World Pope Francis, 83 and missing part of one lung, shrugs off covid-19 mask mandates
Leaders in US, Europe divided on response to surging virus
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Virus cases are surging across Europe and many U.S. states, but responses by leaders are miles apart, with officials in Ireland, France and elsewhere imposing curfews and restricting gatherings even as some U.S. governors resist mask mandates or more aggressive measures. The stark contrasts in efforts to contain infections come as outbreaks on both sides of the Atlantic raise similar alarms, including shrinking availability of hospital beds and rising deaths. © Provided by Associated Press Shoppers buy face masks on O'Connell Street in Dublin city centre, Tuesday Oct. 20, 2020.
ROME — Pope Francis indeed has a mask. It’s unadorned and white, just a shade paler than his papal cassock.
But he almost never wears it.
He goes maskless in public appearances. He goes maskless when hosting visitors. His aversion is deep enough that even guests seem to take the cue: Last week, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez arrived at the Vatican wearing a mask. But he and his entourage were unmasked whenin the apostolic library.
Francis is far from the only world figure to buck the best safety protocols of the pandemic era. But his habits are particularly puzzling, given that he is 83, missing part of a lung and has talked with clarity about the ravages of the virus. Vatican watchers are worried, and say Francis seems to almost be daring an infection, perhaps while trying to show that his personable style won’t be cowed by the coronavirus’s danger.
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ROME (AP) — A day after donning a face mask for the first time during a liturgical service, Pope Francis was back to his mask-less old ways Wednesday despite surging coronavirus infections across Europe and growing criticism of his behavior and the example he is setting. Francis shunned a face mask again during his Wednesday general audience in the Vatican auditorium, and didn't wear one when he greeted a half-dozen mask-less bishops at the end. He shook hands and leaned in to chat privately with each one.
Whatever his motivations — Francis hasn’t said — the maskless pope has become an emblem for the risks facing the Roman Catholic Church, at a time when the virus is spreading rapidly across Europe.
The Vatican as a practice follows Italian health decisions, and in the spring, that meant adhering to a rigid lockdown that safeguarded the city-state from major infections. But in this second wave, Italy is trying to avoid a full shutdown and. As a result, the Vatican is still keeping things running, as well — even though the tiny nation, home to 600-some people including a cadre of elderly cardinals, has little industry of its own to protect.
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Unlike in March, St. Peter’s Square is open. So is the basilica and museum. Meantime, Francis, whose papacy was essentially livestream-only in March, has continued to huddle up-close with bishops and clerics, while breaking the Vatican’s own rules requiring mask-wearing indoors and out.
“You’re supposed to follow your own rules. You’re the boss. It’s very disappointing he’s not doing it,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and a senior analyst at Religion News Service, who recently wrote ato the pontiff making the case for why he should wear a mask.
“I wrote that because I love him, not because I’m one of his opponents,” Reese said. “It’s tough coming and saying, ‘Pope, you’re wrong. Put on the mask.’ He’s finding it very frustrating, being a pastor under these circumstances, but get real — this is the world we live in now.”
Francis, over the past month, has already had some close calls. Thirteen Swiss Guards, members of a group whose duties include protecting the pope, tested positive amid an outbreak the Vatican now say it has contained. Another positive case was detected in the Santa Marta residence where Francis lives.
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The pope also met on Oct. 5 with an archbishop diplomat who later tested positive. (The Vatican was reportedly informed of the infection 18 days later, after the pope was already out of the danger zone.)
But the most visible of Francis’s risks have come in his Wednesday audiences with the public. To gain entrance into those audiences, the several hundred visitors have their temperatures checked at the city-state border and are required to wear masks. The pontiff, onstage in a large Vatican hall, keeps well away from the crowd, often offering an apology that he can’t come closer.
“We have to keep our distances,” Francis said at one of the events.
But the pope ignores his own advice with the clerics who join him onstage. After the event, Francis shakes hands with prelates, who line up to receive a few words from him. When approaching the pope, they tend to remove or pull down their masks. On one occasion, Francis kissed the hand of a newly ordained priest.
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On Thursday, the Vatican announced it wasthe public audiences until further notice, after a crowd member from the Oct. 21 event tested positive. The Vatican said the change was meant to “avoid any possible future risk to the health of the participants.”
At at least one public event — an Oct. 20 ceremony in Rome with other religion leaders, including Bartolomeo I, the ecumenic patriarch of the Orthodox Church — Francis did wear his mask. Some speculated he did so because he was on Italian soil and obeying their laws. Vatican watchers have a range of theories about Francis’s general aversion. Some think the masks might make it difficult for him to breath. Others note he has shrugged off other kinds of risk, and made a name for himself, well before coming pope, with on-the-ground work in the slums of Buenos Aires.
The Vatican press office has not addressed the pope’s reluctance to wear masks or adhere to social distancing norms, and did not respond to a request for comment. The topic is awkward for the clerics who work inside the Vatican, for whom Francis is both a monarch and a revered figure. Earlier this week, the Rev. Augusto Zampini, a member of a Vatican task force addressing the long-term social issues of pandemic, suggested that some people in the Vatican were leaning on Francis to more often wear a mask.
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View the Pope Francis Fast Facts from CNN and learn more about the current pope and first non-European pontiff of the modern era. © TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images Photo Credit: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images PersonalBirth date: December 17, 1936 Birth place: Buenos Aires, ArgentinaBirth name: Jorge Mario BergoglioFather: Mario BergoglioMother: Regina (Sivori) BergoglioReligion: Roman CatholicOther FactsThe first Jesuit pope.The first Latin American pope and the first from the Americas.The first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years.
“Well, we are working on that,” Zampini said on a video call with journalists.
The Vatican established its mask mandate in early October, just as Italy adopted a similar rule. Italy has since taken other steps to cut down on nightlife that have less relevance to the Vatican. One Vatican official, requesting anonymity to speak freely about Holy See’s response, said the city-state was taking a range of steps to reduce the winter health threat, including providing flu shots for residents and employees.
The Vatican has been turning events that would normally have major, international crowds into private or limited gatherings — something that will likely continue into Christmas.
But part of the trouble for the Vatican — and for the pope — is that cases in Rome can easily spill over. For all the cardinals who live full-time inside the Vatican walls, a coterie of assistants and employees come and go, taking busses, eating in Roman restaurants.
“Most people who come to the Vatican are employees who come in and out every day,” the official said. “They live the reality of the city.”
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the Vatican has registered 27 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic. One of the people infected in the second wave was Dario Viganò, 58, a vice chancellor inside the Pontifical Academies of Sciences.
Viganò’s case was miserable, but not severe. He said that in late September he came down with a fever and, soon after, was helped into an ambulance by two health workers in protective suits. He didn’t stay at the hospital long, and instead returned to his Vatican apartment, where he lives alone. He had a fever for four or five days. Acquaintances dropped off groceries and cakes. Viganò said Vatican health workers checked in by phone twice a day, and that he monitored his own oxygen levels.
He remained isolated in his apartment for 30 days, until he had tested negative, and, when he did, he at last had a long walk — leaving the Vatican walls, crossing the Tevere, and heading into the center of Rome.
As far as Viganò understands, the infection didn’t spread.
“They reconstructed all the meetings I had up to 10 days before,” Viganò said. “I gave them names, surnames and mobile phones for everybody. They were all contacted and all negative.”
The mystery for him is how he got it. He suspects he contracted it somewhere outside the Vatican, maybe on a bus or in a cafe.
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