ROME — The local police of Cerveteri, outside Rome, interrupted a Mass Sunday that was being live-streamed on Facebook because there were several people kneeling outdoors in front of the Church.
As can be seen in the video, law enforcement officers dismissed the priest who was celebrating the Mass and then went up to the altar ordering the faithful to clear out, telling them they were forbidden to be there.
Analyzing the video, one Italian lawyer described the police action as an “obvious abuse” of authority and a violation of the freedom of religious ministry according to the law, while another underscored the “extra-safe distance” that those present had observed, in accord with existing norms.
Italian police interrupt Mass in Cerveteri District (Rome) that was being broadcast live on Facebook as there were people assembled outside praying in front of the Church. #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/YuDRP5qalB
— Alexey Gotovskiy (@go_alexey) March 15, 2020
This week Pope Francis called on Catholic priests to reach out to the faithful during the coronavirus epidemic, making sure they have spiritual assistance and access to the sacraments.
In a letter dated March 13, Francis said that churches should remain open and priests should be “on the front lines” during the crisis.
“The faithful should find courage and comfort from seeing their shepherds,” the pope wrote. “They should know that they can run in any moment and find refuge in their churches and parishes and find them open and welcoming.”
Priests can never shut themselves away from people as mere spectators, the pope continued. “Otherwise, we will find that people are having their meals and their pizzas delivered, but do not have Holy Communion brought to them when they are old or sick or needy. It will happen that supermarkets, newspaper stands, and tobacconists are open, but not the churches.”
In a paragraph seeming to suggest limited civil disobedience, the pontiff urged priests to remember that they have a responsibility as God’s ministers to a higher law than that of the state.
“Think of all the souls who feel terrified and abandoned because we pastors follow the instructions of civil authorities — which is right in these circumstances to avoid contagion — while we risk putting aside divine instructions — which is a sin,” he said. “We think as men think and not as God thinks.”
“We join the ranks of those who are terrified rather than joining the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers, the healthcare workers, and mothers and fathers, who are on the front lines,” he added.
“I think of all those people who will certainly abandon the Church when this nightmare is over, because the Church abandoned them when they had need of her,” he lamented.