Despite coronavirus now having claimed nearly 64,000 infections and over 6,000 deaths in Italy – and over 383,000 infections and nearly 17,000 deaths worldwide – Catholic irresponsibility is continuing to put even more lives at risk in Italy, and beyond.

– Police raid a clandestine Mass in Naples

The latest case of Catholic failure to respect Italy’s strict lockdown – which since March 22 has seen the banning of all movement inside the country and the closure of all non-essential businesses – has come from the Franciscan church of Sant’Anastasia in Naples, where police have raided a clandestine Mass and booked the priest celebrating it and the nine faithful accompanying him.

The Mass in Naples took place despite the Italian Bishops resolutely backing the government’s quarantine measures since at least March 9, and despite other priests in the city finding other creative ways to reach Catholics during the pandemic, as is the case of the Naples priest now saying a daily Mass from the rooftop of his church of Santa Maria della Salute.

– The strength of the rebellious? Irresponsible bishops and canon lawyers

The deprivation of community and sacramental life has been difficult for Catholics around the world as countries put in place ever stricter measures on social gatherings to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

The vast majority of the faithful understand that keeping physically apart throughout the outbreak is an important gesture of solidarity with those most at risk of contracting the disease, and indeed, of Christian charity.

But where do rebellious priests and laypeople, such as those of Naples, get the inspiration to ignore the recommendations of health authorities and the dictates of their own religion and Church?

The answer is in large part from irresponsible Catholic leaders like Cardinal Raymond Burke, who at the weekend encouraged believers to continue to meet in Masses despite the legal and moral imperative to health precautions.

Another bishop who is also continuing to put lives at risk is Bishop Giancarlo Crepaldi of Trieste, who last week blasted “political authority” for “weaken[ing] the fight against evil… [by] equat[ing] Holy Masses with recreational initiatives, thinking that they should be suspended, perhaps even before suspending other forms of gathering which are certainly less important”.

“Even the Church may be mistaken when she does not affirm… the public necessity of Holy Masses and the openness of churches”, Crepaldi warned.

Yet another bishop who has been thoughtless and insensitive in the extreme is Bishop Athanasius Schneider, the auxiliary of Astana, Kazakhstan, who hit out too last week at the “universally proclaimed ‘dogma’ of the new coronavirus pandemic” and at the “drastic and disproportionate security measures” it has brought with it.

“The denial of fundamental human rights of freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and freedom of opinion appear almost globally orchestrated along a precise plan”, Schneider denounced, deploring that thereby “the entire human race becomes a kind of prisoner of a world ‘sanitary dictatorship’, which for its part also reveals itself as a political dictatorship”.

Burke, Crepaldi and Schneider apart, even canon lawyers have been insisting that neither States nor Bishops’ Conferences have “absolutely no authority” to suspend public Masses, for coronavirus or for any other reason, in the words of Rome-based canonist Catherine Caridi.

“The Catholic Church has taught from time immemorial that lex iniusta non est lex, an unjust law is no law at all — and it should not be obeyed”, Caridi wrote on her blog, encouraging priests to ignore health advice and continue to say Mass.

– 59 sisters sick and over 60 priests dead: the coronavirus toll on the Church in Italy

This irresponsiblility from bishops and canon lawyers has come even despite the dangers of coronavirus having now become more than apparent now only to society in general, but also, in a painful way, to the Church:

How many more people – Catholics or otherwise – will have to die before bishops like Burke, Crepaldi and Schneider, and canon lawyers like Caridi, understand what’s at stake?

Novena’s full coverage of the coronavirus crisis:

Analysis: Coronavirus “ghost Masses” no excuse for clericalism

“Horror clown”, “cynical” Swiss bishop muzzled for “irresponsible and dangerous” coronavirus “superstition”

Cardinal, theologian blame coronavirus on “rich countries’ aimless experiments”, “retaliation of Gaia”

Irish archbishop says “utter irresponsibility” not to maintain social distancing; priest blasts Catholics insisting on receiving on tongue

“Heretical” Polish archbishop downplays risk of COVID-19: “Christ does not spread germs and viruses”

French bishop rips reckless providentialist Catholics “tempting God” in coronavirus pandemic

French bishop deplores coronavirus fearmongering: “It seems we’ve all lost our minds!”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.