On Thursday, the Vatican moved to explain a decree that seemed to suggest Vatican employees could be fired if they did not get a COVID-19 vaccination — unless the refusal was due to significant health reasons.
The Vatican received criticism on social media for the February 8 order. The decree came from Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the governor of Vatican City. It reportedly said that “getting a vaccine was ‘the responsible choice’ because of the risk of harming other people,” according to a report from Reuters.
Vatican City is reportedly 108 acres and the world’s smallest state. It has several thousand employees, most of whom live in Italy. Its vaccination program started last month, and Pope Francis, 84, was one of the first people to get vaccinated.
The decree in question stated that employees who do not get the vaccine because of specific health issues could be given another job, “presumably where they would have contact with fewer people,” but they would still receive the same pay as their previous job — “even if the new post is a demotion.”
However, the directive also said that anyone who refused the vaccine who did not have a health reason would be subject to a provision in a 2011 law that has to do with employee rights and duties.
According to Reuters, the article in the aforementioned law “says employees who refuse ‘preventive measures’ could be subjected to ‘varying degrees of consequences that could lead to dismissal.'”
After media outlets reported on the decree on Thursday, Italians called it out on Twitter. Some reportedly said that it was the opposite of “Pope Francis’ general call for mercy.”
Pope Francis has come out very strongly in favor of the coronavirus vaccines. In early January, he did an interview with Italy’s TG5 news program. He said, “I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine. … It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.”
“I do not understand why some say that this could be a dangerous vaccine,” said Francis. “If the doctors are presenting this to you as a thing that will go well and doesn’t have any special dangers, why not take it?”
Fox News pointed out that the provisions in the Vatican’s directive “go well beyond the generally voluntary nature of COVID-19 vaccinations in Italy and much of the rest of the world. The Vatican is an absolute monarchy in the heart of Rome that operates independently of Italian law and Italian labor protections.”
Some Catholics and other religious people have expressed concerns about the vaccines “because some of the ones available were indirectly connected to research that used aborted fetal cells.” However, the Vatican’s doctrine office has decided that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to get vaccinated.
In December of last year, the Vatican put out a statement on the topic, saying (some formatting adjusted):
…all vaccinations recognised as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.
It should be emphasized, however, that the morally licit use of these types of vaccines, in the particular conditions that make it so, does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines.
On Thursday night, after receiving backlash from the order, Bertello’s office issued a statement.
According to Reuters, it said that “alternative solutions” would be found for people who do not want to get vaccinated.
The statement also said that the reference to the article in the 2011 law which specifically referred to the dismissal of employees should not be seen as “sanctioning or punitive” and that “freedom of individual choice” would be respected.