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Pope Francis' open style creates security headache

VATICAN CITY -- Forgive Pope Francis' security team for looking a bit nervous.

One pope was shot in St. Peter's Square while riding in an open vehicle. Another was tackled by a woman with mental problems in St. Peter's Basilica. So in the early days of Francis' pontificate, as the pope delights the flock by wading into crowds and greeting supporters, it's only natural that chief Vatican cop Domenico Giani seems on edge.

Just consider some of Francis' acts of papal outreach, which have all made for a refreshing change from the reserved style of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, but present a huge headache for a security detail attached to one of the planet's most high-profile people.

The day after his election, Francis eschewed the Vatican's armored limousine and traveled through the chaotic streets of Rome in an ordinary car to pick up his things at a downtown hotel.

At his first Sunday Mass as pontiff, Francis caused a stir by mingling with bystanders at a Vatican gate, shaking hands and even allowing himself to be grabbed by the shoulder, all while people jostled to get closer.

Then on inauguration day, Francis stood for nearly 30 minutes Tuesday in an open vehicle that circled the vast square; he kissed babies handed up to him and at one point jumped out to bless and kiss a disabled man in the crowd.

Giani looked particularly worried by the crowd that gathered after the Sunday Mass.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said last week that the Vatican was well aware of Francis' informal and open style and that "proper security measures" would be taken, even if that hasn't happened immediately.

Francis' meet-and-greet manner is reminiscent of John Paul II's open style in his first years as pope. And an iconic event in the earlier papacy brought to light some of the terrifying potential consequences of papal spontaneity. It was 1981 and John Paul had just handed a baby back to her mother, as his open jeep drove slowly through a crowded St. Peter's Square. Shots rang out. The pope crumbled and bodyguards swarmed around him.

The Turkish gunman's assassination attempt left John Paul severely wounded. While he made a full recovery, an era of light security was over.

Benedict's papacy also had its share of scares.

In 2008, a German man jumped on the pope's jeep and had to be wrestled down by a Vatican policeman. Two years later, a woman with a history of psychiatric problems jumped the security barricade in St. Peter's Basilica during Christmas Eve Mass and pulled Benedict to the ground. The pope was uninjured but a cardinal fell and broke his hip.

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