VATICAN CITY - The new barracks of the Vatican Swiss guards will be built to accommodate female members if Pope Francis or his successors allow women to join the elite and colourfully dressed force.
Officials of the Swiss foundation that is raising the estimated 45 million Swiss Francs ($46 million) to replace the current 150-year-old barracks signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vatican's Secretary of State on Wednesday.
"The project includes single rooms with private bathrooms," Riccardo Boscardin, an executive of the foundation, said in the courtyard of the barracks after the signing.
"There are two reasons. One is because COVID hit when the project started and the second is the possibility of integrating women into the guard," Boscardin said.
"But this decision is not ours, but exclusively that of the Vatican and the pope," he said.
The force, whose principal mission is to protect the pope, has been exclusively male since its founding in 1506. The men are all Swiss citizens.
Francis, 85, has named women to a number of senior posts and management positions in the Vatican administration and in March he introduced a landmark new constitution that will allow any baptised lay Catholic, including women, to head most Vatican departments.
The Foundation of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, which supports the guard financially, has already raised about 37 million francs and needs to raise about 7.5 million more, Boscardin told Reuters.
He said work was due to start in January, 2026 so the guards would not be displaced during the 2025 Holy Year, when millions of pilgrims are expect to visit the Vatican.
Because of building restrictions involving historic buildings, the side of the barracks that faces Rome, which surrounds the sovereign Vatican city-state, will be kept or rebuilt exactly as it now.
Constructing a totally new, ecologically friendly and energy-saving building, even if it resembles the old one externally, would cost much less than renovating the existing one, Boscardin said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)