Fact Check: Will the Vatican Fire Employees Who Refuse the COVID Vaccine?

The world's smallest country, Vatican City, held the attention of the world Thursday because of a decree that detailed information about coronavirus vaccinations for its employees.

Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) took to Twitter and questioned the directive that same day by writing, "This doesn't sound legal."

That prompted a response from Talking Points Memo Editor Josh Marshall.

"Sir, you are aware the Vatican is a sovereign city state, governed by an absolute monarch?"

Sir, you are aware the Vatican is a sovereign city state, governed by an absolute monarch? It's not governed by American law, let alone wingnut cosplay law.

— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) February 19, 2021

The Claim

Disclose.tv on Thursday posted: "NEW - #Vatican to fire any employee who refuses to get a vaccine shot without a valid medical reason," in a tweet that gained almost 4,000 likes and 2,000 retweets.

NEW - #Vatican to fire any employee who refuses to get a vaccine shot without a valid medical reason.

— Disclose.tv 🚨 (@disclosetv) February 18, 2021

The Facts

The Vatican published a decree on February 8 signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the governor of the Vatican City State.

It outlined coronavirus vaccine measures for Vatican employees and was soon met with online criticism.

The decree stated that employees who opt out of receiving the vaccine, without providing valid medical reason, are at risk of sanctions such as "the interruption of the relationship of employment."

It also said that employees who refuse vaccination would be subject to a 2011 Vatican legislation, which states that refusing to undergo preventive and periodic examinations would bring consequences of varying degrees up to the potential of being fired.

The decree came after a statement from the Vatican in December that read, "practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary."

Shortly after the directive garnered social media attention, the Vatican released a statement by Bertello late Thursday that said the decree is not punitive but "issued to provide an urgent regulatory response to the primary need to safeguard and guarantee the health and well-being of employees, citizens, and residents of Vatican City State."

The statement said certain jobs might require vaccination.

Jobs that service the public, require interactions with third parties and pose risks "to the safety of other employees," were specified as those that might constitute necessary to require vaccinations, according to the Vatican's statement.

It also emphasized the consideration that "any refusal by a person concerned may pose a risk to him or herself, to others, and to the working environment."

Regarding those who refuse the vaccine, the statement said that there will be an "adoption of measures that both minimizes the danger at issue and allows alternative work solutions to be found for the interested party."

It mentioned the decree's reference to the 2011 legislation, stating that this health regulation should be considered a "tool that is neither sanctioning or punitive in nature in any case."

The statement concluded by iterating that these measures are to "allow a flexible and proportionate response while striking a balance between protecting collective health and individual freedom of choice, without being oppressive for the employee."

Vaccines are not mandated for Italian citizens, but the Vatican, as an independent city-state monarchy, is subject to its own laws and regulations.

The Ruling

Mostly False.

The February 8 decree and Thursday statement issued by the Vatican allows for the possibility of employees who refuse the vaccine to be fired on the basis of preventing the spread of coronavirus, but it doesn't require it.

A Vatican employee's job might be compromised if it requires them to come in contact with others.

The Vatican elaborated that there will be an adoption of measures to find alternative work solutions for those who refuse the vaccine.

The statement emphasized that the decree is not a punishment but instead attempts to find a balance in safeguarding the health of their citizens and protecting individual freedoms.

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Pope Francis
Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for his weekly audience on October 21, 2020, in Vatican City. Franco Origlia/Getty