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Vatican to review security

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican will review security procedures after a woman jumped a barrier and rushed at Pope Benedict XVI for the second time in two years, this time managing to knock him down before being pulled away by guards, the Vatican spokesman said Friday.

Benedict, 82, wasn't hurt and delivered his traditional Christmas Day greetings in 65 languages from the loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square. While a bit unsteady at first, he also delivered a short speech about the world's trouble spots without problem.

The incident in St. Peter's Basilica raised fresh questions about security for the pontiff, however, after officials said the woman involved had jumped the barrier at the 2008 Midnight Mass in a failed bid to get to the pope. She even wore the same red-hooded sweat shirt.

Italian officials also remarked on the odd similarity of the breach to an assault two weeks ago on Premier Silvio Berlusconi by a man with a history of psychological problems. The attack in Milan broke the premier's nose and two teeth.

The Vatican identified the woman involved in Thursday night's incident as Susanna Maiolo, 25, a Swiss-Italian national with psychiatric problems who was immediately taken to a clinic for treatment. Interior Ministry officials said she lived in Switzerland and the ANSA news agency said she had traveled to Rome specifically for the Mass as she did last year.

In the 2008 case, Maiolo never managed to reach the pope and was quietly tackled by security. During Thursday night's service, she launched herself over the barricade as Benedict walked down the aisle at the start of Christmas Eve service. As security guards wrestled her to the ground, she grabbed onto Benedict's vestments, bringing him down with her.

Virtually anyone can get into a papal Mass: tickets are required but are easy to get if requested in advance. Identification cards are not necessary to gain entrance, although visitors must pass through a metal detector.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said it's not realistic to think the Vatican can ensure 100 percent security for the pope considering he is regularly surrounded by tens of thousands of people for his weekly audiences, Masses, papal greetings and other events.

''It seems that they intervened at the earliest possible moment in a situation in which 'zero risk' cannot be achieved,'' he said.

The Vatican's security officials will nonetheless review the episode and ''try to learn from experience,'' Lombardi told The Associated Press.

It was the first time a potential attacker has come into direct contact with Benedict during his nearly five-year papacy. Security analysts have frequently warned the pope is too exposed in his public appearances, but Lombardi noted that they are a necessary part of the job.

''People want to see him up close, and he's pleased to see them closely, too,'' Lombardi said. ''A zero risk doesn't seem realistic in a situation in which there's a direct rapport with the people.''