Diane Montagna writes for The Remnant –As Italy and the United States begin to open up in the wake of Covid-19, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has said he believes a widespread disinformation campaign is now underway, and the crisis is providing for some an excellent opportunity to restrict people’s freedoms.
He is therefore urging bishops not to succumb to civil or ecclesial pressure, but to take back their role as leaders and use the authority they have from Christ to provide the Sacraments and celebration of the Mass to the faithful.
In a new interview with Italian journalist Marco Tosatti, published on April 29 on Stilum Curae, Archbishop Viganò said: “I believe that authoritative scientists have capably demonstrated what is really happening [with Covid-19], and what on the other hand the masses are being led to believe, through a widespread control of information that doesn’t hesitate to resort to censorship in order to silence dissenting voices.”
He continued: “It seems clear to me that Covid-19 has provided an excellent opportunity — whether intended or not, we shall soon find out — to impose on the population a restriction of freedom that is neither democratic nor good.”
The former apostolic nuncio to the United States also forcefully denounced the Italian government’s recent decree prolonging the suspension of public Masses, calling it a “disgraceful delusion of omnipotence” that violates both divine and civil law.
The archbishop’s comments came just days after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte issued a new decree aimed at reopening Italy but continuing to clamp down on the Church.
The decree, presented by Prime Minister Conte on April 26 and set to take effect on May 4, stipulates that, while places of worship may be open, “religious ceremonies are suspended.” The government decree also stipulates that, while funerals are allowed, “only first and second-degree relatives” may attend, a total of 15 persons may be present, and the funeral should “preferably be held outdoors” with all those attending wearing masks and observing social distancing rules.
The Italian Bishop’s Conference (CEI) immediately shot back, voicing their opposition. In a statement released the same evening, the CEI lamented that despite their “discussions” with the government, and CEI leadership’s insistence that the Church be able to “resume its pastoral action,” the new decree “arbitrarily excludes the possibility of celebrating Mass with the people.”
CEI leadership reminded the government “of their duty to distinguish between their responsibility … and that of the Church, which is called to organize the life of the Christian community, respecting the measures laid down, but in the fullness of its own autonomy.”
The April 26 statement concluded: “The Italian Bishops cannot accept seeing the exercise of freedom of worship compromised. It should be clear to all that the commitment to serve the poor, which is so significant in this emergency, stems from a faith that must be able to be nourished at its source, especially the sacramental life.”
On April 28, Pope Francis — who just days prior had denounced a prolonged suspension of public Masses as unsustainable — asked the faithful to implore the Lord for the “grace of obedience to the directives” of the government.
In the new wide-ranging interview with Archbishop Viganò, he discusses Pope Francis’s changing position throughout the Covid-19 crisis, addresses who does and who does not have jurisdiction over the Church’s administration of the Sacraments, and calls his brother bishops to resume their role as “leaders.”
“Bishops should not wait for a body without any jurisdiction to tell them what to do,” Archbishop Viganò says. “It is up to each of them to decide how to act, with prudence and wisdom, in order to guarantee the Sacraments and the celebration of Mass to the faithful. And they can do so without having to ask either the Bishops’ Conference or the State, whose authority ends at the entrance to our churches, and there must stop.”
The interview was first published on Stilum Curae, on the April 29 memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy and co-patroness of Europe.
Archbishop Viganò has authorized the publication of the following translation for The Remnant.
Your Excellency, the latest decree of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte dashed the hopes of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and prolonged the lockdown of Masses throughout Italy. Some canonists and experts in concordat law have expressed reservations about the behavior of the Italian Government. What are your thoughts on the matter?
The Concordat between the Holy See and the Italian State recognizes that the Church has, as an innate right, full freedom and autonomy in carrying out her ministry, which is given proper social and public expression in the celebration of Holy Mass and the administration of the Sacraments. No authority can interfere with this ministry, not even with the consent of the ecclesiastical authority, which is not the master, but administrator of the grace conveyed by the Sacraments.
Jurisdiction over places of worship therefore belongs entirely and exclusively to the local Ordinary, who with full autonomy decides — for the good of the souls entrusted to his care as Pastor — what religious services are celebrated there, and by whom they are to be celebrated. It is not up to the prime minister to authorize access to churches, let alone legislate on what the faithful or the minister of worship can or cannot do.
Beyond this, authoritative pronouncements have been made by eminent jurists and magistrates — including from the Supreme Court — questioning the legitimacy of legislating through prime ministerial decrees, which violate the superior and prevailing rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Italian Republic. Even if we were not talking about the Catholic Religion, which is particularly protected by its special status, the suspension of the right to freedom of worship implied in the prime minister’s decrees is clearly illegitimate. I trust there will be those who wish to declare this officially, putting an end to this disgraceful delusion of omnipotence on the part of the civil authority, not only before God and His Church, but also towards the faithful and citizens of Italy.
Many faithful and priests have felt abandoned and unprotected by the Episcopal Conference and the Bishops.
In order to avoid any misunderstanding, we need to point out that the Bishops’ Conference has no authority over the Bishops, who each have full jurisdiction in their own diocese, in union with the Apostolic See. And this is even more important once we have understood that the CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference) has been all too compliant and indeed, has been under the thumb of the Italian government.
Bishops should not wait for a body without any jurisdiction to tell them what to do: it is up to each of them to decide how to act, with prudence and wisdom, in order to guarantee the Sacraments and the celebration of Mass to the faithful. And they can do so without having to ask either the Bishops’ Conference or the State, whose authority ends at the entrance to our churches, and there must stop.
It is unheard of that the Italian Bishops’ Conference would continue to tolerate such abuse, which undermines the divine right of the Church, violates a law of the State and creates an extremely grave precedent. And I believe that the statement issued [by the Italian Bishops’ Conference] on Sunday evening [April 26] is also proof that the leadership of the Italian Episcopate agrees not only with the means but also the ends that this government is proposing.
The supine silence of the CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference), and of almost all local Ordinaries, has revealed a situation of subordination to the State that is unprecedented, and that has rightly been perceived by faithful and priests as a kind of abandonment. The scandalous raids on churches by law enforcement, even during the celebration of Mass, are emblematic examples of this abandonment. Such sacrilegious arrogance should have provoked an immediate and vehement protest by the Vatican Secretariat of State. Italy’s Ambassador to the Holy See should have been summoned and presented with a harsh note of protest against the government’s grave violation of the Concordat, and the Holy See should have reserved the right to recall the Apostolic Nuncio to Italy if the illegitimate measure had not been withdrawn.
Cardinal Parolin, who has backed President Conte, is in a terribly embarrassing spot and a conflict of interest. It seems clear that, instead of protecting the sovereignty and freedom of the Church in fidelity to his lofty institutional role as Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin has shamefully chosen to side with his lawyer friend. Not even the economic interests of the so-called Catholic volunteer service could justify taking this option.
What interests are you referring to?
I am referring to the scandalous divvying up of public funds intended for welcoming illegal immigrants, of which Pope Bergoglio and the CEI are major beneficiaries and, at the same time, strenuous promoters. This is another conflict of interest that makes the Church beholden to the State, and makes it not entirely unwarranted to suspect that the CEI’s many silences, including the one we have witnessed in recent months during the alleged pandemic, are motivated by the fear of seeing the lucrative proceeds from “welcoming” immigrants fade away. Let us not forget that the funds deriving from the 8×1000 [an Italian tax to support the Church] are shrinking, confirming the departure of the Italian faithful from a Church that seems to have no other purpose than to favor the ethnic substitution strongly desired by the globalist elite. I fear that this trend will be confirmed in the coming months, in response to the Bishops’ silence.
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In all of this, the position of Pope Francis seems contradictory: initially, he ordered his Cardinal Vicar, Angelo De Donatis, to close the churches in Rome even before Prime Minister Conte issued the decree; then he embarrassed De Donatis, by publicly denying it and having them reopened. He encouraged livestreaming Masses and then talked about gnosis, encouraging the CEI to take a stand against the government; but just yesterday he recommended that the faithful obey the provisions set forth in the government decrees…
Bergoglio is no stranger to this kind of sudden change. As everyone well remembers, before the scandal broke out within the Order of Malta concerning the distribution of condoms in its hospitals, Francis had written a letter to the Order’s Patron, Cardinal Burke, in which he gave him very clear instructions about his duty to watch over the Order so that Catholic morals would be scrupulously followed. But when the news became public, he did not hesitate to disavow His Eminence, taking control of the Order, demanding the Grand Master’s resignation and reinstating the Councilor who had been expelled precisely because he was responsible for that deplorable violation of morals.
In the case you mentioned, the Cardinal Vicar, Angelo De Donatis, tried to defend his own propriety, explaining that the order to close the churches had been given to him by His Holiness. In the most recent case regarding the CEI, the statement issued on Sunday evening [April 26] clearly had the approval of CEI President Cardinal Bassetti, who in turn must have consulted with Francis. It is staggering that, in the space of a few hours, the pulpit at Santa Marta repudiated the CEI and invited the faithful and priests to an obedience to the government provisions that not only is not owed, but also a violation of conscience and harmful to the health of souls.
No one intends to expose the faithful to possible contagion, supposing that this is such a fearsome possibility; but the size of our churches and unfortunately the very small number of faithful who normally frequent them make it possible to respect safe distances both for individual prayer and for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice or other ceremonies. Clearly these zealous legislators have not been going to church for a long time…
Let us not forget that the faithful have the right, as well as the duty, to attend Mass, to confess and to receive the Sacraments: this is a right that comes to them from being living members of the Mystical Body by virtue of their Baptism. Pastors, therefore, have the sacred duty — even at the risk of their health and life itself, when required — to comply with this right of the faithful, and for this they must answer to God, not to the President of the Italian Episcopal Conference nor to the Italian President.
In recent days His Excellency Giovanni d’Ercole, Bishop of Ascoli-Piceno, launched a severe warning to Prime Minister Conte and the “scientific committee,” in which he gave notice: “You must give us the right to worship, or else we will take it back.” These strong and courageous words seem to suggest a certain awakening in the consciences of Pastors.
Bishop D’Ercole has spoken as a true bishop, with the authority that comes to him from Christ. Like him, I am sure that there are many other Pastors and priests who feel a responsibility towards the souls entrusted to them. But many remain silent, more so as not to arouse protest than out of fear. Precisely in this Easter Season, the Gospel parable of the Good Shepherd resounds in the liturgy; Jesus also mentions the mercenaries who do not care about the salvation of the sheep: let us not render vain the divine warning and example of Our Savior, who lays down his life for the sheep!
I would like to take the liberty of addressing my confreres in the Episcopate: do you believe that, when in Mexico or Spain they closed the churches, banned processions, prohibited the use of the religious habit in public, things began differently? Do not allow the freedom of the Church to be restricted under the pretext of an alleged epidemic! Do not allow it either by the State or by the Italian Bishops’ Conference! The Lord will hold you to account for the souls who died without the Sacraments, the sinners who could not be reconciled with Him, for having allowed for the first time in history since Constantine’s Edict of Milan, that the faithful be prohibited from worthily celebrating Holy Easter. Your priests are not fearful: they are heroic witnesses and are suffering on account of the arbitrary orders you give them. Your faithful are imploring you: do not remain deaf to their cry!
These words seem to invite disobedience to ecclesiastical authority even before civil authority.
Obedience is ordered to the Truth and the Good, otherwise it is servility. We have arrived at such a dulling of consciences that we no longer realize what it means to “bear witness to the Truth.” Do you believe that Our Lord will judge us for having been obedient to Caesar, when that means disobeying God? Isn’t a Christian bound to conscientious objection, even at work, when what is required of him violates the divine Law? If our Faith were based only on obedience, the Martyrs would not have had to face the torments to which the civil law condemned them: it would have sufficed to obey and burn a grain of incense to the statue of the Emperor.
At least in Italy, we are not yet faced with the crucial choice between life and death. But we are being asked to choose between the duty to honor God and worship Him, and obedience to the diktats of self-styled experts, who have been contradicted a thousand times by the evidence of the facts.
I find it paradoxical that in this deception, which is now being unmasked even to the most moderate observers among us, the thankless task of having to bear witness to one’s faith before the wolves is being imposed on the People of God, without them being able to have their Pastors at their side. That is why I exhort my brother Bishops to proudly resume their role as leaders, without excusing themselves under the pretext of complying with norms that are illegitimate and unreasonable. I make my own the words of Bishop D’Ercole: “We do not need favors from you; we have a right to claim, and this right must be recognized!”
Some might regard your words as “divisive,” at a time when it is easy to exasperate citizens who have already been so sorely tried.
Unity in faith and charity is based on the salvation of souls, not on their harm. The “discussions” of the Italian Bishops’ Conference are not enough, nor are the smiling papal meetings with the Italian Prime Minister, who has been granted an indulgent cooperation that manifests connivance and collaborationism. Proclaiming the truth is necessarily “divisive,” because truth is opposed to error, just as light is opposed to darkness. Thus said the Lord: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk. 12:51).
Supposing that the coronavirus is so virulent and deadly that it justifies the segregation of an entire people, indeed of the whole world, well then: now the sacraments and the Mass are being denied, when they are most needed for eternal salvation?
Your Excellency, based on what you have said I believe I understand some of your perplexities about the nature of the coronavirus: is it my impression or do you believe — as many doctors are saying — that someone has wanted to take advantage of the pandemic for other purposes?
This is not the place to express my reservations about the so-called “pandemic.” I believe that authoritative scientists have capably demonstrated what is really happening, and what on the other hand the masses are being led to believe, through a widespread control of information that doesn’t hesitate to resort to censorship in order to silence dissenting voices. However, it seems clear to me that Covid-19 has provided an excellent opportunity — whether intended or not, we shall soon find out — to impose on the population a restriction of freedom that is neither democratic nor good.
These are the technical trials of a dictatorship, in which they dare even to plan on tracking people, under the pretext of health and a hypothetical future outbreak of the virus. They think they can impose a tyrannical regime in which people who have not been elected by anyone lay claim to establishing what is lawful and what is not, what treatments to impose and what punishments to inflict on those who wish to deviate. What is even more serious: all of this is happening with the approval of part of the hierarchy: if they had told us about this a few years ago, we would not have believed them.
A word of hope in closing?
There is always reason for hope, if you have a supernatural outlook. First of all, this epidemic has allowed many masks to fall: of the real powers, of the international lobbies that patent a virus and are also preparing to patent a vaccine, and at the same time push for it to be imposed on everyone, in a sensational conflict of interest. At least now we know who they are and what they look like.
The masks have also fallen from those who lend themselves to this farce, by sounding unjustified alarms and spreading panic among the people, by creating a crisis not only in terms of health, but also in terms of economics and world politics. Here, too, we know who they are and what their plan is.
Finally, the mask of anonymity has fallen from so many good people. We have realized how much generosity, how much self-sacrifice, how much goodness is still around, despite everything. Doctors, nurses, priests and volunteers, certainly, but also the many faceless and nameless people who help their neighbors, bring comfort to those who suffer, and who are waking up from their slumber and beginning to understand what is going on around them. An awakening of Good, whose author is undoubtedly the Lord. He governs the destiny of the Church and the world, and He will not allow Evil to prevail.
Let us not forget, as I recalled recently: Our Lady of Fatima promised Sister Lucia that before the end of time a Pope would consecrate Russia to Her Immaculate Heart, and that this act of obedience would be followed by an era of peace. Let us therefore confidently place ourselves, our families and our dear Italy under the mantle of the Most Blessed Virgin, trusting in her words.