ROME (AP) — The Holy See said a car driven by a man with apparent mental health problems sped through the gates of the Vatican Thursday evening and into a palace courtyard before police arrested the driver.
Vatican gendarmes fired at the front tires of the speeding car, but the vehicle drove on, the Vatican press office said in a statement late Thursday.
When the car reached the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, the driver got out and was immediately arrested by Vatican gendarmes. The Vatican said the driver was around 40 years old and was in a “grave psychophysical state”. He was imprisoned in the Vatican Palace.
It was unclear if Pope Francis was anywhere near the incident, which happened just after 8pm at Santa Anna Gate, one of the main entrances to the Vatican City State in the center of Rome.
Francis lives on the other side of the Vatican City at the Santa Marta Hotel, where he usually eats dinner and retires to his room. A Vatican statement said the main gate blocking access to the piazza in front of Francis’ hotel was closed after gendarmes sounded the alarm of the intruder.
The incident was a rare intrusion into the city-state, much of which is off-limits to the general public, especially at night.
Visitors can access St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums during business hours, and people can visit the Vatican Pharmacy with doctors’ prescriptions, while other buildings in the enclave require permission to enter.
The Apostolic Palace, which houses the papal residences, main reception rooms, Vatican archives and offices, is guarded 24 hours a day by Swiss guards and gendarmes manning various checkpoints.
This isn’t the first time someone with apparent mental health problems has caused chaos at the Vatican. During the 2009 Christmas Eve Mass, a woman jumped the barrier of St. Peter’s Basilica and attempted to attack Pope Benedict XVI. A cardinal walking in the procession broke his hip in the commotion but was unharmed.