ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican is acquiescing to the Italian state by turning its back on the faithful as police take charge of church services.
On March 15, in the diocese of Porto-Santa Rufina, Italian police dispersed people outside a church who were hearing Mass through the open doors.
The Mass was being offered at St. Francis of Assisi parish in the Italian town of Cerveteri, some 27 miles northwest of Rome.
According to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a popular Catholic blogger, about 15 people were present at the Sunday Mass, several of them seated outside of the church with doors wide open as Mass was offered.
Police entered the church after distribution of Holy Communion and before the final prayers of the Mass and dispersed the faithful. The priest carried on with the Mass after the parishioners left, as livestreaming of the Mass on Facebook confirmed.
While some churches in Italy are open for private prayer and the sacrament of confession, government measures prohibit Italians from leaving their homes for any reason except to purchase food or seek medical attention, leaving the faithful confused.
There are onsite reports of police cars zooming by and stopping next to churches to check if the faithful are congregating.
Italian police interrupt Mass in Cerveteri District (Rome) that was being broadcast live on Facebook as there were people assembled outside praying in front of the Church. #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/YuDRP5qalB— Alexey Gotovskiy (@go_alexey) March 15, 2020
Church Militant's Rome correspondent Dr. Jules Gomes commented on the predicament: "Faithful priests who wish to celebrate Holy Mass for their flock are living in mortal fear of both their bishop and the state. Priests fear they are being spied on — some have already been reported to the police and prosecutor for offering Mass and letting parishioners wander in."
To compound matters, "Most priests have simply disappeared. You can't get them on e-mail or phone or social media," he added.
On March 12 Vicar General Cdl. Angelo De Donatis announced that the faithful would be blocked from churches in the diocese of Rome, representing the first time in history that all churches there had been completely closed.
The vicar general said churches were closing "not because the state requires it, but out of a sense of belonging to the human family, exposed to a virus whose nature and propagation we do not yet know."
The prohibition ordered "access to the parochial and non-parochial churches of the diocese of Rome" as well as "religious buildings of any kind" — both normally open to the public by canon law — be "forbidden to all the faithful" until April 3, the Friday before Palm Sunday.
On March 13, however, De Donatis walked back his decree — leading to confusion among the faithful — saying that parishes could remain open and leaving "the ultimate responsibility for entry into places of worship on priests and all the faithful, so as not to expose the population to any danger of contagion."
But in light of the police taking control of Masses and with clarification not forthcoming from the Vatican, "There is considerable confusion among laity as to what to do: Will there be Mass, can I enter, is this a secret Mass, can I tell my friends or family, do I tell people I have attended?" Dr. Gomes asked.