Pope's Aide Visits Woman Who Attacked Him

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Pope Benedict XVI's personal aide visited the mentally disturbed young woman who jumped over a barrier and knocked the pontiff down in St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve, a Vatican spokesman said Sunday.

Benedict asked his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, to pay a call on 25-year-old Susanna Maiolo "to show his interest and benevolence," the Rev. Federico Lombardi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Lombardi declined to comment on an Italian newspaper report Sunday that the aide told the woman the pope had forgiven her and gave her a rosary during the Dec. 26 visit.

The visit to the psychiatric clinic in the town of Subiaco near Rome had been made discreetly, and the Vatican hadn't planned on publicly talking about it until the newspaper report appeared, Lombardi indicated.

The spokesman said he didn't want to comment on what might have been said between the papal aide and the Italian-Swiss woman.

"Every Christian pardons," Lombardi said.

He said the Vatican City's magistrates are conducting their own investigation of the Dec. 24 incident. Still to be determined is if the woman, with a history of psychiatric problems, could be held legally responsible for what she did.

Lombardi said it was unclear when the Vatican investigation would be completed.

After scrambling over the barrier separating thousands of faithful from the pope's procession up the basilica's center aisle, Maiolo yanked Benedict's vestments, pulling him down as he walked up the center aisle to celebrate Mass.

The 82-year-old pope, although looking shaken, was physically unharmed and continued on to the central altar to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass at 10 p.m. on Dec. 24. In the commotion, an elderly French cardinal also fell, breaking his hip.

Exactly a year earlier, Maiolo, wearing the same red, hooded sweat shirt, also tried to reach the pope during the Christmas Eve service, but was quietly tackled by security.

Her repeat action this year raised questions about the efficiency of the Vatican's security during public ceremonies.

On Sunday, Benedict appeared from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square to bless thousands of pilgrims and tourists. He renewed his holiday wishes and said hope at the start of the new year doesn't depend on economic predictions.