Cardinal Parolin Orders All Vatican Vaccine Mandates to Remain in Place

The Holy See has chosen not to follow the lead of many EU countries, including Italy, that are already easing their COVID-19 restrictions.

Swiss Guards take their position in the San Damaso courtyard prior to the arrival of the European Commission president for a May 22 private audience with the Pope.
Swiss Guards take their position in the San Damaso courtyard prior to the arrival of the European Commission president for a May 22 private audience with the Pope. (photo: Andreas Solaro / AFP via Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Despite a steady lifting of COVID-19 restrictions worldwide and the elimination of all rules in some countries, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, has ordered that the Vatican’s tight controls will continue.

In a decree issued April 20, the cardinal said the decision had been taken due to the continuation of the current pandemic situation, which “requires specific extraordinary and exceptional measures to counter it and ensure the safe conduct of activities.” 

He referred to a March 30 order, also published on Wednesday, from the president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State that extended all restrictions until April 30 for personnel and visitors to the small territory.  

The protocol stated that the rules extended to “external collaborators and to those who for any other reason carry out work or training or voluntary activities” in Vatican institutions, as well as “the personnel of external companies and all visitors and users.”

It is not clear why these decrees were published today when they are only valid for 10 more days and the Vatican has yet to publicize future requirements after that date. A Vatican spokesman told the Register on April 21 that the decrees may have been published “out of caution” as the Vatican may be “waiting before further modifying the measures” early next month. 

In spite of no deaths from COVID-19 on Vatican territory being recorded since the emergency was declared in Italy in March 2020, the Vatican implemented at the end of last year some of the strictest anti-COVID-19 rules in the world. 

Since Dec. 23, all staff, external collaborators and visitors have had to show a “Super Green Pass” to enter Vatican territory, meaning they must either be triple vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID-19. 

Failure to obtain a “Super Green Pass” is considered an “unjustified absence” from work resulting in suspension of pay. Limited medical exemptions are granted on a case-by-case basis, but religious exemptions are not allowed. FFP2 or N95 masks are mandatory in all enclosed spaces on Vatican territory. 

Vatican liturgies and papal audiences are not bound by such restrictions, but visitors to the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Gardens, the papal villas and the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo still need to show a recently-obtained negative test to enter. If they’re fully vaccinated (with booster) and/or recently recovered from COVID-19 they can enter, as the Green Pass will apply. 


Italy Ends State of Emergency

News of the decrees published today comes as Italy has been gradually lifting its restrictions and ended its two-year state of emergency on April 1. 

The “Super Green Pass” requirement is still mandated for many leisure venues in the country, including indoor dining, but they are now rarely enforced, while a “Green Pass,” which means showing at least proof of a negative test, is required mostly just for long-distance transportation. Tourists are allowed to show their own proof of vaccination if required. 

Italy has also relaxed its FFP2 mask obligation and is expected to end its mask mandate indoors from May 1. However, despite the lifting of the state of emergency, earlier this month Italy’s health ministry began issuing 100-euro fines to those over 50 who are not yet vaccinated.  

The partial lifting of restrictions has coincided with the continuing incidence of the more infectious but relatively mild Omicron variant of the virus, which has spread through Italy and other countries since late last year. In recent months, despite being triple vaccinated, Cardinal Parolin and his deputy Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra contracted the virus and spent several days in quarantine with mild symptoms. 

On April 20, the German Catholic news agency KNA reported that Benedict XVI’s personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein has had COVID-19 since April 11. Despite being triple vaccinated he remains in quarantine as he continues to test positive for the virus. 

Archbishop Gänswein has assured the faithful that Benedict XVI and all others in the Pope Emeritus’ Mater Ecclesiae residence have tested negative for the virus.

Recent epidemiological data has indicated that while being fully vaccinated provides only partial protection against being infected by the highly infectious Omicron variant, it can reduce the likelihood of death or hospitalization with severe COVID-19 symptoms.