A few weeks back, the Italian bishops floated the idea that they might just decide to close all of Italy’s churches during the coronavirus lockdown. “Not because the state imposes it on us,” Italy’s bishops wrote on March 12, “but out of a sense of belonging to the human family.” The Italian bishops did not actually take the step, but they were at pains to show themselves prepared to do something on their own, which they would not be seen doing on the government’s orders.
There was another, further exchange between Italy’s interior ministry and the Italian bishops’ conference in the bottom half of March, which raised some eyebrows. The bishops were talking with the interior ministry, trying to secure the understanding they needed in order to be able to celebrate the Holy Week liturgies.
A note from the interior ministry’s department of civil liberties and immigration to ecclesiastical authorities, issued on March 28, clarified that citizens with ministerial roles in the Holy Week liturgies (organists, cantors, inter alia) could be about town and in church to do their jobs. The note explicitly said that clerics and other ministers would be able to “self-certify” to anyone checking that they were about town for necessary work.