ROME — Pope Francis urged obedience to state lockdown measures Tuesday, just 36 hours after Italian bishops reproached the government for refusing to allow public worship.
“At this time, as indications emerge for a way out of quarantine, we pray that the Lord will grant us the grace of prudence and obedience to these indications, so that the pandemic does not return,” the pontiff said in a daily tweet.
At this time, as indications emerge for a way out of quarantine, we pray that the Lord will grant us the grace of prudence and obedience to these indications, so that the pandemic does not return. #PrayTogether
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 28, 2020
Late Sunday, the Italian Bishops’ Conference issued a sternly worded rebuke to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte over an “arbitrary” decision to exclude public worship from the activities permitted under new COVID-19 lockdown rules.
During his streamed press conference Sunday evening, Mr. Conte said that according to his new regulations, which will go into effect on May 4, only small-scale funerals can be celebrated but not public Masses or other liturgical services.
In their communiqué, the bishops adopted unusually strong language, insisting that the Prime Minister’s decree “arbitrarily excludes the possibility of celebrating Mass with the people,” while also declaring that “the Church demands to be able to resume its pastoral action.”
The bishops seemed even to threaten civil authorities with disobedience to government norms that trample on religious freedom, reminded the government of its duty to distinguish between its area of competence and that of the Church, noting that the Church organizes the life of the Christian community “in the fullness of its own autonomy.”
The bishops asserted that they “cannot accept to see the exercise of the freedom of worship compromised,” adding that the faithful must be able to nurture themselves spiritually, especially from the Church’s “sacramental life.”
The bishops’ response was embraced by many Catholics who have been irritated over their pastors’ inaction during the lockdown. When the Italian government ruled last month that Catholic sacraments such as the Eucharist and confession would be treated as “non-essential” activities along the lines of sporting events and moviegoing, the bishops were conspicuously silent, which led to criticism from engaged lay Catholics as well as a petition to bring back the Mass.