Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola has dismissed the conspiracy theory that coronavirus is “divine punishment”.

– “Divine punishment does not exist. It is an incorrect view of Christianity”

“Divine punishment does not exist. It is an incorrect view of Christianity”, Cardinal Scola, Milan archbishop from 2011-2017 and Venice patriarch from 2002-2011, told La Repubblica February 27.

“Of course, God knows and predicts events but does not determine them”, the cardinal, a former frontrunner for the papacy, explained.

Milan and Venice have been particularly affected by the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, which as of Friday in that country had claimed the lives of 21 people and infected 821.

Public Masses have been suspended until further notice in the north Italian cities, which also saw their Ash Wednesday services cancelled.

But current Milan archbishop Mario Delpini has criticised the “alarmism” over the outbreak and the apathy for victims in poorer countries, saying too that “perhaps panic is infecting our lives with greater speed and more danger than the virus is”.

– Urges Milanese to live outbreak “differently, without fear”, like St. Charles Borromeo

In defence of his claim that “divine punishment does not exist”, Scola turned to words of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (13:4-5):

“When asked if the 18 people who died under the collapse of the tower of Siloam had particularly sinned, Jesus dismisses the question. “Do you suppose this proves that they were more sinful than all the other people living in Jerusalem? No, I say to you, they were no more guilty than all the inhabitants of Jerusalem”.

Talking to La Repubblica, Scola urged Milanese people to follow the example of St. Charles Borromeo and live the coronavirus outbreak without panicking and with self-giving generosity.

“In 1576 Milan was hit by the plague. They called it the plague of San Carlo because he lived it differently, without fear”, the cardinal recalled.

“As a child I remember the white coffins of my cousins, who died with pneumonia and tuberculosis, I myself was affected by this disease at 20 years of age… [but] God wants our good, God loves us and God is close to us. The relationship with him is personal, it is a relationship of freedom”, Scola added.

The cardinal furthermore took the opportunity to warn people against irrational fear – particularly of migrants – in the wake of reports that people of Asian appearance in Italy are being harassed, mocked, discriminated against and even assaulted because of the coranvirus’ origins in China.

“The search for an enemy to blame and the poisoning of social relationships are natural reactions of those who live in fear… [T]his is a bit what happens today with regard to migration. The different frightens”, Scola acknowledged.

– Vatican, bishops elsewhere in Europe now also taking preventative measures

The coronavirus outbreak has led to church closures and Mass cancellations not only in Milan and Venice, but also in other Italian cities such as Bologna, Padua and Turin.

Bishops throughout Europe are likewise beginning to take precautionary measures, ordering that if Eucharists are held that people only receive in the hand, avoid exchanging the sign of peace and even instructing that holy water stoups be emptied to avoid contagion.

The Vatican has also been forced to take preventative measures, cancelling events in closed spaces – such as Wednesday’s General Audience, held in St. Peter’s Square instead of the Paul VI Hall – installing hand disinfectant dispensers and ordering that specialised health staff be on hand to deal with possible patients.

Pope Francis also cancelled planned outings Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but the Vatican denies this is out of coronavirus concerns, explaining instead that the pontiff is simply suffering from a mild cold, and while recovering prefers to work from his residence at the Casa Santa Marta.

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Milan archbishop criticises “alarmism” over coronavirus, apathy for victims in poorer countries; Vatican also takes preventative measures

Coronavirus: Italian Church cancels Masses, Ash Wednesday services as over 200 infected and five dead


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