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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics across the world are trying to meet their spiritual needs amid widespread bans on celebration of the sacraments, and in some areas, amid government lockdowns, priests are being detained for celebrating Mass, raising alarm over threats to religious freedom.
"All of these arrests flow from a secularist perspective in which the adoration of God is not deemed an 'essential' activity," George Neumayr, author of Canceling Catholicism Until Further Notice tells Church Militant. "In an irreligious age, these outrages are tolerated, including by the Church Herself — a sad illustration of the extent to which bishops have succumbed to that age."
In Uganda, Fr. Deogratius Kiibi Kateregga was arrested March 29 for celebrating Mass at St Joseph's Catholic Parish in Mpigi. Reportedly, the priest was arrested, along with seven other Catholics, and was detained at the Mpigi police station.
"He was found preaching in the church in contravention of the presidential directives," said Herbert Nuwagaba, the Mpigi district police commander.
"We want him to tell us why he is doing this," Godfrey Matovu, the Mpigi district internal security officer, told the Daily Monitor.
On March 18, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni suspended religious and cultural gatherings for at least a month to stop the spread of the Wuhan virus. Banks, hospitals, supermarkets and markets are not affected by the directive.
Meanwhile, in India, a group of roughly 10 people, including at least one priest and several nuns and seminarians, were charged with violating government orders after Mass was celebrated inside a chapel at the minor seminary of the congregation of Missionaries of Faith in the state of Kerala. Police were called after neighbors saw the sisters arrive at the chapel. All were eventually released after their arrest with a warning not to repeat their actions.
Father Manoj Kakkonal, a spokesman for the Mananthavady diocese, told UCA News that the arrest "seems to be a case of misunderstanding," because the Mass in question was celebrated inside the seminarians' own chapel.
In Italy, at the parish of San Giuseppe Artigiano in Rocca Priora, a eucharistic adoration service — attended by an estimated 10–20 people, all observing social distancing protocols — was disbanded by police; participants were cited and potentially are facing criminal charges and fines of more than €200 ($225).
Reasons the Italian government cite as legitimate for moving about outside one's home include: visiting a grocery store or pharmacy, going to work if the job is regarded as "essential," visiting a doctor or hospital for a health emergency and getting home from any of the above. Italians must fill out a certification form explaining why they have gone out.
San Giuseppe pastor Fr. Carmine Petrilli argues that excluding prayer and religious service from the list is "problematic," noting that government officials "say people can't go because it's not a 'primary need' ... This is what they say. But the constitution guarantees freedom of worship in every situation."
He conceded that state authorities are trying to do their best to get on top of the crisis, but at the same time "[they] are flirting with an unconstitutional approach."
On March 20 in Nocera Inferiore, just south of Naples, a small number of worshippers who had gathered to pray in the rectory of a church in the city's San Giovanni neighborhood were interrupted by police who had been tipped off by informants.
Police cited the eight individuals present, including the pastor and vice pastor, all of whom could face criminal charges and a fine.
Professor of ecclesiastical and canon law Stefano Montesano of Magna Graecia University in Catanzaro, Italy told Crux that citations of people gathering at parishes to pray, even in small groups, were issued "because the risk of creating gatherings is very high and can be a cause of contagion."
But, he said, the problem "is the fact that only the central state, the government (in times of urgency) or parliament should intervene on the modalities and/or limits of the exercise of fundamental freedoms," rather than regions or municipalities, as this creates "unequal treatment in the recognition of rights."
Montesano explained that while citizens are technically allowed to enter places of worship provided they keep at least three feet apart, he called Italy's "self-certification model," i.e., people filling out a form justifying why they are leaving the house, "doubtful," since in most cases prayer does not qualify as an essential or primary need.
He added that Italy is currently "living a situation that is nothing short of confusing regarding the exercise of freedom of worship."
Church Militant has recently reported on government interference during Holy Mass — something previously deemed sacrosanct — when Italian police disbanded about 15 people on March 15 who were present at a Sunday Mass, several of whom were seated outside of the Church with doors wide open. This took place while the Vatican was still determining who has "the ultimate responsibility for entry into places of worship."
A faithful priest requesting to remain anonymous points out how "quick" civil authorities are to overstep their bounds in these cases.
In the Ugandan case, the priest asked: "What happened to the civil rights of people to practice their faith?" It is "the priest's obligation as a priest to say Holy Mass every day, with or without dispensations proffered by civil authorities."
And to the case in India, the priest noted that the seminary personnel were indeed "observing the stay-at-home ban," emphasizing, "They were in their home!"
Furthermore, he said it was a small group in a chapel, reportedly not more than 10, adding: "I wonder if social distancing rules were adhered to in the paddy wagon or at the jail when the faithful were taken away."
The priest said, "What is playing out is that the boys in charge are making all the underlings feel — know — who is boss!"
"God forbid we forget this! This is a takeover of our churches by the Left," he suggested.