ROME – At least four Spanish bishops are accused of “jumping the line” to get their COVID-19 vaccines, pretending to either live or work at Church-run residences for the elderly.
Spain currently has a shortage of coronavirus vaccines, forcing some cities to suspend their current rollout plans – but the bishops of Mallorca, Orihuela-Alicante, Tenerife and Cartagena have received the shot under suspicious circumstances.
After the controversy over their inoculations — some as early as January – all four bishops said they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, and were even leading by example, many faithful said they were frightened about getting the vaccine.
Bishop Jesús Murgui of Orihuela-Alicante said he’d give up the second dose after the repercussion of his vaccination, “for the spiritual wellbeing of all the faithful,” though he insisted that he received it “without looking for any special treatment,” and “following the dynamic of previous vaccination campaigns.”
Murgui, 74, received the vaccine in a residence for elderly priests of the diocese located near his home. Under normal circumstances, the vicar general of the diocese explained, the bishop goes to this residence during vaccination campaigns.
The local health care authorities have argued that the priests’ house is considered to be like any other residence for elderly people, and as such, those living and working there had priority in receiving vaccinations. They are now trying to determine if the bishop is, in fact, “just another resident,” because he lives in a home “related to the priests’ residence.”
Through a statement, the diocese said that the bishop is now in the hands of the public health system to complete his vaccination at a time, place and date determined by health authorities.
Throughout Spain, the national and local governments have been distributing vaccines that are being given at health centers and residences for the elderly. In the case of the later, they receive a list with the names of those living and working there, and in turn, send the appropriate number of doses.
Bishop José Manuel Lorca Planes of Cartagena is currently being investigated by civil authorities after an employee at a home for elderly priests claimed he and several other priests jumping the line.
Lorca Planes acknowledged receiving the vaccine but said that he didn’t “for a moment think I was acting wrongly.”
He got his vaccine at the Hogar de Betania – a home for retired priests – in Murcia. Run by the local church, the home had received several doses of the vaccine for residents and staff. for live-in residents and employees. Similarly to Murgui, Lorca Planes gets his yearly flu shot at the home. The controversy arose after the bishop was listed as the chaplain of the home.
On Feb. 8 the diocese released a statement saying that Lorca Planes always gets his vaccines from the retirement home, and that he regularly visits the center that provides assistance to vulnerable people. His last visit to Hogar de Betania was to celebrate Mass on Jan. 30.
The president of the institute said that they’d invited the bishop to get the vaccine at the residence because he’s the “top authority of the residence that depends directly from the diocese of Cartagena, due to the fact that he regularly visits the premises to celebrate the Eucharist and to be close to those who live here.”
The prelate has publicly apologized for receiving the vaccine, saying that he was “truly hurting inside.”
He also said that he decided to accept the vaccine as a gesture intended to inspire others to follow suit.
“At the time, I did not properly calculate the consequences, and it is clear that, if I had, I would not have accepted it,” Lorca Planes said.
After initially saying that he would reject the second dose, he recently said that he reconsidered, explaining: “I have been recommended to do so, because if not, the fist dose would be lost and the damage even greater.”
Lorca Planes is being investigated by the civil authorities to determine if there was any crime committed.
The bishop of Mallorca, Sebastià Taltavull, received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Sant Pere i Sant Bernat retirement home for priests.
He’s arguably the one facing the biggest legal hurdle: He registered as a resident at the home just days before the lists were sent to the city council in order to be included among those who should get the vaccine. Due to his age – 73 – and place of residence, the bishop was not considered a priority case for vaccination.
Sant Pere i Sant Bernat is also not officially inscribed as a residence for the elderly, but local media are arguing that through the political connections of the bishop, the center has benefited from this status during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taltavull’s official explanation is that he does go to the residence daily for his meals and regularly participates in its vaccination programs. The city council accepted this explanation but is now being investigated itself for favoring the priests’ residence over other old age homes.
Bishop Bernardo Álvarez of Tenerife got his first dose Jan. 13 in the priestly residence San Juan de Avila, together with the religious who run the house, those living there and the personnel of the residence’s cleaning company.
The prelate does not technically live at the residence but does reside in an adjoining apartment.
On Friday, the local health service concluded several public officials did not observe vaccination protocols.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma