BERGAMO, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Italian bishop who forbade priests from offering sacraments to the dying during the coronavirus outbreak has suspended a priest for leading a pilgrimage against the nation's vaccine mandates and "Green Pass."
Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo in northern Italy relieved Fr. Emanuele Personeni from all pastoral duties just before Personeni, the parish priest of Mapello and Ambivere, began his anti-mandate pilgrimage across the country on Friday.
"I will travel on foot or by bicycle out of solidarity with those who are deprived of the right to use public transport because they are not vaccinated," Personeni wrote on Instagram.
Personeni has "abandoned the office and the community entrusted to his pastoral care as parish vicar," a diocesan statement announced, saying the diocese is "renewing the appeal to vaccination as supported by Pope Francis and by the Italian and Lombard episcopal conferences."
Father Personeni's stance on the vaccine created "situations of bewilderment in parishes in relation to the behavior to be followed to ensure the health safety of the faithful who participate in the life of these communities," the statement added.
Insisting on vaccination as a "moral obligation" as well as a "legal obligation," Beschi has prohibited other parishes from welcoming Personeni or giving him a platform for his ideas, stating, "No parish is authorized to grant him pastoral spaces."
Despite opposition from the bishop and local mayors, Personeni was enthusiastically greeted by over 100 pilgrims from the neighboring towns. Cyclists from Milan, Brescia and even Venice loaded their bikes onto cars and drove to join the pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage began on Friday at 7:30 a.m. in the Ambivere parish churchyard with Fr. Personeni addressing the pilgrims in defense of the rights of conscientious objectors and arguing that the mandates amount to "blackmail" and "violate the fundamental rights of the person."
Aiming for Rome as their final destination, the demonstrators first stopped at the neighboring parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Mapello before continuing the pilgrimage to Valtrighe, where the group arrived at 8:45 a.m.
When they arrived at Sotto il Monte, the birthplace of Pope John XXII, the pilgrims were welcomed by Msgr. Claudio Dolcini, also a parish priest in Bergamo diocese, who said he would "not shut the door in the face of anyone" but that he would be respectful, even if he disagreed with Personeni.
After meeting Msgr. Dolcini, Personeni told his fellow pilgrims, "We are not automatons programmed by software. We are children of God, free to act one way or the other. Thanks to the parish and community of Sotto il Monte for giving us the opportunity to share this prayer."
Personeni is also facing opposition from fellow clergymen, including the curate of Nembro, Fr. Matteo Cella, who has asked his colleague to "stop confusing freedom with selfishness."
"Don't come, because we won't be neutral — in no [sic] way," Cella told Personeni. "Frankly, I don't find a great difference between your message and whoever smeared the cemetery wall with ranting phrases against vaccination."
After Nembro, the parish priest of Gorgonzola, Fr. Paolo Zago, said he would not host Personeni since Personeni's initiative was causing divisions among the faithful.
In comments to Church Militant, eminent Italian ethicist Dr. Fulvio Di Blasi, author of The Death of the Phronimos: Faith and Truth About Anti-COVID Vaccines, lamented that the behaviors of Church authorities regarding "the pandemic and the so-called anti-COVID vaccines have created unimaginable divisions, tensions, persecutions and social hatred."
Dr. Di Blasi, whose forthcoming book is titled Vaccination as an Act of Love? Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemics, elaborated:
These are complex issues that require interdisciplinary knowledge of medicine, biology, law, epidemiology, statistics, virology, ethics, politics, economics, etc. The ecclesiastical institutions could have remained a refuge and a source of peace for troubled and torn consciences.
Instead, many of them preferred to side with Caesar and with worldly powers by meddling in things that do not concern faith. They have done so to the point of joining the ranks of persecutors and oppressors. It will take many saints and many years to heal the huge wound caused by this attitude, which is false, irresponsible and contrary to charity.
Local sources told Church Militant that Beschi was throwing his priest under the bus to "cover his back and show the Vatican whose side he is on" and "also to appease the mayors of Mapello and Ambivere, who were calling for Personeni to be punished."
In a letter to Pope Francis, Personeni warned that "the vaccine's side effects" have reached "such levels as to push independent, technical scientific bodies to suggest the need for a re-evaluation of the overall vaccination strategy, especially among youth and adults."
The priest also criticized "indiscriminate vaccination" in his letter to Francis and called out mainstream media for continuing "to silence divergent narratives, even when based on data, labeling them 'anti-scientific conspiracy theories.'"
Updating his followers on Telegram, Personeni wrote on St. Valentine's day, "Jesus' invitation not to greet anyone along the way might seem rude. But it is not so. What Jesus means is that there is no time to waste. People must know and see immediately now that God has made Himself close through Jesus and through His disciples."
Hundreds of Italians are applauding Personeni on social media while naming and shaming Beschi and the pro-mandate Italian clergy.
"I have seen a Church shamefully silent in the face of hate vomited towards an entire category of people," a letter from parishioner Luca Marcassoli to Beschi notes, blasting the bishop for the "real scandal" of suspending Personeni.
"I am pleased to witness the testimony of a priest who — in clear language, valid arguments and great empathy — makes me feel affection for the Bride of Christ, which has been severely tested by pain and anger," Marcassoli writes.
By "bombarding" the faithful with countless messages on sanitary measures, the Church has left conscientious objectors "less Catholic," he adds, commenting on how Italy would have been transformed if only clerics had invested the same energy into teaching the faithful and urging them to come to Christ through the sacraments, especially confession.
Despite regular missives from Vatican whistleblower Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò and opposition from faithful Catholic Italian media, only a handful of priests in Italy have dared to stand against the health tyranny.
Mayors in Bergamo are also urging Beschi to sack Fr. Alessandro Nava and Fr. Andrea Testa who, in October, joined Fr. Personeni in writing a pamphlet against forced vaccination.
Later the same month, Fr. Floriano Pellegrini blessed the vaccine mandate rebellion staged by dockers in the port town of Trieste, Church Militant reported. Pellegrini has continued his campaign for bodily autonomy on social media.
Italian bishops have sided with the government, silencing dissent and forcing clergy, seminarians and lay workers to get the abortion-tainted jab.
In March, Bp. Beschi prohibited priests from anointing the dying and called on baptized laymen to offer some form of a blessing to their loved ones, Church Militant reported. "Why can't a baptized person make a Christian mark on those who are sick?" Beschi asked.
The bishop also banned confessions, arguing, "The Church says that if a penitent has the intention of making a sacramental confession as soon as possible, he or she receives God's forgiveness."
Beschi has been vigorously promoting dialogue with Muslims. The latest letter for Ramadan directs all parish priests to promote "an attentive and fraternal gaze towards the communities of Muslim faithful present in the territories of our parishes."