ROME — Bologna Cardinal Matteo Zuppi said Monday that he opposes Matteo Salvini’s call for open churches on Easter, saying that it is too “risky” and the Church has to “obey the rules.”
Salvini, the leader of Italy’s Lega party, said this weekend that people of faith should be able to care for their spiritual health as they care for their bodies.
“I support the requests of those who ask to attend Easter Mass, in an orderly, composed, and safe way, maybe even in groups of three, four, or five,” Mr. Salvini said. “You can go to the tobacconist because people can’t get along without cigarettes, but for many the care of the soul is just as fundamental as the care of the body.”
“I hope that we will find a way for believers to go to church,” he said. “An appeal has been sent to the bishops to permit the faithful to enter church as they are permitted to go to the supermarket, respecting the distances, with masks and gloves, and in limited numbers.”
Salvini was referring to a petition launched by Elisabetta Valgiusti, founder of a Catholic advocacy group Save the Monasteries, appealing to the bishops to restore Masses and the other sacraments to the faithful during the coronavirus lockdown.
“We appeal for the recognition of the personal need of every member of the Catholic faithful to participate in the Holy Mass so that each person can actively worship while respecting the current legislation,” reads the petition, which numerous clergy and laypeople have signed.
Asked what he thought of Mr. Salvini’s proposal, Cardinal Zuppi suggested it was a nice sentiment but unrealistic.
“I, too, would like to be able to celebrate Holy Week and Easter with the community,” the cardinal said. “But it is dangerous to risk and rules must be obeyed and so the Church must do so also.”
“We bishops were hoping that the Easter celebrations would coincide with the end of the emergency, but unfortunately this is not the case,” he said.
Cardinal Zuppi’s response contrasted with that of Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former head of the Vatican’s highest court, who has argued that during the coronavirus crisis churches and the sacraments should be considered essential (like supermarkets and pharmacies) and not optional (like cinemas and athletic games).
“In considering what is needed to live, we must not forget that our first consideration is our relationship with God,” Cardinal Burke wrote. “That is why it is essential for us, at all times and above all in times of crisis, to have access to our churches and chapels, to the Sacraments, and to public devotions and prayers.”
While it is right to “learn about and employ all of the natural means to defend ourselves against the contagion” and “to use every prudent means to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus,” Burke said, care of bodily health should not supersede care of spiritual health, which is not less, but more important.
“Just as we are able to purchase food and medicine, while taking care not to spread the coronavirus in the process, so also we must be able to pray in our churches and chapels, receive the Sacraments, and engage in acts of public prayer and devotion,” he stressed. “Without the help of God, we are indeed lost.”
Similarly, Pope Francis has urged bishops and priests to rise to the occasion of the pandemic like courageous good shepherds, rather than running away like “hired hands.”
In a March 13 letter to priests signed by the pope’s personal secretary, the pontiff warned that civil authorities are doing their job while the Church’s pastors risk acting like frightened “hired hands” rather than “good shepherds” ready to lay down their lives for the sheep.
“In the epidemic of fear that all of us are living because of the pandemic of the coronavirus, we risk acting like hired hands and not like shepherds,” he wrote.
“It is good for the churches to remain open. Priests should be on the front lines,” the letter declared. “The faithful should find courage and comfort from seeing their shepherds. They should know that they can run in any moment and find refuge in their churches and parishes and find them open and welcoming.”
The pope also suggested that while priests should not flout the decrees of civil authority, they have a higher authority that they are called to obey.
“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. We think as men think and not as God thinks,” he said. “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.”
“I think of all the people who live by nourishing themselves from the Eucharist, because they believe in the real presence of Jesus who gives himself in holy Communion,” he wrote. “I think of those people who now have to be satisfied following the Mass transmitted by streaming. I think of the souls that have need of spiritual comfort and of the sacrament of confession.”
“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 said.