Three Swiss Guards who protect the Pope and Vatican have returned to Switzerland after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, said a spokesman for the Guard.
“Three members of the Guard have chosen not to adhere to that request, voluntarily leaving the corps,″ Lt. Urs Breitenmoser told The Associated Press, saying the Vatican asked the Swiss Guards to receive the vaccine to “protect their health and that of the others they come into contact with as part of their service.”
Several other Swiss Guardsmen were temporarily suspended from duty while they await their vaccination, he said.
For centuries, the Swiss Guards—who perform a mostly ceremonial function—have served as the de facto military of the Vatican. Since the early 1980s, after the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, more emphasis has been placed on the Guards’ nonceremonial role, and are now trained in small arms and unarmed combat.
Recruits to the guards have to be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between the ages of 19 and 30 years who have basic training in the Swiss Armed Forces.
Pope Francis, who said he has been vaccinated for COVID-19, has often stressed that people should receive the vaccine.
Breitenmoser also told AP that last month, the head of the Pontifical Commission of Vatican City State issued a mandate that requires people who enter Vatican City have to receive the vaccine or display a recent negative test for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19. That includes people who want to see Vatican treasures such as Rennaisance painter Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
In Italy, the government passed a sweeping decree—considered among the most restrictive in the world—that orders private companies and public agencies withhold pay from workers who won’t take a CCP virus vaccine. Those who are found to be working without a vaccine passport can face fines of hundreds of dollars.
The new rules will come into force on Oct. 15 in the latest effort by Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition to persuade people to get inoculated.
People who ignore the decree and go to work regardless will face a fine of between 600–1,500 euros ($705–$1,175). The sanction for employers will be 400–1000 euros ($464–$1,160).
“Nothing like this has been done in Europe … we are putting ourselves in the forefront internationally,” said Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta, reported Reuters.
Reuters contributed to this report.