The crowds of tourists in St. Peter's Square are a target for pickpockets.

Crime in the Vatican City consists largely of purse snatching, pick-pocketing and shoplifting perpetrated by tourists upon other tourists.[1] The tourist foot-traffic in St. Peter's Square is one of the main locations for pickpockets in Vatican City.[2]

Petty crimes per capita[edit]

The Vatican's extremely small size results in a few statistical oddities. There are 18 million visitors[3] to the state each year, and the most common crime is petty theft — purse snatching, pick-pocketing and shoplifting — typically perpetrated and suffered by outsiders.

Based on a population of 455 in 1992, the 397 civil offences in that year represent a crime rate of 0.87 crimes per capita, with 608 penal offences or 1.33 per capita.[1]


Police forces[edit]

The Corpo della Gendarmeria dello Stato della Città del Vaticano (English: Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City State) is the gendarmerie, or police and security force, of Vatican City and the extraterritorial properties of the Holy See.[4]

The corps is responsible for security, public order, border control, traffic control, criminal investigation, and other general police duties in Vatican City including providing security for the pope outside of Vatican City. The corps has 130 personnel and is a part of the Security and Civil Defence Services Department (which also includes the Vatican Fire Brigade), an organ of the Governorate of Vatican City.[5][6]

The Pontifical Swiss Guards are in charge of protecting the Pope and the Apostolic Palace.[7][8]

Cooperation with the Italian government[edit]

In accordance with article 3 of the 1929 Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, St. Peter's Square, although part of the Vatican City State, is normally patrolled by the Italian police, up to but not including the steps leading to the basilica.[9]

Article 22 of the Lateran Treaty provides that the Italian government, when requested by the Holy See, seeks prosecution and detention of criminal suspects, at the expense of the Vatican.[9]

The Vatican has no prison system, apart from a few cells for pre-trial detention.[10] People sentenced to imprisonment by the Vatican serve time in Italian prisons, with costs covered by the Vatican.[11]

Abolition of capital punishment (1969)[edit]

In 1969, the Vatican state abolished capital punishment. It had been envisaged in legislation the Vatican adopted in 1929 based on Italian law, but the power was never exercised.

Establishment of Head Prosecutor (2020)[edit]

On March 16, 2020, Pope Francis made public legislation which requires a head for the Office of the Promoter of Justice (prosecutor's office), and sets out a standardized procedure for possible disciplinary action against certified advocates.[12]

Notable incidents[edit]

Assassination attempt[edit]

A few major criminal events have occurred in recent decades within Vatican territory. On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II suffered an assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Ağca. This episode led to a much stronger emphasis on the Swiss Guard's functional, non-ceremonial roles. This has included enhanced training in unarmed combat and small arms. The small arms are the same as those used in the Swiss army.

Swiss Guard killing[edit]

On May 4, 1998, the Swiss Guard experienced one of its greatest scandals for over 100 years when the commander of the Guard, Alois Estermann, was murdered in unclear circumstances in Vatican City. According to the official Vatican version, Estermann and his wife, Gladys Meza Romero, were killed by the young Swiss Guard Cédric Tornay, who later committed suicide. Estermann had been named commander of the Swiss Guard the same day.

Vatican Bank scandal[edit]

The Vatican Bank was Banco Ambrosiano's main shareholder. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Institute for Religious Works from 1971 to 1989, was indicted[citation needed] in Italy in 1981 as an accessory in the $3.5 billion collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, one of the major post-war financial scandals. Banco Ambrosiano was accused of laundering drug money for the Sicilian Mafia.

Theft of secret documents[edit]

The Vatican leaks scandal[13][14][15] is a scandal involving leaked Vatican documents, allegedly exposing corruption.

The scandal first came to light in January 2012, when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published letters from Carlo Maria Viganò, formerly the second-ranked Vatican administrator to the pope, in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions in higher contract prices. Viganò was later named Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. Paolo Gabriele, the papal butler, was indicted by Vatican magistrates on 13 August 2012 for aggravated theft.[16]

On 6 October, Gabriele was found to be guilty and was sentenced to a reduced sentence of 18 months. Gabriele was also ordered to pay legal expenses.[17][18]

However, in a departure from the usual arrangement that sends convicted prisoners to serve time in an Italian prison, Gabriele served his sentence in a detention cell inside the Vatican police barracks.[19] He was pardoned by Pope Benedict XVI on 22 December 2012.[20][21]

Sex abuse trial[edit]

On 14 October 2020, the first-ever criminal sex abuse trial held within the Vatican City began, and involves a priest accused of sexually abusing a former St. Pius X youth seminary student between 2007 and 2012 and another for aiding and abetting the abuse.[22][23][24] The accused abuser, Rev. Gabriele Martinelli, 28, was a seminarian and has since become a priest.[24] The other defendant is the seminary's 72-year-old former rector Rev. Enrico Radice, who is charged with aiding and abetting the alleged abuse.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Vatican crime rate 'soars'". BBC. January 8, 2003. Retrieved 2007-11-28.
  2. ^ ""Vatican surpasses all nations... in pickpockets?", Rome Reports, 14 February, 2011". Archived from the original on 2012-11-15. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  3. ^ ""Unique Vatican court system tackles petty to serious crimes", Catholic News Service, May 30, 2012". Archived from the original on October 4, 2012. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  4. ^ Il personale del Corpo garantisce la sicurezza e l'ordine pubblico anche nelle zone extraterritoriali di proprietà della Santa Sede. (The Corps also guarantees the security and the public order within the extraterritorial properties of the Holy See). In: "Corpo della Gendarmeria" (in Italian). Stato della Città del Vaticano. Archived from the original on 2012-12-25. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  5. ^ "Gendarme Corps". Office of the President of Vatican City State. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
  6. ^ "Administrations and Central Offices". Office of the President of Vatican City State. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
  7. ^ "The Swiss Guard - Duties". Archived from the original on 2003-12-07.
  8. ^ "What does the Swiss Guard actually do?". 6 June 2007.
  9. ^ a b "Patti Lateranensi". Archived from the original on 13 August 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  10. ^ How Does Vatican City Deal With Criminals? Slate. 30 May 2012. Retrieved on 18 April 2013.
  11. ^ "Is the Vatican a Rogue State?" Spiegel Online. 19 January 2007. Retrieved on 25 August 2010.
  12. ^ "New law for Vatican City responds to current needs - Vatican News". 16 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Pope's butler vows to help Vatican scandal probe". 2012-05-28. Retrieved 2012-05-29.
  14. ^ "Vatileaks: Hunt is on to find Vatican moles". The Independent. 2012-05-28. Retrieved 2012-05-29.
  15. ^ "'Vatileaks' scandal widens as pope's butler vows to help investigators". The Guardian. 2012-05-28. Retrieved 2012-05-29.
  16. ^ Wooden, Cindy (13 August 2012). "Vatican magistrates order trial for papal assistant accused of theft". Catholic New Service. Archived from the original on 14 August 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  18. ^ Lombardi: Papal pardon for former butler possible
  19. ^ Willey, David (26 October 2012). "Who, what, why: What's it like to be a prisoner of the Vatican?". BBC. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
  20. ^ "Pope Benedict pardons former butler Paolo Gabriele". BBC News. 22 December 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  21. ^ NEWS.VA: Papal visit and Christmas pardon for Paolo Gabriele
  22. ^ Two priests accused in Vatican's first sexual abuse trial, BBC news, 14 October 2020.
  23. ^ Povoledo, Elisabetta (14 October 2020). "Vatican Puts Priests on Trial over Alleged Abuse within Its Walls". The New York Times.
  24. ^ a b c "Vatican Court Hears Unprecedented Sexual Abuse Criminal Trial". NPR.