ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinals close to Pope Francis will soon celebrate a High Mass where the faithful will have to present the Italian health passport in order to attend, an arbitrary requirement that ignores the instructions of the Italian bishops' conference and the guidelines of the government.
The suburbicarian diocese of Albano, currently led by Cdl. Marcello Semeraro, will celebrate both the episcopal ordination of its new bishop, Msgr. Vincenzo Viva, and the golden priestly jubilee of Cdl. Semeraro on the next Feast of the Nativity of Mary. For the faithful to attend the Solemn Mass, set for Sept. 8, the diocese is demanding presentation of the Italian health passport, the so-called Green Pass.
Suburbicarian dioceses are a handful of church jurisdictions surrounding the city of Rome that function as the sees of high-ranking cardinals.
The Albano diocese's website states that the Green Pass is mandatory, even though the official government guidelines exclude the use of the pass in religious celebrations. So do the guidelines of the Italian bishops' conference, which specifically highlight that religious celebrations and processions do not require the presentation of the health passport.
The pass is obligatory in church properties only for catering in closed spaces, museums, fairs and exhibitions open for the public.
As recently reported by Church Militant, the Vatican has adhered to the Green Pass regulations, even though it has been considered by many constitutional experts a coercive enactment "with multiple effects of discrimination and differential treatment."
Experts say the pass will inevitably "constrict fundamental constitutional freedoms" and violate "fundamental constitutional principles such as the principle of equality, the principle of legality and the principle of legal certainty."
The Green Pass restrictions have triggered serial protests in the country, with hundreds of thousands of citizens rallying every Saturday all across Italy.
The Mass' celebrant, Cdl. Semeraro, is one of Pope Francis' most trusted advisers, current prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and former secretary of the pope's Council of Cardinals, or C9. The C9 is a panel of cardinals Francis established early in his papacy to help him reform the Roman Curia.
Concelebrating the High Mass will also be Cdl. Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, another close ally of the pope known as the "Asian Bergoglio" and considered by many a possible successor to Pope Francis. Cardinal Tagle is prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and has recently been appointed as a member of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See. Both cardinals are cardinal bishops, the highest rank a prelate can belong to apart from the papacy itself.
The College of Cardinals is made up of cardinal deacons, cardinal priests and cardinal bishops. While traditionally cardinal bishops are titular bishops of one of the seven suburbicarian dioceses in the area surrounding Rome — which is the case of Cdl. Semeraro, bishop of Albano — with special papal permission a prelate can be elevated to cardinal bishop without actually being assigned to a suburbicarian diocese, and that's the case of Cdl. Tagle.
In recent weeks, several priests in Italy have foisted arbitrary restrictions upon the faithful. Even before the Italian government announced the new health passport diktat, Fr. Massiliamo Moretti, from Genoa, had taken into his own hands the task of excluding unvaccinated laity from certain church functions "for the sake of everyone's health."
Fr. Moretti's Facebook statement asked "those who haven't been vaccinated to avoid reading in church or making use of the microphones for hymns and prayers," as it was "the parish's duty" to safeguard people's health.
Many commenters disputed Fr. Moretti's decision, reminding him that vaccinated people can also act as vectors for the virus. Others have claimed there's no evidence to support this "discriminatory, absolutely unfounded position." Another reader suggested the priest should be more concerned about saving people's souls.
Fr. Moretti later declared to a local newspaper that "vaccinating is not a selfish act, but an altruistic one," and that while he couldn't impose a lockout of the unvaccinated, he was willing to avoid behaviors that put others at risk.
Immediately after Fr. Moretti's controversy — labeled the "anti-vax excommunication" by some outlets — several other priests began to follow suit. What first started as a few restrictions during church functions evolved to full-on bans to unvaccinated people.
Monsignor Pier Paolo Busto, rector of San Paolo parish in Casale Monferrato and director of two diocesan newspapers, hung a sign on the church door that said that "whoever is not vaccinated is a serious danger" and "is not welcome in this church." Monsignor Busto also wrote in the diocesan publication that "whoever is not vaccinated ... must not be tolerated in their danger."
In Belmonte del Sannio, after one member of the congregation tested positive for COVID, parish priest Fr. Francesco Martino notified the faithful that those without vaccines should "stay out of the church."
Father Pasquale Giordano, pastor of the Mater Ecclesiae church in Bernalda, Matera, warned parishioners on his Facebook page to "refrain from coming to church if they had no intention of vaccinating or taking a swab test."
Then it finally escalated to some of the main advisers of the pope disobeying the Italian bishops' conference's instructions in order to overcomply with the government's sanitary regime.
Italian Catholic daily The New Daily Compass (NDC) pointed out that in the self-certification requested by the diocese of Albano the Mass is described simply as an "event," masking its intrinsic spiritual nature and subjecting it to Green Pass rules.
"Explicitly ... nobody said that the Green Pass is required in order to attend Mass, but the health passport is indispensable to attend the event. Which event? The Mass," the New Daily Compass explains.
The self-certification form detailing awareness of COVID restrictions has become standard COVID procedure in Italy, with citizens being obliged to carry it at all times during periods of "red zones," where stricter COVID regulations are in place. At the moment the use of self-certifications has been lifted in the country, indicating how excessive the impositions of the diocese of Albano are upon the faithful.
The New Daily Compass has predicted that the public compliance of the highest-ranking members of the Church will eventually influence the entire Church body and lead the situation to culminate in what it calls a "liturgical Green Pass." Even if officially the health passport is not yet a requirement to attend Mass, its use might soon become a customary pattern.
In remarks to an international congress on religious life last week, Pope Francis said that anyone who doesn't respect local customs in worship displays "aberrant" and "ridiculous gnostic positions."
The New Daily Compass also stressed that faith and having been baptized are the sole conditions to participate in ecclesial communion, as stated by paragraph 1141 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized."
The NDC's piece also quotes canon 912 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that "any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion,” and canon 923, which specifies "the Christian faithful can participate in the eucharistic Sacrifice and receive Holy Communion in any Catholic rite."
Church Militant reached out to the diocese of Albano but received no response as of press time.