ROME – In a little-noticed facet of a new fundamental law for the Vatican City State issued by Pope Francis May 13, a provision allowing employees to raise workplace disputes with the Labor Office of the Apostolic See has been eliminated.

While the main headline from the new law was that Francis has permitted laity to serve on the governing commission of the City State, critics suggest the disappearance of a conflict resolution process suggests the rights of laity who actually work there may be compromised.

The Labor Office of the Apostolic See was created by Pope John Paul II in 1989, and in his own 2000 fundamental law for the Vatican City State, the Polish pope assigned it responsibility for resolving disputes between employees and management.

At the time, John Paul II wrote that the role of the labor office was to “ensure that the dignity of each employee is effectively honored in the work community, under the pope’s authority [and] that the economic and social rights of each employee are recognized, protected, harmonized and promoted.”

The function of mediating disputes was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in a 2009 motu proprio decreeing a new statute for the labor office.

The provision, however, has disappeared in the new fundamental law, which takes effect on June 7. There’s also no reference to the new Directorate for Human Resources for the Holy See created by Francis last September and located within the Secretariat for the Economy.

By inference, it would now seem that the only recourse for employees of the City State wishing to lodge a complaint against management is the Vatican’s civil tribunal. As the Italian Catholic blog Silere Non Possum noted in a May 15 post, that tribunal has no special competence with regard to labor law or workplace disputes.

Silere Non Possum is known for a somewhat traditional editorial line often hostile to Francis’s more progressive agenda.

Francis’s new constitution for the Roman Curia, Praedicate evangelium, issued in March 2022, does make reference to the labor office.

“For matters concerning the working situation of the personnel of the Roman Curia and questions connected to it, the Labor Office of the Apostolic See is responsible, according to its own competence, for the protection and promotion of the rights of employees based on the principles of the social doctrine of the church,” it reads in article 11.

In effect, the result is that the Labor Office of the Apostolic See will be concerned only with the Roman Curia, meaning the government of the universal Church, and not the Vatican City State, meaning the administration of the pope’s physical territory.

Although some observers believed the new Directorate for Human Resources for the Holy See might also play a role in labor/management disputes, similar to the role played by HR offices in other governments and in corporate settings, but to date such a function hasn’t materialized.

Some 2,500 people work for the Vatican City State, with the Vatican Museums among the largest individual employers with a payroll of some 700 people, most of them laity. The Roman Curia had a roughly similar number of employees, bringing the total papal workforce to around 4,700.

Although Pope Francis has been an outspoken champion of labor unions and workers’ rights, critics such as Silere Non Possum assert that those broad principles aren’t always applied to the pontiff’s own workforce.

“Francis wants laity in the Vatican, but he makes two mistakes,” the blog asserted.

“First, he thinks he can treat laity in a despotic fashion, the way he treats us priests,” it said. “Second, he favors laity in the top roles (who earn staggering salaries) but in reality isn’t interested in the rights of ordinary workers, who for him are second-class citizens.”