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April 23, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has criticized Italian police for interrupting a priest in Soncino (Lombardy) as he offered Mass with some 13 people present.
“No authority is allowed to interrupt Mass,” the cardinal insisted on Twitter.
The cardinal's tweet has been reported on by media in different languages. Becciu recalls in his tweet that he told a priest who was “appalled by what happened to a confrere in the Diocese of Cremona” that “the principle that no authority is allowed to interrupt Mass must be defended.”
“If the celebrant is guilty of any infraction,” the curial cardinal continues, “let him be reprimanded afterwards, not during!”
As one commentator says in response to this tweet, article 405 of the Italian penal code prohibits any interruption of the Holy Mass. Other media reports on the event in the Diocese of Cremona also show much sympathy for the priest, Don Lino Viola, who refused to stop his Mass.
As LifeSite reported, last Sunday, police interrupted this priest's Mass in Soncina, in the Diocese of Cremona. A policeman interrupted the priest and pointed out to him that public Masses are forbidden. The priest insisted upon continuing his Mass, even though the officer then returned with the local mayor on the phone. The priest simply turned off the phone and returned to his Mass.
Subsequently, the priest and the congregating faithful have been fined: the priest with 680 Euros, the faithful with 280 Euros. The Diocese of Cremona distanced itself from the priest's conduct. It stated that, “with regard to the matter, the Diocese of Cremona, while aware of the intimate suffering and profound discomfort of so many priests and faithful due to the forced and prolonged deprivation of the Eucharist, cannot but emphasize with regret that the behavior of the parish priest is in contradiction with civil norms and canonical indications that for several weeks now have been affecting the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church in Italy and of our Church of Cremona.”
Cardinal Becciu has previously been one of the leading figures at the Vatican. He was, from 2011 until 2018, the Substitute for General Affairs in the Secretariat of State, similar to a chief of staff. As such, he was heavily involved in the manipulations and intrusion into the affairs of the Order of Malta.
To return to the matter of the Italian police's interruption of a Holy Mass. As of today, yet another Holy Mass has been interrupted by police, this time in Paris, France. Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Paris, however, defended his priest who refused to stop his Mass. Aupetit reminded the public of the “formal interdiction for the police to enter a church with weapons.” This, he continued, is valid also for the corona crisis. The separation of church and state must be respected, “otherwise, we will become loud, (…) very loud,” he added.
Next to Cardinal Becciu and Archbishop Aupetit, another cardinal who has recently regretted some of the interventions on the part of the police is Cardinal Walter Brandmüller. In his reflections on the corona crisis, Brandmüller says that today, “there is the police state [that] intervenes harshly and enforces the closing of churches on the high feast of Easter. Could one not achieve more by appealing to the reason and discipline of free, mature citizens, rather than by using force and violence?”
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has commented on this particular incident in Italy, as well, and states that “it must also be clear, though, especially in a country like Italy which signed a Concordat with the Church in 1929, that the ecclesiastical authorities have sole rights over places of worship.”
He regrets the lame response on the part of the diocese when he adds that “the Holy See and the local Ordinary really ought to have protested over such a violation of the Lateran Treaty, which was confirmed again in 1984 and which is still in force.”
Don Viola himself is considering talking with a lawyer about whether “there was abuse of power” in his case. Some commentators point out that police are not permitted to enter a Catholic church without a serious emergency.
Don Viola told the faithful who had been fined that if necessary, his parish would cover these costs. He also said that “they were a family who at that Mass commemorated some people who had died, plus a lady who had lost a relative to coronavirus two days earlier. It wasn’t human to send them out.”
The interruption of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a serious matter for the Catholic Church. Another example of such an interruption was when Pope Francis interrupted Cardinal Gerhard Müller in 2013 when celebrating Mass. Here is what the Rome-based journalist Marco Tosatti reported in 2017:
“The cardinal was celebrating Mass in the church attached to the congregation palace, for a group of German students and scholars. His secretary joined him at the altar: 'The pope wants to speak to you.' 'Did you tell him I am celebrating Mass?' asked Müller. 'Yes,' said the secretary, 'but he says he does not mind—he wants to talk to you all the same.' The cardinal went to the sacristy. The pope, in a very bad mood, gave him some orders about a dossier concerning one of his friends, a cardinal. (This is a very delicate matter. I have sought an explanation of this incident from the official channels. Until the explanation comes, if it ever comes, I cannot give further details.) Obviously, Mūller was flabbergasted.”