Jules Gomes reports for ChurchMilitant.com — The cardinal vicar of Rome is blaming the pontiff for the diktat to shut churches in Rome while proceeding to explain that a “further confrontation with Pope Francis this morning,” compelled him to reverse his decision.
On Thursday, Cdl. Angelo De Donatis issued a decree to barricade the faithful from churches “not because the state requires it, but out of a sense of belonging to the human family, exposed to a virus whose nature and propagation we do not yet know.”
The prohibition ordered that “access to the parochial and non-parochial churches of the diocese of Rome” as well as “religious buildings of any kind” — both normally open to the public by canon law — is “forbidden to all the faithful” until April 3.
However, on Friday, the pope’s vicar for the diocese of Rome backpedaled and issued a fresh communiqué to “clarify” and “modify” the previous day’s decree, stating that parish and mission churches would remain open.
Donatis said he was “placing the ultimate responsibility for entry into places of worship on priests and all the faithful, so as not to expose the population to any danger of contagion.”
“At the same time, today’s decision has been taken to avoid sign of a physical ban on access to the place of worship by closing it, which could create disorientation and a greater sense of insecurity,” and “any ecclesial precautionary measure must take into account not only the common good of civil society, but also that unique and precious good which is the faith, especially that of the littlest ones,” the cardinal said.
The updated decree also urged the faithful “to comply with a mature conscience and with a sense of responsibility to the directives of the prime ministerial decrees of the last few days, in particular, those of the so-called decree ‘#I will stay at home#,'” the statement added.
However, in a letter to the diocesan clergy of Rome, Donatis held the Holy Father accountable for both decisions claiming that the first decree was issued only “after consulting our bishop, Pope Francis” while the second missive was published after the pontiff’s statement in his televised homily in Santa Marta declaring that “drastic measures are not always good” and that “therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit might grant pastoral discernment to pastors so that they might perceive measures that might not leave the holy, faithful people of God alone, and so that people of God might feel accompanied by their pastors.”
According to Catholic commentator Riccardo Cascioli, “The protests of many faithful and the phone calls of alarm from bishops and cardinals convinced him [Pope Francis] to turn around.”
Cascioli lamented the “disconcerting sight of an ecclesiastical hierarchy in a state of confusion” as it became clear that Pope Francis was now using his pulpit to accuse his cardinal vicar of lacking “pastoral discernment” in shutting down churches.
“Since Pope Francis is the bishop of Rome, he hinted that Cdl. De Donatis and Cdl. Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, had agreed on such sensational measures behind him, without consulting him,” Cascioli wrote, adding, “This is difficult to believe, given the profile of the two cardinals.”
Donatis defended his decree stating that he was “not pushed by an irrational fear or, worse, a pragmatism devoid of evangelical hope,” but by “obedience to the will of God … manifested to us through the reality of the historical moment we are experiencing.”
“When the first decree was issued, I rubbed my eyes and read it again and again. I thought we were supposed to go to church bringing before God, mankind, praying for deliverance from this pandemic and keeping company with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,” Milanese Catholic and lecturer in English literature Elisabetta Sala told Church Militant.
Expressing her bewilderment at “the vague explanation given for such a serious decision,” Sala explained that the decree, “not surprisingly, created an outrage throughout Italy. So, they completed their unbelievable Roman pantomime and here we are, thanks be to God.”
“My question now is: Will they try it again? One never knows with such guides,” Sala remarked.
The reversal came soon after the papal almoner, Cdl. Konrad Krajewski defied the Vicariate’s decree Friday morning by opening the doors of his church of Santa Maria Immacolata all’Esquilino in Rome.
“It is the act of disobedience, yes. I, myself, put the Blessed Sacrament out and opened my church,” Krajewski also told Crux. “It did not happen under fascism, it did not happen under the Russian or Soviet rule in Poland — the churches were not closed,” he said, adding: “This is an act that should bring courage to other priests.”
Earlier, Fr. Franz Xaver Brandmayr, rector of Santa Maria dell’Anima, the German-speaking congregation in Rome, announced he would not exclude the faithful from the “private Masses” he celebrates.
“I will celebrate it as a private Mass, but nobody can prevent me from doing it with a loud voice. I always give a sermon. Those who want to pray are always welcome in this church. And if someone comes and wants to receive Communion, I won’t refuse it,” Brandmayr said.
“For me, obedience stops there. I do not deny Communion to anyone. If you want to lock the church, you have to use physical force to get me to do it,” he added.
Outside Rome, cases of priests celebrating “clandestine Masses” have come to light as Church Militant reported the case of Fr. Antonio Lunghi, parish priest of Castello d’Agogna in Pavia diocese, who was reported to the police for permitting eight worshippers to join him for Mass.
Fr. Alberto Antonioli, parish priest of Trevenzuolo in Verona diocese, was arrested for celebrating Sunday Mass with the door half-closed and a few dozen faithful entering and charged with disregarding article 650 of the penal code.
In Bedizzole, Brescia diocese, the mayor forcibly entered the church to ensure no parishioners were attending Mass celebrated by parish priest Fr. Franco Degani.
Cascioli has predicted the cardinal vicar’s defiance is a nail in the coffin of his ecclesiastical career in Rome. But this time, he said, De Donatis “is not going to be made a sacrificial lamb,” which is what led him to hold Pope Francis responsible in his letter to the parish priests of Rome accompanying the new decree.
The decree reversing the closure of the churches was issued on the seventh anniversary of Pope Francis being appointed to the pontificate.