Vatican bans tattoos and body piercings for St Peter's Basilica workers

Pope Francis leads a prayer service for peace at the Vatican

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican has banned workers at St Peter's Basilica from having visible tattoos or body piercings to maintain "decorum".

The new regulation, published at the weekend, applies to the roughly 170 lay employees of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the department in charge of the basilica.

Father Enzo Fortunato, head of communications for the basilica, told Reuters on Monday that it codifies norms that "have been in place in the past in a different form".

However, he denied Italian press reports indicating that lay people in unmarried relationships would also be banned from working at the Fabbrica di San Pietro, dismissing the reports as "gossip".

The regulation states that staff must have "an exemplary religious and moral conduct, including in private and family life, in conformity with the doctrine of the Church."

The Catholic Church teaches that sex between unmarried couples is sinful, and that even couples engaged to be married should observe chastity.

Pope Francis has angered some conservatives by repeatedly saying that the Catholic Church should focus on mercy and forgiveness rather than on the strict enforcement of its rules.

(Reporting by Romolo Tosiani; Editing by Alvise Armellini and Sharon Singleton)