The other day, during Sunday Mass in a leading parish in Milan, the celebrant revealed a chilling fact: after the reopening, in the Ambrosian diocese, only 30% of the faithful returned to the churches. “Families and children have totally disappeared, he said.” The situation in the rest of Italy is not much better.
Without malice, I thought, “you abandoned them during the most critical period of the pandemic, and they now repay you in the same manner.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the worst side of the crisis that has gripped Holy Mother Church for more than half a century: the conscious and voluntary abandonment of her salvific mission by so many pastors. Italians were shocked when the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) suspended public worship even before the government decreed its blockade, depriving the faithful of the Sacraments. The social lockdown was thus followed by a spiritual one, much more implacable. We found ourselves in a bizarre situation in which supermarkets and tobacco shops were open, but religious ceremonies were forbidden. While people could freely go shopping or buy cigarettes, many died without the help of the Sacrament of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick. More than one bishop even issued regulations forbidding priests from exposing themselves by caring for the sick. That is the exact opposite of what the Church has been doing for two thousand years.
Some courageous priests, challenging the impositions of the CEI, tried to celebrate Mass with a few people present or in the open air, in perfect compliance with health regulations. They were severely punished with heavy fines and even threatened with imprisonment. It came to the scandalous invasion of some churches by the forces of law and order, sacrilegiously interrupting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Not only did the ecclesiastical authorities not protest against these acts of religious persecution, but also sided with the government, upbraiding the “rebel” priests. Perhaps never in the history of Italy has the Church shown itself so submissive to the State.
When yielding to the clamor of the scandalized faithful, the CEI finally began to raise its voice a little in defense of religious freedom, Pope Francis immediately silence it. From the chair of Santa Marta, he urged the bishops to “obey the government’s instructions.”