Holy See Official: Crime at Vatican Running at Biblical Proportions

Think of the most crime-ridden place on Earth and what comes to mind: Sao Paulo, Brazil? Lagos, Nigeria? The Bronx, New York?

Try the Vatican. The small nation-city ruled by Pope Benedict XVI apparently sees more criminal cases per capita than any other part of the world, the German magazine Spiegel reports.

That's according to statistics released by the Vatican's attorney general, Nicola Picardi.

In 2006, the tiny nation's justice department had to contend with 341 civil and 486 criminal cases. With a population of 492, that measures out to 1.5 cases per person — 20 times the corresponding rate in Italy.

Another surprising statistic about the rampant crime in the Vatican is that it exists despite a security force that would put a police state to shame. The seat of the Catholic Church has one Swiss guard for every four citizens, plus museum guards and police assigned to the Vatican by the Italian government.

Picardi said most criminal cases were matters of purse-snatching or pickpocketing. The rest amounted to other petty crimes like fraud and forgery, committed by a handful of the 18 million pilgrims and tourists who visit St. Peter's Cathedral, St. Peter's Square and the Vatican museums every year.

According to the Vatican, about 90 percent of these crimes go unpunished because it is easy for the perpetrators to slip across the border into Italy, which is just a few yards away.

Even if it were able to catch and prosecute every pickpocket, the Vatican would have to send them to Italy to serve out their sentences, since it has no prison system.

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