There are constitutional rights that cannot be suspended, and freedom of worship is among them.

The video has become viral.

Mass was interrupted by police last Sunday in Soncino, a small town in the Cremona province of Lombardy, in Italy.

A carabiniere went up to the altar to notify parish priest Don Lino Viola of the 270 euro fine for non-compliance with the government decree and get him to speak to the mayor on the phone. “I am saying Mass, not now”, Don Lino repeated several times to the policeman just as the Consecration prayer was beginning.

The brave 80-year-old priest brushed off the police officer and continued celebrating until the end.

There may be sanctions for him and the congregation.

But there were only an organist and 13 people wearing a face mask and gloves, in a 300sq metres church with 30 pews, thus respecting social distancing. Don Lino told the carabiniere: “This is abuse of power”.

Later, in an interview, he described the events:

There were six more people than we expected: they were family members of Coronavirus victims who died without a funeral, for whom Mass was being celebrated.

But how could I chase them away? There was a parishioner who just lost his mother and was unable to even give her a funeral.

Never before in 80 years have I seen such a desecration. And to the Carabinieri commander I said: how can you send around officers who do not have respect for the sacred?

Many, including public figures, have considered this a violation of Italy’s Constitution.

Art critic and TV journalist Vittorio Sgarbi, whose religious beliefs are not obvious, nevertheless has said:

Article 19 of our Constitution does not limit the freedom of religion and worship. For this reason, law enforcement agencies should be careful not to prevent all this: with only one exception, that of the distance of one metre, an indication given by the health decrees issued by the Prime Minister.

He added that in the environment of Don Lino’s Mass (which I’ve described above) the government’s regulations were fully respected.

Italian lawyer Antonino Ennio Andronico has written a long letter published by La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana (all references are at the end), after expressing his support for the lockdown-imposed restrictions, explains why last Sunday’s specific example of authorities’ behaviour is against the Constitution:

The current emergency legislation uses the word “suspension”, not a legal but pragmatic and plastic concept, therefore dangerous because it risks appearing innocuous but in reality tends to limit those constitutional rights enshrined in articles 13 and following of the Italian Constitution, which – as is known – can be limited only in rare exceptions.

Thus personal freedom, of communication, of movement, etc., can be limited on the basis of a law (issued by Parliament, mind you, not by an administrative authority, such as the Government or the Region), and under the control of the judicial authority.

But there are citizens’ constitutional rights which are “very special”, which it is not possible to limit even in this way, as they are part of that distinctive genetic makeup of the human being who is not only homo faber, but also homo religiosus, that is, a subject capable of dialogue with a supernatural being who has revealed himself as God.

The Constitutions and Concordats between States and Churches provide for specific protection of “religious sentiment” since they are part of human DNA: thus art. 7 of our Constitution declares the state and the Catholic Church “independent and sovereign”, and art. 19 of the Constitution establishes that “Everyone has the right to freely profess his religious faith in any form, individual or associated, to propagate it and to exercise its cult in private or in public, provided that these are not rituals contrary to morality”. So the only limit to worship is given by “morality”, the constitution fathers wrote, worried, in 1947, to avoid future abuses of the executive!

There are constitutional rights that cannot be suspended, and freedom of worship is among them, because it is part of the deepest dimension of man. The Constitution recognises the “independent and sovereign” State and Church and the Concordat reaffirms the full freedom of the Church. A notice for believers and non-believers: .

In Italy, then, there are the Agreements of Villa Madama of 1985 – an international treaty between the State and the Church hierarchically equivalent to the Constitution and superordinate to the law and government administrative acts – which in art. 2 establish: “The Italian Republic recognises the Catholic Church’s full freedom to carry out its pastoral, educational and charitable mission of evangelisation and sanctification. In particular, the Church is guaranteed freedom of organisation, of public exercise of worship, of exercise of the magisterium and of the spiritual ministry as well as of jurisdiction in ecclesiastical matters”.

Well, in Gallignano [the area of Soncino where the event occurred] law enforcement officers entered a church, interrupted the worship (not the “ceremony”, as government decrees incompetently write), and both the parish priest – who fortunately was not intimidated – and the faithful were fined.

Illegal and illegitimate act of enormous gravity that violates all the constitutional and international principles set out above (but many others would have to be enumerated), while no one worries about the queues and assemblies that we find daily at supermarkets or post offices. Of course, it will be objected, but it’s necessary to eat … but if it is true that “man does not live by bread alone” it is also true that the Covid-19 disease cannot become an excuse to trample upon constitutionally guaranteed rights to individuals and communities … and make money!

For those who really believe in it – unlike those for whom Coronavirus was a holy liberation from Sunday Masses too – the religious act, the exercise of worship, the participation in Mass is constitutive of one’s being, it is man’s own inner self. It is [in Latin] re-ligio, that is, bond with the supreme being! Beyond the abuses of power and the articles of the penal code that I hope will be used to challenge those who made themselves responsible for such abuses, I want to warn in a secular manner all citizens, including non-believers: our fathers have obtained certain constitutional rights with blood, do not take them for granted. Keep a copy of the Constitution with you and reread it, because there is no disease that can “temporarily suspend” even a rule of law … we would already be in a dictatorship.

My closeness, solidarity and support to the parish priest and the faithful of Gallignano, for the civil and faith witness given.
Antonino Ennio Andronico, Lawyer [Emphasis added]

The episode of Don Lino was not alone: the same day saw two more police raids in churches during Mass celebrations, both in Northern Italy.

Messa interrotta
Maurizio Blondet
Intervista con Don Lino Viola
Lettera dell’ Avvocato Antonino Ennio Andronico a La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana