As Italy grapples with surging COVID-19 numbers brought on by the Omicron variant, an Italian bishop has forbidden unvaccinated priests, deacons, and lay persons from administering Communion. The direction comes as the Italian government is tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated.
Bishop Giacomo Cirulli released the statement on January 8. The open letter to the faithful of his southern Italian diocese announced the new guidance, while reiterating previous COVID-19 precautions. Catholic News Agency translated the letter from Italian:
“I prohibit the distribution of the Eucharist by priests, deacons, religious and lay people who are not vaccinated.” The bishop added, “I ask you to strictly respect the distancing and therefore the number of admissions allowed in the liturgical hall.”
Along with distancing and wearing a mask, the diocese is continuing to prohibit the sign of peace, and they have kept their holy water fonts dry. Bishop Cirulli also made it clear that consecrated hosts must be kept covered in their sacred vessels while on the altar.
While much of Italian life now requires proof of vaccination, or of recovery from COVID-19, these precautions have not yet extended to houses of worship. Catholic educators, be they in school or private catechism teachers, must abide by the government-mandated protocols. According to CNS, these mandates also extend to Catholic students and seminarians as well.
The bishop touched upon the topic of vaccination in his letter:
“With regard to vaccines, let me recall what Pope Francis said: ‘Getting vaccinated … is an act of love. And helping to ensure that the majority of people get vaccinated is an act of love. Love for yourself, love for family and friends, love for all peoples.’”
These precautions were put in place to help stem the spread of the Omicron variant, but they may be the first of many Church mandates in the coming months. Reuters reports Italy’s pandemic is back in full swing, with recent data showing a reported 101,762 new cases and 227 additional deaths over a 24-hour period. As of January 10, there were an estimated 1,606 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
In response to the surge in cases, the government has aimed restrictions at the unvaccinated, barring them from restaurants, bars, and public transportation. Those who wish to utilize such stores and services must present a “Super Green Pass” which acts as proof of vaccination or of having recovered from COVID-19. Italian authorities have made these passes mandatory for all persons over the age of 50.
Of the unvaccinated, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a statement:
“We must never lose sight of the fact that most of the problems we have today are because there are non-vaccinated people,” Draghi told a news conference. “For the umpteenth time, I invite all those Italians who are not yet vaccinated to do so, and to get the third shot.”