Peruvian archbishop slams govt for forcing churches to shut down
February 3, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Archbishop Javier Del Río Alba of Arequipa, Peru, issued a strong attack on the government in response to the state-imposed shutdown of churches while allowing businesses to remain open.
Del Río's letter in the latest issue of the archdiocesan newsletter is titled “Another serious government mistake.” (The full text is found below.)
He accused the government’s selective shutdown of churches, while allowing other businesses to remain open, as not understanding Peruvian society or Peruvians themselves.
Pointing to the Peruvian constitution, which reads “The defense of the human person and respect for their dignity are the supreme goal of society and the State,” Del Río commented that “if those who hold the powers of the State have a limited and incomplete vision of ‘the human person’ they will not be able to defend him or respect his dignity.”
Based on a 2017 census, “95 percent of Peruvians profess some religion,” he declared, adding that Christians compose “almost all” of that figure.
“Christians … believe that the unity of the soul and the body is so deep that their union constitutes a single nature (CEC, 365). Everything indicates, however, that our current leaders do not share that vision and to the already criticized contrast between health and the economy they now add a more serious and unfounded contrast between physical health and spiritual health.”
“Thus, they have ordered the total closure of temples and centers of worship in almost all of Peru,” Del Río continued, “while in the same places banks, shopping centers and even restaurants are allowed to operate, with a capacity that can reach up to 50 percent.”
In the latest of Peru’s extreme COVID-19 restrictions, the government has divided the country into three levels of alerts: high, very high, and extreme. In both the “extreme” and “very high” areas, churches and places of worship are closed. However, in the “extreme” areas, supermarkets, banks, and pharmacies are allowed to open at 40 percent of capacity; in the “very high” areas, they are allowed 50 percent of capacity, restaurants are permitted 30 percent if customers are seated outdoors, and general stores and galleries are allowed to open at 20 percent capacity.
Only in the “high” levels of alert are churches allowed to open, and then only at 20 percent capacity, far less than general stores, supermarkets, restaurants, libraries, and banks.
Arequipa lies in the region of “very high” alert, and as such its churches are completely closed.
In addition, Peru has enacted measures with specific intent at making Sunday gatherings more difficult. As of January 13, citizens were prohibited from driving vehicles on Sundays in order to prohibit gatherings. This restriction on the use of private vehicles is in place at all three levels of alert in Peru, although it now ranges from being limited to Sundays in the “high” alert areas to a complete ban at all times in the “extreme” alert areas.
The decree promulgating the latest prohibitions was published January 27 and is in effect from January 31 until at least February 14.
The archbishop reiterated the importance of in-person attendance at the sacraments, saying it is “highly worrying that our leaders do not recognize this vital need of the majority of Peruvians and even give it less importance than merely recreational encounters.”
“Unlike the materialistic individualism typical of the ‘throwaway culture,' which includes abortion and euthanasia promoted by the ruling party, the countless number of martyrs in the 21 centuries of the Church’s life is testimony to the importance that … Christians have to listen together to the Word of God, participate in the celebration of the Eucharist and freely access the temple where we recognize the real presence of Christ or the place of worship where we meet our brothers in the faith.”
The government should attend to the “integral health of Peruvians,” he said, so that people’s physical and spiritual health can be properly cared for. The Church had been complying “for months” with the government directives about physical distancing and hygiene measures, Del Río noted, and should be allowed to remain open with such safety measures in place.
Delivering a video message to the faithful, the archbishop reiterated his opposition to the church closures, but signaled that the church would heed the decrees in order to be obedient citizens.
However, in an open letter published in May 2020, Catholic clergy led by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Joseph Zen, and Janis Pujats reminded politicians around the world that “the state has no right to interfere, for any reason, whatsoever, in the sovereignty of the church.”
“This autonomy and freedom are an innate right that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given her for the pursuit of her proper ends. For this reason, as pastors we firmly assert the right to decide autonomously on the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, just as we claim absolute autonomy in matters falling within our immediate jurisdiction, such as liturgical norms and ways of administering Communion and the Sacraments,” the signatories stated.
On a separate occasion, Archbishop Viganò also mentioned that “obedience ceases to be a virtue and, in fact, becomes servility if it is an end in itself and if it contradicts the purpose to which it is ordained, namely Faith and Morals.”
Archbishop Viganò repeated his teaching recently, commenting that obedience should not be shown to orders that are evil in themselves. “Obedience to a perverted authority cannot be considered to be required, nor morally good, simply because when the Son of Man returns at the end of time He will do justice. Scripture urges us to be obedient, moderating our obedience with patience and a spirit of penance, but it does not exhort us absolutely to obey orders that are intrinsically evil simply because the one who issues the orders to us holds authority.”
The full statement of Archbishop Del Río is found below:
ANOTHER GRAVE ERROR BY THE GOVERNMENT
The recent measures taken by the government to combat the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic show, once again, that our leaders do not understand Peruvian society or those of us who are part of it. This is serious since, according to article 1 of the Political Constitution of Peru: “The defense of the human person and respect for his dignity are the supreme goal of society and the State.” If those who hold the powers of the State have a limited and incomplete vision of “the human person” they will not be able to defend it or respect the dignity of it. And if, in addition, that vision is different from that of the majority of Peruvians, they would be ruling with their backs to them.
According to the national census of 2017, 95% of Peruvians profess some religion according to which the “human person” is not only matter but is a being at the same time corporal and spiritual. Christians, who make up almost all that 95% of Peruvians, believe that the unity of the soul and the body is so deep that their union constitutes a single nature (CEC, 365). Everything indicates, however, that our current leaders do not share that vision and to the already criticized contrast between health and the economy, they now add a more serious and unfounded contrast between physical health and spiritual health. Thus, they have ordered the total closure of temples and centers of worship in almost all of Peru, while in the same places banks, shopping centers and even restaurants are allowed to operate, with a capacity that can reach up to 50%. Preventing even the faithful from praying individually and with a minimum capacity in the temples, which is the most recent order by the government, violates the dignity of Peruvians and neglects them before their spiritual needs.
Unlike the materialistic individualism typical of the “throwaway culture”, which includes abortion and euthanasia promoted by the ruling party, the countless number of martyrs in the twenty-one centuries of the Church's life is testimony to the importance that for the Christians have to listen together to the Word of God, participate in the celebration of the Eucharist and freely access the temple where we recognize the real presence of Christ or the place of worship where we meet our brothers in the faith. It is therefore highly worrying that our leaders do not recognize this vital need of the majority of Peruvians and even give it less importance than merely recreational encounters. The correct thing would be for them to worry about the integral health of Peruvians, which is not reduced to physical health but includes spiritual health, and that the opening of temples and religious celebrations is allowed, with the proper biosecurity measures that, otherwise, we have been complying for months. In the meantime, we will have to return to the transmission of the Mass through social networks, although the priests will continue to be available to the faithful in the parish offices, be it for confession or spiritual direction, anointing of the sick and everything that is within their reach.
+ Javier Del Río Alba
Archbishop of Arequipa