ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The former archbishop of Milan has dismissed the idea that divine punishment for human sin could be a factor behind the coronavirus epidemic, which has spooked churches into shutting their doors in the dioceses of Northern Italy.
"Divine punishment does not exist. It is an incorrect view of Christianity," Cdl. Angelo Scola told La Repubblica, when asked if Christianity supported the vision of a divine punishment behind the coronavirus.
"Of course, God knows and predicts events but does not determine them," Scola told the leftwing Italian newspaper in an interview Thursday.
The prelate, once considered a runner-up for papal office, cites verses from Luke's gospel in defense of his claim:
When asked if the 18 people who died under the collapse of the tower of Siloam had particularly sinned, Jesus dismisses the question. "Do you suppose this proves that they were more sinful than all the other people living in Jerusalem? No, I say to you, they were no more guilty than all the inhabitants of Jerusalem."
However, quoting only the first part of the text from Luke 13:4-5, Scola leaves out Jesus' stinging warning: "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Distinguished Catholic historian Roberto de Mattei blasted Scola's response to the crisis hitting Milan and other parts of northern Italy.
"Once, men were able to read God's messages in all events occurring beyond their will. The archbishop emeritus of Milan has lost this ability to grasp the profound reason at the base of things," Mattei told Church Militant.
"Those who live immersed in practical atheism, like, alas, most of our bishops, are unable to understand the action of Providence, which gives a reason for everything that happens, even tragedies, such as epidemics or earthquakes," Mattei explained.
"The Catholic faith teaches that if individual men die unrepentant, they are punished for eternity; but cities and peoples, which have no eternal destiny, are punished in the temporal time for their sins," he added, quoting Pope Benedict XV, "who during World War I, stated that 'private misfortunes are deserved punishment, or at least an exercise of virtue for individuals, while public scourges are atonement for the sins committed by public authorities and nations that have turned away from God' (speech to Rome Lenten preachers on February 19, 1917)."
In his interview, Scola appealed to Catholics to follow the example of St. Charles Borromeo and live in self-giving relationships without fear of contracting the virus: "In 1576 Milan was hit by the plague. They called it the plague of San Carlo because he lived it differently, without fear."
But Prof. Mattei told Church Militant that St. Charles Borromeo was convinced that the main cause of the scourge was the sins of the community. As an act of repentance, "Borromeo organized three large processions, for three consecutive days and stood with the people, barefoot, with a large rope around his neck."
On the last day, St. Charles — holding the Holy Nail of Our Lord in his hands, which Milan church had owned since early ancient time — concluded the procession with a sermon titled: Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem (Jerusalem has grievously sinned). The artists who depicted the 1576 plague in their paintings recall that the ending of the plague, was announced by God to St. Charles, as it had been for St. Gregory the Great, through the vision of an angel who placed the sword with which he was armed back in his scabbard.
"As a child I remember the white coffins of my cousins, who died with pneumonia and tuberculosis, I myself was affected by this disease at 20 years of age," but "God wants our good, God loves us and God is close to us. The relationship with him is personal, it is a relationship of freedom," Scola stressed.
Scola used the opportunity to warn people against irrational fear, particularly the fear of migrants: "The search for an enemy to blame and the poisoning of social relationships are natural reactions of those who live in fear," and "this is a bit what happens today with regard to migration. The different frightens."
Meanwhile, sources in Northern Italy told Church Militant that the closing of churches on Ash Wednesday and Lent was an overreaction to the coronavirus scare.
Faithful Catholics expressed concern over the indefinite closure of the churches and were particularly worried that the traditional Latin Mass would be permanently axed using the coronavirus as a pretext. Catholics also said that measures like refusing the faithful Communion on the tongue and sprinkling ash (in Roman parishes) instead of making the Sign of the Cross on the forehead on Ash Wednesday were "more a sign of fear than of faith" on the part of the hierarchy.
A Catholic from Milan told Church Militant that the chapel in the University of Milan continued to offer Mass since they did not have to adhere to the directions of the bishop. A Jewish academic confirmed that synagogues had remained open on the chief rabbi's instructions.
Traditionalist Catholics in small groups were also planning to cross the border into Switzerland and attend Mass if churches remained closed this Sunday, sources said.
On Facebook, Venetian Catholic Andrea Zanato posted the picture of a church placard stating "Confession isn't possible."
"It seems to me that these rules very much exceed common sense," he wrote. "Not being available to hear confessions is really something incomprehensible," he added, lamenting that the diocese of Padua had merely repeated the closures ordered by the patriarchate of Venice.
Catholics also told Church Militant that local government regulations about what remained open or closed were changing daily and that the Church did not have to acquiesce to non-binding rules. Churches could always respond to the crisis by offering more Masses so that the numbers attending will be smaller, a Milanese Catholic suggested.
Under pressure from the laity, bishops have finally agreed to offer "online Masses" which will be broadcast on television and streamed live on the internet. "We cannot live without celebrating the day of the Lord," a statement from 10 bishops in Lombardy announced, echoing the cry of 49 Catholics who were martyred in Abitinia in 304.
"More than the epidemic that is starting to afflict the West, I highly fear the pestilential influence of those bishops and theologians who, out of fearful judgment of the world, have stopped believing in God's justice," Prof. Mattei commented.