A Spanish regional president has reminded a cardinal that COVID-19 social distancing rules “are applicable to everyone” after people crowded to see a sacred image at the cardinal’s instigation.

– Masses flock to see Virgin “bless” city

Valencian president Ximo Puig issued the reminder to Cardinal Antonio Cañizares after several hundred people gathered this Sunday in Valencia’s Plaza de la Virgen square to see a statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken.

Cardinal Cañizares made the decision to bring the image of the Virgin to the doors of Valencia’s Royal Basilica after Mass yesterday so that Catholics could venerate her on her feast day – a procession for which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and so that the Virgin could “bless” the city.

But virus distancing rules “are applicable to everyone and that’s the way it should be”, Puig told the cardinal in a radio interview.

As for what the repercussions should be for the local Church for having encouraged a group of people to gather in contravention of COVID-19 distancing norms, Puig limited himself to saying that “in this and in all cases I am in favor of acting with deliberation and without confrontations”.

– Archdiocese responds angrily to moves to charge prelate, laments “distortion and falsity” in media reports

But despite the Valencian president’s diplomacy, a “confrontation” is precisely what Cardinal Cañizares may be facing for his irresponsibility with the statue Sunday, after local police reported him to Spain’s Interior Ministry for allegedly having broken quarantine lockdown laws.

The Valencia archdiocese reacted angrily to the police move to charge the cardinal, and insisted that local police and members of the Red Cross had been present in the square for the duration of the minutes-long ceremony to remind people of their public health obligations.

Not only did police not have to intervene at any stage during the Virgin’s presence at the doors of the basilica, but the Valencia archdiocese is committed to preventing the spread of COVID-19, the local Church said in a statement – going so far as to disinfect its parishes, to provide hydroalcoholic gel to Catholics coming to pray and to deny access to those faithful seeking access to churches without protective face masks.

The archdiocese added that it regretted “the manipulation and the accusations that have been come from some public authorities without contrasting the veracity of the facts, as well as the distortion and falsity of the claims of some media outlets”.

But Aarón Cano, councillor for Citizen Protection of the Valencia City Council, doubled-down on the accusations of irresponsibility levelled at the cardinal for having organised the ceremony with the Virgin – an act, Cano said, that was carried out “with premeditation and treachery”.

Noting the presence in the square during the celebration of reporters from a TV station, Cano furthermore accused Cañizares of “cheating” in giving a public blessing without obtaining a permit for the ceremony.

– Cardinal laments “multiple poverties” created by COVID-19

Earlier in his homily at Mass Sunday – conducted in the basilica without the physical presence of the faithful – Cardinal Cañizares had lamented that “we are in a very difficult situation of pandemic with dead and sick people; we have a great economic crisis, with companies and jobs being destroyed… we have multiple poverties”.

Urging Catholics to do for the unemployed by the virus “as much as we can”, Cañizares insisted: “Let’s work together”.

“The Valencian people is energised by the Virgin of love, mercy and forgiveness. The faith in her by the Valencian people does not die”, the cardinal continued.

“Hope is the answer to helplessness, remaining attentive to the pain of the sick, of the elderly, of those who are lonely, of those who are threatened in their lives”, Cañizares said.

More stories on the Church in Spain, on Novena:

COVID-19: Spanish cardinal Cañizares denounces “orchestrated campaigns” for hasty return to public Masses


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.