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A battle is brewing between Pope Francis and the Italian bishops over the restoration of public Masses.
Whereas the bishops have publicly challenged Italy's prime minister for refusing to lift the government's ban on public Masses, Francis called on Tuesday for "prudence and obedience" regarding government plans for exiting quarantine.
Public Masses have been canceled throughout Italy for almost seven weeks due to the government's ban — a ban that has led to some priests being fined for offering Mass with as few as six people in attendance.
With Masses having remained suspended under the latest phase of lockdown, the country's bishops had called out the prime minister for overstepping his authority, saying in a statement: "The Presidency of the Council and the Technical-Scientific Committee are reminded of the duty to distinguish between their responsibility — giving precise indications of a health nature — and that of the Church, called to organize the life of the Christian community ... ."
Responding to the bishops late Sunday night, the prime minister's office replied: "A protocol will be studied that will allow the faithful to participate in liturgical celebrations as soon as possible in conditions of maximum security."
This official statement from the Italian bishops' conference comes in the wake of Cdl. Gualtiero Bassetti's own call for restoration of public Masses in his diocese of Perugia, writing: "The time has come to resume the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist and church funerals, baptisms and all the other sacraments ... ."
While the pope seems to be siding with the government over the bishops regarding the prime minister's study on public liturgical celebrations, it remains to be seen how long "as soon as possible" is.