Pontiff forgives attacker, but Vatican pursues legal case against her

By staff writers
January 14, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI has met with and forgiven the mentally disturbed woman who knocked him over at Mass on Christmas Eve. But the Vatican says that it is still intending to pursue its legal action against her.

What many will regard as a strange disjuncture between profession and practice emerged yesterday, as reports came out that Susanna Maiolo had told the pontiff she was sorry for what she had done, and he in turn had expressed personal concern and sympathy for her.

The woman and her family met Pope Benedict in a private encounter at the end of his general audience on 13 January 2010, spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi said in a media statement. But he also revealed that a judicial case opened against her would still run its course in a Vatican court.

Ms Maiolo, a Catholic, has been under compulsory clinical treatment, but was released on 9 January.

When the Vatican prosecutor has all the information about the case, including a medical evaluation, he can recommend acquitting her of any crime, handing her over to Italian or Swiss authorities, or handing down a sentence, Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said at the end of last year.

The Vatican's powers in this regard flow from its status as a city-state, and mean that effectively, spiritual and temporal power is being elided along the lines of the Christendom settlement between church and governing authority.

However, many other Christians feel that seeking to resolve disputes of this kind in court is inappropriate and goes against the teaching of Jesus to his followers in the gospels. The Vatican will therefore come under pressure to grant clemency, and to match the Pope's words of forgiveness with generous action towards a distressed woman.

During the private meeting, Benedict is said to have inquired about Ms Maiolo's health and "wanted to demonstrate his forgiveness".

On 24 December 2009 she leapt over a barrier at St Peter's Basilica and brought the 82-year-old Pope to the ground at the beginning of Mass. She was swiftly restrained and the pontiff, who was not injured, proceeded with the liturgy.

It is not known whether the Vatican has sought advice about mediation instead of legal resolution, or if it has considered restorative justice options.

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