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THIENE, Vicenza, Italy, February 27, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Catholics are being turned away from even the sacrament of penance in at least one Italian town.

Several dioceses in Italy, including Bologna, Milan, and Padua, cancelled Ash Wednesday liturgies and have suspended all public Masses, thanks to the outbreak of coronavirus in the northern regions of Italy. 

But the parish of the Madonna of Olmo in Thiene has gone even further, advising Catholics that they may not receive the sacrament of Confession. In a Facebook message, one of the Capuchin friars serving the community stated that, because of diocesan orders, “all the activities of the Sanctuary, Masses and Confessions, including the Ash Wednesday rite, Lauds and Vespers, the Way of the Cross, [and] Lectio Divina” are suspended.

Local Catholic Andrea Zanato photographed one of the placards affixed to the church stating “Confession isn’t possible.” On Facebook, he lamented that the Diocese of Vicenza had merely repeated the closures ordered by the Patriarchate (also Archdiocese) of Venice. 

“It seems to me that these rules very much exceed common sense,” he wrote. “Not being available to hear confessions is really something incomprehensible.” 

The church, like other churches affected by the suspension, is open for private prayers at certain hours of the day.  

The cessation of Masses in these dioceses has been at the request of the Italian state. However, some Catholics have been questioning the cancellation of Ash Wednesday services and the suspension of other Masses in Northern Italy when shops, restaurants, and bars are still open. 

Mauro Faverzani of Corrispondenza Romana reported that in Cremona, whose bishop has suspended all Masses, and whose mayor has suspended schools, the public market, sports, and other public events remain open and people throng in bars, restaurants, pharmacies, and shopping centers.  

“Paradoxically [in Cremona] you can have an aperitif with friends, find yourself in a pizzeria and go to the shopping center, but you can’t receive the Eucharist, or pray together in Church to ask for protection against the coronavirus,” he wrote.

A Polish woman living in Italy complained to Fr. Dariusz Kowalczyk that it is not coronavirus, but Satan, that is attacking the country. 

“How else to explain the situation when in almost all dioceses of northern Italy all Masses and liturgies in churches are banned, and bars, restaurants and shopping centers are full of people?” asked Wioletta Wroblewska of Mantua.  

“I called the curia of the diocese in which I live, and the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t tell me how the virus from the bar differs from the virus from church. Is the virus from the bar okay, and only the one from church infects people?” 

Wroblewska said that she had searched a 100-kilometer radius from her home to find somewhere to attend Ash Wednesday Mass without finding one. 

But it seems that Catholics’ disappointments with the Italian Church’s measures have been heard. The Patriarch of Venice, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, told Vatican News today that he will be representing the bishops of Italy in talks with the state. 

“I do not question the decisions taken by the authorities,” he said.  

“However, I see that other gatherings, e.g. in gyms, swimming pools, shopping malls and market halls, do not have the same restrictions as churches.”

Moraglia, 66, said that as chairman of the episcopal conference of the Triveneto region, he had spoken to 15 bishops by phone and would explain to the civil authorities on their behalf that the Church would like to find a solution “that would be acceptable to all, so that our communities can meet, especially for the Eucharist.” 

The Patriarch will assure the authorities that the bishops will “of course” make sure that these gatherings are done in a careful manner, with a code of hygiene they will work out with the state.

“I think that we can come to an agreement to respect the requirements of the common good, but at the same time be able to participate in the Eucharist, especially now during Lent,” he said.  

“Yesterday I remembered the faithful example of the martyrs of Abitena who risked their lives because, as they confessed, they could not live without the Sunday Eucharist. Today it is just as important for us as it was then for them.”

The Italian bishops’ willingness to suspend public worship was in contrast to the response of the Diocese of Hong Kong, where public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has been organized, so that the faithful may pray for an end to the coronavirus epidemic. It is also in contrast to the response of their predecessors, who believed that such plagues were divine chastisements, calling for more public prayer, not less.


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