ROME — The Vatican has insisted all its employees receive the coronavirus vaccine, threatening to demote or sack those who refuse.
Those who refuse the vaccine “without proven health reasons” make themselves liable to “consequences of different degrees that can reach up to the interruption of the employment relationship,” reads a February 8 decree from Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State.
The decree, made public Thursday, seems to contradict an earlier statement by the head of the Vatican’s health department, Andrea Arcangeli, who expressly said in December that the vaccination will not be mandatory for Vatican workers and residents.
A series of mixed messages regarding the moral obligation of being vaccinated have emerged from the Vatican and other Church structures over the past couple months.
In December, the Vatican’s doctrinal office (CDF) issued a formal instruction on the use of anti-COVID vaccines, in which it declared that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”
The declaration seemed to correct a joint statement issued by Fort Wayne Bishop Kevin Rhoades and Kansas City Archbishop Naumann that said that “being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good” (emphasis added).
Shortly after the CDF released its text saying the vaccine should be voluntary, Archbishop Naumann said he never intended to suggest that there was a moral obligation to get the vaccine.
“The short answer is we don’t have a moral obligation” to do so, Archbishop Naumann told Catholic News Service (CNS) in an interview. The intent of the statement was rather “to show it is permissible to use these vaccines.”
Not long afterward, however, Pope Francis took a very strong pro-vaccine stand in a television interview in which he said that those who don’t want the vaccine are moved by a “suicidal denialism.”
“I think ethically that everyone should take the vaccine,” the pope told Italian journalist Fabio Marchese Ragona. “It should be done.”
“It is not an option — ‘I think so, I don’t think so’ — it’s an ethical choice, because you gamble with your health, you gamble with your life, and you gamble with other people’s lives,” the pontiff declared.
“I don’t know why some people say, ‘no, the vaccine is dangerous,’” Francis continued. “Doctors are proposing it as something that can be helpful and as something without special dangers, why wouldn’t you take it?”
“There’s a sort of suicidal denialism at play that I can’t explain,” he concluded. “Today, you should take the vaccine.”
The pope himself was vaccinated in January and the Vatican has made vaccination mandatory for anyone wishing to travel on the papal plane to accompany Francis on his upcoming visit to Iraq.
In response to complaints and questions concerning the Vatican’s insistence that all its employees be vaccinated, the governorate’s office issued a statement late Thursday defending the measure and denying it infringes on the rights of employees.
It claimed the measure is an urgent response to a public health crisis and reflects the need to protect individual workers and the broader community.
The Vatican decree states that the sanctions applied to those who refuse to get vaccinated should not be seen as “punitive” measures and do not constitute a “repressive” action against workers.
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