ROME — The Italian bishops’ conference has cancelled the celebration of weekday Masses in areas of the north of the country affected by the coronavirus outbreak, a move that has some Catholics up in arms.
Responding to a decree issued Wednesday by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti announcing new measures aimed at containing the coronavirus, the bishops’ conference (CEI) released its own statement Thursday instructing churches not to celebrate weekday Masses in the northern regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia Romagna, as well as the provinces of Savona, Pesaro, and Urbino.
“The Church in Italy shares this situation of discomfort and suffering in the country and is taking responsible steps by which to contain the spread of the virus,” the statement says.
Meanwhile in Rome, which so far has seen relatively few cases of coronavirus, the Catholic Church has suspended all non-sacramental pastoral activities until at least March 15, while asking that people allow for a safe distance of at least a meter from one another. All catechism classes, marriage preparation courses, and pilgrimages have been cancelled for Rome parishes.
The reaction of the Catholic Church to the coronavirus outbreak has left some observers perplexed, as they draw comparisons to the way the Church handled the far more serious pestilences in ages past.
“Once, during epidemics the Church organized novenas and processions to invoke divine protection, today the churches are closed. We do not go to Mass, so we resign ourselves to isolation,” wrote Italian historian Franco Cardini Thursday in the Italian daily La Stampa.
“We have severed the roots that kept us in touch with the dimension of transcendence,” the historian continued. “The true great epidemic of our day is our savage and desperate fear. During the plague of 1630 it was known that death is not the end of everything.”
In a similar vein, a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal argued that the Church’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been “underwhelming” while adding that “the clergy are failing the faithful amid this crisis.”
“The coronavirus is less harmful than the black plague, which shows with even more clarity how much the church’s leadership role has changed,” wrote Alessandra Bocchi.
“Once a firm source of strength against all adversity — with men of the church willing to die to keep the presence of Jesus Christ in the lives of believers — now churches across Italy have suspended all religious activities except weddings and funerals, which can be attended only by close relatives,” she lamented.
As a report from Reuters has noted, the bishops’ statement Thursday does not mention Sunday Masses, a serious obligation for Catholics. In this sacred period of Lent, many more Catholics also attend weekday Masses as part of their devotion in preparation for Holy Week and Easter, Reuters adds.
As Breitbart News reported, on Wednesday the Italian government ordered the closure of all schools and universities until at least March 15 and has directed Italians not to shake hands or hug each other.
The death toll from coronavirus in Italy now stands at 107 while the cumulative number of cases totals 3,089. So far, 276 persons in Italy who were infected with the virus have since healed.