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Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Pope Francis

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April 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Amid the coronavirus pandemic and massive restrictions on Mass attendance, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has encouraged the bishops in Italy “to decide how to act, with prudence and wisdom, in order to guarantee the Sacraments and the celebration of the Mass to the faithful.”

The Pope’s call for “obedience” to Italian “phase 2” restrictions that continue a ban on Mass is not only “undue, but is also a violation of conscience and harmful to the health of souls,” the Archbishop said.

He asked, “Do we think that Our Lord will judge us on having been obedient to Caesar, when this means disobeying God? Is the Christian not bound to conscientious objection, even at work, when that which is asked of him violates the Divine Law?”

At the same time, Viganò said the newest decree of the Italian government violates a concordat between Italy and the Vatican, and thus international law, by keeping public Masses banned.

“The Concordat between the Holy See and the Italian State recognizes that the Church has, as its ‘native right,’ full freedom and autonomy in carrying out her ministry, which is given proper social and public expression in the celebration of Holy Mass and the administration of the Sacraments,” the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States told Marco Tosatti.

“No authority may interfere in this ministry,” Viganò added, “not even with the consent of Church authority, which is not the master of the Sacraments but rather the administrator of the grace conveyed by them.”

It is the task of the individual bishop of a diocese, he said, to decide “with full autonomy, for the good of the souls entrusted to him as Pastor, which functions may be celebrated there and by whom they may be celebrated.”

As LifeSiteNews reported yesterday, the Italian Bishops’ Conference had criticized the Italian government on Sunday night for extending the ban on public worship into “Phase 2” of its strategy against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Following the statement of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Pope Francis asked Catholics to pray for the “grace of … obedience” regarding “Phase 2” of the country’s lockdown regulations.

“At this time when measures for leaving the quarantine are beginning, let us pray to the Lord that He will give his people, to all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience, so that the pandemic does not return,” the Pope said.

Viganò emphasized that technically, the bishops’ conference does not have any authority over the individual dioceses, but only the local bishop.

Nevertheless, he admitted that it is unheard of that “the Italian Bishops’ Conference would continue to tolerate such abuse, which prejudices the divine right of the Church, violates a law of the State, and creates a very serious precedent.”

“And I believe that the statement issued on Sunday evening is a proof of the consensus of the leadership of the Italian episcopate not only about the means but also about the ends this Government proposes,” he added.

The archbishop had already mentioned in an interview at the end of March that the Italian government is not allowed to interfere in Church matters. “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,” Viganò told The Remnant.

Archbishop Viganò recalled during his conversation with Marco Tosatti that in Italy, some Masses celebrated in recent weeks were interrupted by local authorities “with a sacrilegious arrogance that should have received an immediate and very strong protest from the Secretariat of State.”

“The Ambassador of Italy should have been summoned to the Holy See and presented with a harsh note of protest against the government’s serious violation of the Concordat, and the Holy See should have informed the Italian government that it would exercise its right to withdraw the Apostolic Nuncio to Italy if the government’s illegitimate provision was not withdrawn,” Viganò explained.

LifeSiteNews reported on an incident in the diocese of Cremona, where police interrupted a Mass celebrated with only 12 faithful present. One police officer even tried to get the priest, who was about to begin the Eucharistic Prayer, to talk to the mayor on the phone.

In this context, Viganò also criticized Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. “It appears evident that, instead of protecting the sovereignty and freedom of the Church in fidelity to his high institutional function as Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin has shamefully chosen to line up alongside his lawyer friend [Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte],” he argued.

When asked about how the position of Pope Francis seems to be contradictory in that, on the one had, he encouraged the Episcopal Conference of Italy (CEI) to take a position against the government, while, on the other hand, he recently recommended that the faithful obey the guidelines of the decrees, Archbishop Viganò responded that the Holy Father has suddenly changed his position before.

“Bergoglio is not new at these types of sudden changes. As everyone well remembers, before the scandal broke within the Order of Malta concerning the distribution of condoms in its hospitals, Francis had written a letter to the Patron of the Order, Cardinal Burke, in which he gave him very clear provisions regarding his duty to watch over the Order so that Catholic morals would be followed with scrupulous fidelity.”

However, when it was opportune, “he did not hesitate to disavow His Eminence, taking direct control of the Order, demanding the resignation of the Grand Master and reinstating the Councilor who had been expelled because he was responsible for that deplorable violation of morals.”

“In the most recent case of the CEI, the press release issued on Sunday evening [April 26] evidently had received approval from the president of the bishops’ conference Cardinal Bassetti, who in turn must have consulted with Francis.  It is disconcerting that, in the space of a few hours, the pulpit of Santa Marta disavowed the CEI and invited the faithful and priests to an obedience towards the provisions of the government which is not only undue, but is also a violation of conscience and harmful to the health of souls,” the former Apostolic Nuncio said.

“Let us not forget that the faithful have the right, as well as the duty, to assist at Mass, to go to confession, to receive the Sacraments: this is a right that comes to them as living members of the Mystical Body in virtue of their Baptism,” he continued.

“The Pastors have therefore the sacred duty – even at the risk of their health and of life itself, when required – to fulfill this right of the faithful, and for this they will have to answer to God, not to the President of the [Italian Bishops’ Conference] nor to the President.”

Viganò asked the Italian bishops, “Do you believe that, when the churches in Mexico or in Spain were closed [in the 20th century], when they prohibited processions, when they banned the wearing of the religious habit in public, that things started differently then they have started now?”

He stressed they should not allow “the freedoms of the Church to be limited by the excuse of an alleged epidemic!”

Obedience, Viganò said, is not an excuse for servility. “If our faith was based only on obedience, the martyrs would not have had to face the torment to which the civil law condemned them: it would have been enough to obey and burn a grain of incense before the statue of the Emperor.”

In the course of the interview, Viganò briefly expressed his reservations about certain claims made regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

If one were to admit, he said, that the coronavirus is “so virulent and deadly that it justifies the sequestering of an entire nation, indeed of the entire world, well then: is it really precisely in this moment that the sacraments and the Mass are being denied to everyone, right when they are most needed for eternal salvation?”

The archbishop added that the “alleged pandemic” had provided “an excellent occasion – intended or not, we will soon know – to impose on the population a limitation of freedom that is not in any way democratic nor in any way good.”

“These are proven techniques of dictatorship, in which they even dare to track people’s movements, using the excuse of health reasons and a hypothetical future resurgence of the virus,” he said. “They think they can impose a tyrannical regime in which non-elected persons claim the right to establish what is lawful and what is not, including which cures to impose and which punishments to inflict on those who will not submit.”