The Italian Bishops have accused the government of “arbitrarily excluding” public Masses from the beginning of the country’s coronavirus reopening.

– A reminder of the Church’s “autonomy”

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced April 26 that the country was moving to a “phase 2” COVID-19 lockdown, meaning in terms of Church services that although funerals may now take place with a maximum of 15 people present, other religious celebrations won’t resume until into “the coming weeks”.

That’s in contrast to fixed dates for the reopening of stores, museums, and libraries from May 18, and restaurants, bars, and hair salons from June 1.

Soon after Conte held a press conference to outline the easing of the coronavirus restrictions, the Italian Bishops took aim at both the Presidency of the Council of Ministers – or Prime Minister’s Office – and at the Italian Technical-Scientific Committee for COVID-19, and accused both of overstepping the mark.

“The Presidency of the Council and the Technical-Scientific Committee are reminded of the duty to distinguish between their responsibility – giving precise indications of a health nature – and that of the Church, called to organise the life of the Christian community, in compliance with the measures prepared, but in the fullness of one’s autonomy”, the Italian Bishops affirmed.

– Any move to compromise the “exercise of freedom of religion” is unacceptable

In their statement, the Italian prelates also lamented the fact that though they had been in “continuous and available dialogue” with the government for weeks, those talks had not delivered a satisfactory outcome.

That was despite the Church’s availability to set out “guidelines and protocols” for services during the transition back to normality after the coronavirus, “in full compliance with all health regulations”, the Italian Bishops said.

“The Church accepted, with suffering and a sense of responsibility, the government limitations taken to face the health emergency”, the bishops stated, recalling that a ban on public religious celebrations in Italy has been in place for the past seven weeks.

The Italian prelates reminded the government that, during the negotiations between the two parties, “it was explicitly emphasised that – when the limitations taken on to face the pandemic are reduced – the Church demands to be able to resume its pastoral action”.

Any move to compromise the “exercise of freedom of religion” was unacceptable, the Italian Bishops also warned PM Conte.

They explained that “it should be clear to all” that the Church’s “commitment to serving the poor, [which is] so significant in this emergency, stems from a faith that must be nourished at its source, especially the sacramental life”.

– Demands for public Masses getting louder

Late April 26 the Presidency of the Italian Council of Ministers acknowledged receipt of the Bishops’ statement.

That body said that it confirmed “what has already been announced” by PM Conte, but added that “in coming days we will study a protocol that will allow the participation of the faithful in liturgical celebrations, in conditions of maximum security, as soon as possible”.

As they are in many parts of the world, voices in Italy are getting louder in their demands to return to public sacramental life.

Last week Italian Bishops’ President Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of the Perugia diocese wrote to his faithful to say that “the time has come to resume the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist and church funerals, baptisms and all the other sacraments, naturally following those measures necessary to guarantee security in the presence of more people in public places”.

Last week, too, an eighty-year-old Italian priest was interrupted by police and fined for celebrating Mass for six people who had lost a relative to the coronavirus.

Italian cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, sprung to that priest’s defence after a video of the raid emerged on social networks.

“From one priest amazed at what happened to a confrere in the diocese of Cremona, I say: the principle that no authority is allowed to interrupt Mass must be defended. If the celebrant is guilty of some infraction, he should be corrected afterwards, not during!”, Cardinal Becciu wrote on Twitter.

More on Novena on the Italian Church:

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Coronavirus: Venice Patriarch calls on politicians to put common good of health above GDP

Coronavirus: Italian Catholics plead for release of mothers and children from jail

Coronavirus: Italian bishops slap down populist Salvini, angling for reopening of churches at Easter

Italian archdiocese warns people locked down over coronavirus against dangers of digital “drugging”


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