ROME—In what looks exactly like a pre-pandemic video, Pope Francis held a meet-and-greet after a mass with refugees and clergy to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The video, which was posted to social media Monday, shows a maskless pontiff standing far closer to other maskless clergy than COVID-19 rules allow. A steady line of worshipers pass in front of him, complete with ring-kissing, hand-shaking, and maskless selfies, despite Italy staggering through a third wave of the pandemic.
Vatican expert Robert Mickens pointed out the obvious message it sent. “It’s tiring to have to keep pointing out that this is totally irresponsible behavior, that it’s hypocritical and sets a very bad example,” he wrote on Twitter. “Pontifex is not beyond criticism. But most in the media are not even reporting this.”
Francis, who has been vaccinated along with all employees of the Holy See, has seemingly shrugged off guidelines that he should still wear a mask if he cannot stay socially distanced. The video clearly shows no one in his entourage wearing a mask, and those who are masked up in the receiving line lowered their masks to kiss his ring—which was not sanitized between mouths.
Italy has surpassed 114,000 deaths since last March, when it largely paved the pandemic path for the rest of the world outside China. Rome is under “orange zone” restrictions due to a high number of cases and pressure on local emergency rooms, yet the Vatican seems to be largely unaware—or unconcerned—that gatherings such as those caught on tape are punishable by large fines.
Francis, whose ill-advised trip to Iraq last month was followed by record numbers of cases in that country, has often complained about being pent up at the Vatican during Italy’s draconian lockdown restrictions. When asked on the flight to Rome from Iraq about whether he was worried about the huge gathering of people who came out to see him, he said he would leave it “in God’s hands” to take care of them.