ROME – Despite an oath to give their lives defending the pope, three members of the Vatican’s fabled Swiss Guard have abandoned the small force due to refusal to comply with a recent mandate to possess either a COVID-19 vaccination certificate or the results of a negative COVID test within the past 48 hours in order to work in the Vatican City State.
The three soldiers, who had joined the guard last May, chose to leave rather than receive the vaccine, which is easily available throughout Italy and which the Vatican offered for free to all of its employees earlier this year.
Their decision was confirmed by the spokesman of the Swiss Guard, Urs Breitenmoser, to the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve.
According to the Roman daily Il Messaggero, three other guards have been suspended without pay until they complete their vaccination, presumably with the Pfizer vaccine, which the Holy See offered all of its employees and which requires at least 20 days between jabs.
“It is a measure in line with that of other army corps in the world,” said the spokesman for the Swiss Guards.
As of October 1, a Green Pass, as the vaccination certificate is known in Europe, is mandatory for all Vatican employees. It can be obtained after a completed vaccination, after recovering from COVID-19, or with regular testing. Those who opt for the latter route have to pay for the test, around $25, out of pocket every 48 hours.
In the specific case of the Swiss Guards, who are always in close proximity with both the pope and his regular guests, the negative test was deemed insufficient, as tests can be negative during the incubation period of the coronavirus.
Since October 1, the Vatican has suspended the salary of employees who are absent from work because they do not have the COVID-19 health certificate, making it one of the first States in the world to suspend pay from employees who’ve refused to get vaccinated.
The only exception to the Green Pass for entering Vatican events are liturgical ceremonies and Masses celebrated both in St. Peter’s Basilica and in the parish of Santa Anna. The Sunday weekly angelus in St. Peter’s Square does not require a pass either, since it’s out in the open, but it’s unclear if it will be required for the Wednesday papal audiences while they continue to be held in the Paul VI Hall.
The contingent of highly trained guards was born of an alliance between the Swiss and the Holy Roman empire, and they’ve been protecting the pontiff for more than 500 years.
To be eligible for the role which pays $1,800 a month courtesy of the pope, one has to be male, Catholic, single, a Swiss citizen, aged between 19 and 30, at least 5’8″, and willing to be a member of the guard for at least two years.
If you run into the Swiss Guards at the Vatican, either guarding the doors or during the pope’s public events in St. Peter’s Basilica and/or Square, don’t let their billowed uniforms in shades of blue, red, orange and yellow reminiscent of the Renaissance fool you: All of them have received basic Swiss military training, and they’re trained in unarmed combat and small arms.
Pope Francis recently discussed the vaccinations in the Vatican, saying that by now virtually everyone’s had the shot, except for a “small group,” and they they’re “studying how to help” those who are hesitant.
“Humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines,” Pope Francis said during a return flight from Slovakia in September, noting that children for decades have been vaccinated against measles, mumps and polio “and no one said anything.”
Yet “even in the College of Cardinals, there are some negationists,” Francis said, adding that one of them, “poor guy,” had been hospitalized. That was an apparent reference to American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was hospitalized earlier this summer.