The pontiff did not don a mask during his weekly address at the Vatican, only a day after his staff told reporters that they are “working” on convincing the Catholic leader to follow Covid-19 safety protocols and saying he “has started to use the mask now.”
However, despite Francis being at high risk of a serious infection if he contracted the virus – as an 83-year-old who had part of a lung removed due to illness – he declined to wear a mask at the indoor event.
Catholic priest Daniel Horan posted on Twitter to ask the Pope to take responsibility, even though his breathing difficulties can make it a challenge to have a face covering, by wearing “a mask in public, especially around others, for their safety and yours.” Another Twitter user suggested that “the Pope could display some helpful pro-life sentiment by wearing a mask while mingling.”
Francis did acknowledge pandemic protocols, letting the crowd know that while he would like to “come down and greet each of you,” he couldn’t as it would go against the coronavirus precautions put in place at the Vatican. During his address, the Pope said that we must be vigilant against “this lady named COVID, who is doing us much harm.”
Chico Harlan, the Washington Post’s Rome Bureau chief, who was at the general audience on Wednesday, tweeted that “the audience looks appropriate for 2020, but Pope Francis — mask-less and shaking hands… looks very much like he’s operating in 2019.”
The Pope has previously worn a mask, donning one at a prayer service in Rome, where he was in attendance with other religious figures, removing it only to speak to the audience. However, days ago, during a meeting with the Spanish prime minister and his delegation, no one in the room wore a mask. One Vatican correspondent highlighted the confusion over the situation, asking why, if Sanchez arrived at the apostolic palace wearing a mask, “did he take it off when he was with the pontiff.”
The Vatican is facing increasing pressure to take the virus seriously, as cases rise in the city. There have been 27 positive cases so far, with 15 people having recovered completely. No fatalities have been reported inside the Vatican.
The controversy around the Pope comes as the World Health Organization reported that Europe’s daily Covid-19 deaths rose by nearly 40 percent compared with the previous week. France, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and the UK accounted for the majority of cases, which grew by a third. Italy, which surrounds the Vatican City, has seen infections surge to almost 22,000 new cases in the past 24 hours.