How Will the Vatican Enforce the Anti-COVID ‘Green Pass’?
Spokesman Matteo Bruni was unable to confirm whether it would be needed for public papal events. ‘I think certain decisions are still being made,’ he told the Register Sept. 20.
VATICAN CITY — Details remain unclear on how the Vatican will enforce an anti-COVID “green pass” for staff, residents, and visitors ahead of its implementation on Oct. 1.
According to a decree signed on Sept. 18 and published on Monday, entry into Vatican territory will only be allowed for those in possession of a digital “green pass” certificate attesting to a “state of vaccination” against COVID-19, recent recovery from the virus or a negative test.
The pass will apply to “citizens, residents of the State, personnel serving in any capacity in the Governorate of Vatican City State, in the various bodies of the Roman Curia and related institutions, and to all visitors and users of services.”
The decree, signed by the outgoing president of Vatican City State, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, was issued on the express instruction of Pope Francis following a private audience with the cardinal on Sept. 7.
The decree states that during the audience, Francis “affirmed it is necessary to ensure the health and well-being of the working community while respecting the dignity, rights and fundamental freedoms of each of its members.” He therefore requested the Governorate — the administrative office of Vatican City State — to “adopt every suitable measure to prevent, control and counteract the health emergency” in Vatican territory.
The digital certificate, which can include the “European COVID Pass,” has only one exemption so far: for those wishing to attend liturgical celebrations at the Vatican. They will be allowed to access a liturgy only “for the time strictly necessary for the conduct of the rite,” the decree states, while also following social distancing and masking rules.
Beyond the stated intention to have the Vatican Gendarmerie corps carry out the controls, it remains unclear how exactly the digital certificate will be enforced. One frequently asked question is whether the pass will be needed to attend the Pope’s weekly general audience on Wednesday or his Angelus address on Sundays.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni was unable to confirm whether it would be needed for public papal events starting Oct. 1. “I think certain decisions are still being made,” he told the Register Sept. 20. “We’ll have to wait to know more.”
Another question is whether other groups might be exempted from the new pass for medical, religious or other reasons of conscience. Since the vaccines became available earlier this year, some of the faithful have refused them because they are abortion-tainted, while others are hesitant because of safety concerns over their experimental nature and the fact that the inoculations have reportedly had harmful side-effects in a minority of cases.
Bruni pointed out that there are “no exemptions mentioned in the text” of the decree and so it was unclear if there would be such allowances in the future, but he noted that “if necessary, the green pass can also be obtained by suitable testing.”
The Italian government, which imposed its own “green pass” beginning in early August, recently extended the valid time period after obtaining a negative test from 48 to 72 hours, but the Vatican decree gave no details on how recently those tests would have to have been made. Each individual coming to the Vatican for work or a visit, must also bear the burden of the test’s expense, amounting to roughly $20-$25 each, and which may be required for many months.
A further unanswered question is whether sanctions will be imposed on those who try to enter the Vatican without a pass. From Oct. 15 in Italy, all employees are liable to a fine of up to $1,800 or suspension without pay if entering a workplace without the requisite certificate.
The Vatican decree did not specifically mention what kind of sanction could be applied but referred to a 2008 law promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI. Article 9 of that document states that an offense against “the safety of persons or things” can be liable to a fine of up to €3,000 ($3,500) or a “prison sentence of up to six months,” or “alternative sanctions where appropriate.”
Few Cases Reported
Since COVID-19 began to spread across Italy in February 2020, the virus has been relatively inconsequential for the Vatican City State. It has reported zero deaths within its jurisdiction out of a total of 27 reported cases. Its last reported case was in October 2020, pointing to the possibility that current measures might already be sufficient.
Vaccine passports are not universally accepted by the general public, and in Italy and elsewhere they have been met with widespread protests. The Vatican had also already tried but failed to enforce a harder mandate in February, but in the face of a media outcry, the Governorate had to walk back its “no jab no job” decree. The ruling initially implied vaccinations would be mandatory and that Vatican employees could lose their jobs if they refused to get a COVID-19 vaccination without a legitimate health reason.
The latest measure is consistent with Francis’ firm push for universal vaccination.
Earlier this year, he called inoculation against COVID-19 “an ethical obligation” and said opposition to it amounted to “suicidal denial.” He has yet to fully mandate the vaccines in the Vatican, consistent with a December 2020 note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that stated vaccination as a rule is “not a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” He is nevertheless keen to persuade the faithful to take the vaccine, telling reporters on the plane back from Slovakia last week that “everyone in the Vatican is vaccinated except a small group that we are studying how to help.”
In a Sept. 21 article, the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire called the Pope’s decision to mandate a Vatican green pass “a further step in the fight against the prevention of the virus, and a clear invitation to join the vaccination campaign.”
It also pointed out that Pope Francis had recently “defined vaccination as an ‘act of love’ in a video message to the people of Latin America.”
The Register asked Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, who will replace Cardinal Bertello as president of the Vatican City State on Oct. 1, if he could answer questions regarding the decree on the vaccine passport but he had not responded by press time.