A Church historian has ripped the COVID-19 conspiracy claim of Cardinals Müller, Zen and Pujats, among others, saying that “it’s so ridiculous that it discredits itself”.

– “Some long for greatly simplified explanations”

Mariano Delgado, the dean of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Fribourg, in Switzerland, told Swiss Catholic news agency kath.ch May 14 that the best way to respond to the “appeal” of ultraconservative hero Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò against governments using the COVID-19 pandemic as a “pretext” to permanently impose “unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms” is the way indicated by 17th-century Spanish Jesuit philosopher Baltasar Gracián: “The best disdain is not to acknowledge”.

However, Delgado also warned: “The world is more complicated than we imagine. That’s why some people long for simple and greatly simplified explanations. It’s an old motivation: Societies need scapegoats”.

– “A wake-up call to governments can be issued in another way”

Delgado acknowledged that the anti-COVID-19 measures adopted by governments around the world have impacted on religious freedom, but he denounced that “some have understood this to mean that there is a system behind these measures that is directed against the Church”.

Those paranoiacs, the historian went on, “don’t realise that [the policies impacting religious freedom] are part of general measures that affect all religions, because, to protect life, all our efforts are few”.

Delgado explained that even though civic duty dictates that coronavirus restrictions must be “supported with stoicism”, that doesn’t mean governments should be given free rein: it all depends on how the necessary vigilance of governments is exercised and on the way criticisms are formulated.

“A wake-up call can be issued in another way, without resorting to conspiracy theories”, the historian affirmed.

“Obviously, we must be careful that no one takes away our fundamental freedoms and rights for an abusive exercise of power under the pretext of containing the pandemic and saving lives”, he said, adding that “it is therefore right to remain vigilant so that emergency measures are proportionate and limited in time”.

– German bishop: conspiracy theory talk “a resounding slap in the face” of everyone who has done the right thing

Delgado’s kath.ch interviewer expressed concern that coronavirus conspiracies should be particularly rife in the Swiss diocese of Chur, where auxiliary bishop Marian Eleganti was claiming among other things that the coronavirus is God’s punishment and that a consecrated Host cannot transmit the disease, until he was silenced by the diocese for what one theologian described as his “theological nonsense”.

Delgado warned that among some Catholic groups in Chur there’s “a stronger dissatisfaction than elsewhere with the liberal reception of the [Second Vatican] Council”, and that some Catholics in the diocese are turning particularly to Cardinal Müller for support.

“I thought that the cardinal was intelligent enough not to let himself be instrumentalised by these groups”, Delgado lamented.

In the meantime, Viganò’s fellow COVID-19 conspiracy theorists have continued to come under attack for their “appeal”, with German Bishop of Dresden-Meissen Heinrich Timmerevers saying at the weekend that it was “shameful” that people inside the Church are leading wider society astray with “half-truths and lies” on the coronavirus.

Timmerevers lamented that the fabrication of a worldwide conspiracy over COVID-19 “is a resounding slap in the face for everyone who has honestly campaigned for the right decisions in the past few weeks”.

Retired Würzburg pastoral theologian Erich Garhammer also criticised the Catholic conspiracy theorists for their “apocalyptic language”, “unfounded alarmism” and “irrational suspicion” in the “appeal”, and deplored that Cardinal Müller – now in “more or less open opposition” to Pope Francis – had done “immense damage” to the Church by adding his name to the petition.

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