Italian bishops call for churches to reopen

01 May 2020


Pope Francis shortly before delivering his blessing to an empty St Peter’s Square from the window of his studio at the Vatican

Pope Francis shortly before delivering his blessing to an empty St Peter’s Square from the window of his studio at the Vatican

RC BISHOPS in Italy have complained that churches have not been reopened. The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, outlined on Sunday the second phase of the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis, which included the continued closure of churches.

The Italian Bishops’ Conference responded by sending a note to the government, insisting that freedom of religion must not be curtailed and that “it should be clear to all that the commitment to serving the poor, [which is] so significant in this emergency, stems from a faith that must be nourished at its source, especially the sacramental life.” The Bishops also said that they had been in negotiations with the government about the possibility of easing restrictions on saying mass with people present, “in full compliance with all health regulations.”

In the Czech Republic, many shops have reopened since the government introduced its five-stage lockdown exit plan earlier this month. From Monday onwards, this has included church services for 15 people or fewer. The UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is reported to be watching the Czech Republic’s strategy, as he has been under pressure to ease some of the UK’s restrictions for the sake of the economy.

In a statement about the restrictions on worship, the Conference of European Churches said: “Voices from the legal community and from several religious communities are raising questions asking if all measures are proportionate or if there is plausible consistency in the application of the ‘shut down’, especially with regard to the need to treat equally all actors according to their objective comparability.”

The statement also said, however, that “citizens of all faiths and beliefs should exercise patience and good will. They should continue to follow the official regulations designed to protect others from infection and offer their help in places where the restrictions on social life is causing special hardship.”

The Anglican Chaplain of St Mark’s, Florence, the Revd William Lister (News, 27 March), spoke of his doubts about worship being allowed again in Italy in any time soon. “The Italian government has come under huge pressure from business and the bishops to lift many of the current restrictions. It would seem, however, that most of the changes announced at the start of this week [Phase 2] are largely psychological,” he said.

“For instance, it is now possible to visit relatives or close friends, but no ‘gatherings’ of any kind are permitted. It means our churches remain closed until at least 1 June, though it will be reviewed towards the end of May. It is predicted that there will be no real change in so-called ‘high risk’ categories for quite a bit longer.”

“It is also interesting to see how peoples’ expectations have changed. Many are openly saying that they took churchgoing for granted and just can’t wait to get back to normal worship — however much video presentations are appreciated.”

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