Coronavirus has reached the Domus Sanctae Marthae. A 58 year-old priest of the Diocese of Mantua, Mgr Gianluca Pezzoli, an official of the Secretariat of State who has an address in the guest house where Pope Francis lives, has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
The Diocese of Mantua confirmed the news for the Catholic Herald Thursday morning, but had no details regarding Mgr Pezzoli’s whereabouts or condition.
Italy’s Il Messaggeroreported Wednesday that an official of the Secretariat of State resident in the Domus Sanctae Marthae for some years had tested positive for the virus and had been “admitted for observation”. Il Messaggero further reported that the official’s health “was not a cause of concern” and that measures to protect Pope Francis “had already been activated”.
The press office of the Holy See had not responded to queries from the Catholic Herald regarding Mgr Pezzoli by press time Thursday.
Mgr Pezzoli takes the number of persons known to have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the Vatican to five. The others are two museum employees and one person employed in the Ufficio merci — the warehouse — along with one person, the first diagnosed case, who had been to visit the medical centre just inside St Anne’s Gate, near the Vatican City chemist and the Vatican post office.
A person who took part in the recent conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life on artificial intelligence later tested positive for coronavirus. The director of the Holy See press office, Matteo Bruni, told the Catholic Herald that the individual who took part in the conference workshops is the same person who tested positive for coronavirus after visiting the Vatican medical centre.
“Pope Francis,” Il Messaggero reported Wednesday, “lives practically confined to a few spaces [in the guesthouse]: in the morning he celebrates Mass alone in the chapel with his three secretaries [and] takes lunch in solitude in his room.” The pope also receives guests and takes meetings in the Apostolic Palace, and has been praying the Angelus and giving his catecheses for the weekly General Audience from the palace library.
Several Vatican offices — including the press office and the other offices of the dicastery for communication — have reduced operations and implemented remote working protocols for their staff.
Others, reportedly, have not.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instructed employees to report for work five days a week, in order to keep sensitive documents secure in the CDF offices.
After a meeting of curial dicastery heads on March 11th, a statement explained that the Secretariat of State would be coordinating efforts to determine what essential services must be guaranteed, and to establish and apply protocols within individual departments for the protection of workers.
On Tuesday of this week, the press office issued another statement saying, “Following the provisions issued on March 11th, and in order to avoid further spread of Covid-19 [sic], the Holy See has established that the Dicasteries and the bodies connected to them shall not suspend their activity.”
The statement went on to say: “The heads of the Departments are entrusted with the task of continuing to ensure essential services to the Universal Church by providing minimum quotas of staff in the office and encouraging remote work as far as possible, so as to limit the movement of employees and at the same time guarantee the operation of the Petrine ministry.”
In case of Holy See employees or Vatican City State citizens with the coronavirus, the statement says, “[T]he Health and Hygiene Department has prepared a protocol for the timely communication of cases to the health authorities of the place of residence and to those of the Vatican City State.”
There is no word, however, regarding the criteria used to determine what counts as “essential” within the bureaucracy.
“The Vatican’s commitment to continue providing its ‘essential service’ to the universal Church is very good,” said one Vatican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter with news media. “It has been a bit slow to come up with a really comprehensive, across-the-board response,” the official went on to say. “There’s a sense — at least to me — that the various dicasteries are coming up with their own contingency plans, without coordinating with one another as well as they might.”
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences issued a joint statement late last week, praising efforts of governments and international health organisations to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, but lamenting that the measures were late in coming and coordination not as good as it needed to be.
“We received advance warning of the outbreak a few months before it hit us on a global scale,” the statement read in Point 2. “In the future we need to better coordinate efforts on both the political and health care fronts to prepare and protect the population.”
“Governments, public institutions, science communities, and the media (incl. social media),” the statement went on to say, “failed to ensure responsible, transparent, and timely communication, which is crucial for appropriate action.”
The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences said that international organisations like the World Health Organisation and the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, UNICEF, as well as academies of sciences, “need to be supported in their communication efforts so that their scientific evidence-based information can rise above the cacophony of unproven assumptions spreading all over the world.”