Pope Francis avoided wearing a mask during his general audience on Wednesday, and blamed "this lady COVID" for why he had to social distance.
After the audience, however, he was seen greeting people while not wearing a mask.
Rev. Augusto Zampini, a member of the pope's COVID-19 commission, said he and others frequently encourage the pope to wear a mask.
Pope Francis has chosen not to wear a mask on multiple occasions during the novel coronavirus pandemic this year, despite his advisors requesting he do so.
Francis avoided wearing a mask during his general audience on Wednesday and blamed "this lady COVID" for why he had to distance himself from clergy members, but later greeted a group of maskless people after he finished his service, CBS News reported.
For several other events, including previous audiences, an event in the Vatican auditorium, and a meeting with Spain's prime minister, the pope chose not to wear a mask. He has also been photographed shaking hands and leaning in to speak privately with people not wearing masks.
The pope, who's 83, is at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications because he had part of his lung removed when he was a teenager due to illness.
Rev. Augusto Zampini, a member of the pope's COVID-19 commission, told the Associated Press he frequently urges the pope to wear a mask.
"He has started to use the mask now," Zampini told the Associated Press. "And I hope he will use it in the general audiences, when he is close to the people. If you're in an open space, we know that it's different. But, well, we are working on that."
It's unclear as to why the Vatican allows people to get close to Pope Francis while not wearing a mask.
Italy has also seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, prompting the government to shut down businesses and encourage people to stay home.
Top Vatican reporters have criticized the pope's decision not to wear a mask, saying it's "very disturbing" and that he should "know better."
"As a Christian, let alone pope, you have an obligation to be a good example to the rest of the world. You are currently giving a bad example," Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and journalist, wrote in an open letter to Francis. "You're the boss; you should follow your own rules. When the clergy hold themselves above the rules, we call that clericalism, a sin that you have loudly denounced."
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