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story.lead_photo.caption Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window of his private library overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 22, 2020. During his weekly Sunday blessing, held due to virus concerns in his private library in the Apostolic Palace, he urged all Christians to join in reciting the "Our Father" prayer next Wednesday at noon. And he said that he would lead a global blessing to an empty St. Peter's Square on Friday. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

ROME -- The Vatican is under pressure to let more employees work from home as its offices remain open two weeks after the Italian government ordered Italians home and shut down all nonessential businesses in an urgent attempt to contain the coronavirus.

On the same day the Vatican confirmed four positive cases, Vatican employees in three different offices expressed alarm Tuesday that superiors had adopted different work-at-home policies that forced some to continue showing up. Concern about exposure risk has been heightened because many Vatican employees live in priests' residences or religious communities and eat together in communal dining rooms.

Two religious orders in Rome have already been quarantined after several nuns tested positive for the virus. On Tuesday, Rome's health service sent its crisis unit to a nursing home run by an order of nuns after several elderly residents got infected. Nationwide, more than 50 priests with the virus have died, most of them elderly and from the hard-hit northern Lombardy region, the Italian bishops' conference said.

Vatican offices that handle particularly sensitive issues -- such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- told employees to show up five days a week to prevent documents, files and archives from leaving the office, according to one employee, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to officially speak to the media.

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Officials at the Vatican office that oversees the church's work in the developing world, known as Propaganda Fide, still require employees to come in at least twice a week. The requirement means staff members who live outside of central Rome must commute using public transportation, said Karlijn Demasure, whose husband works in the mission office.

"The whole of Italy closes down but not so the Vatican, at least not Propaganda Fide," Demasure wrote on Facebook. "It is dangerous, moving between cities, trains, metro and buses. I cannot believe that this is actually happening!"

On Tuesday, the Vatican repeated that its offices would remain open. It said individual department heads should arrange for "essential services" to be provided to the church with the minimal personnel on hand and "incentivizing as much as possible remote working."

It also announced another three positive cases, including two employees of the Vatican Museums, bringing its total to four.

The Vatican secretariat of state -- the main governmental body of the Holy See -- on Monday issued new guidance for employees about whether they needed to come into work. According to the advisory, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press, the secretariat of state urged people to work from home where possible but said employees should come to the office if they lived in Vatican City or nearby.

The Vatican, a 108-acre walled city state in the heart of Rome, approved virus-containment measures two weeks ago. But its workplace policies during the public health emergency lag behind the rest of Italy, which has the most virus-related deaths of any country in the world.

Pope Francis himself has complained that he feels like he is in a cage. He slipped out of the Vatican on March 15 to pray at two Rome churches and to take a mini-pilgrimage walking along a deserted Via del Corso, a main street in the Italian capital's historic center.

A Section on 03/25/2020

Print Headline: Vatican ripped for virus exposure


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