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Ex-Swiss Guard head defends leadership style

In this photo, made available Saturday, Pope Francis, left, shakes hands with Swiss Guards' Commander Daniel Anrig during a private meeting at the Vatican Keystone

The head of the Papal Swiss Guard, who officially stepped down from his position on Saturday, has countered media reports that he was too harsh on his troops.

In interviews published in the Swiss press on Saturday, Daniel Anrig said that Pope Francis had simply wanted to bring in “fresh air” by changing who led the guards.

The 110-man Swiss GuardExternal link is on duty 24 hours a day. “This needs strict leadership and the guards understand this,” Anrig said in interviews published in the Tages-Anzeiger External linkand the BundExternal link. He had never received any criticism from his colleagues about being too harsh.

The Pope announced a change to the head of the Swiss Guard in December, the abruptness of the decision prompting speculation of a dismissal of a man seen as many as “too authoritarian”.

Faced with much media speculation, Pope Francis himself took to the press to defend the 42-year-old from St Gallen, saying Anrig had committed “no sin or fault” and said his departure was a “normal change”. 

Anrig told the Swiss newspapers that he had brought in numerous reforms to help the guards, such in training. He also rejected media reports that the flat in which he and his family had lived had been too luxurious.

The Swiss has not spoken much to the media about his departure, his very first comments being published only a few days ago in the Neue Zürcher ZeitungExternal link. There he spoke of his identification with his role, saying that he was “leaving his emotional homeland”.

Guard sends its thanks

On Saturday the Swiss Papal Guard posted its thanks to Anrig on its webiste, as a ceremony was held to mark his departure. It thanked him for his more than six-year tenure and his “faithful and selfless duty” in service of the Pope and his predecessor Benedict XVI.

Anrig had a private audience with the Pope on Friday.

The male guards number about 110 and must be Swiss Catholics. They stand guard at papal ceremonies as well as help to protect the pope, a duty they have been undertaking for more than 500 years. Vatican and Italian police also defend the pontiff.

Anrig’s successor has not yet officially been appointed.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR