Although they work with police to protect entry points into the Vatican, they’re also a popular tourist attraction, known for marching in colorful uniforms while brandishing pikes and swords.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now