Pope urges coronavirus lockdown obedience amid church-state debate

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Pope Francis entered a heated church-state debate Tuesday night calling for "prudence and obedience" amid the coronavirus limits on Mass and other religious services.

The Catholic leader's appeal came two days after Italian bishops expressed outrage that the government in Italy didn't address church services in its plan to reopen businesses, social activities and sports beginning on May 4.

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“As we are beginning to have protocols to get out of quarantine, let us pray that the Lord gives his people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the protocols so that the pandemic doesn’t return,” Francis said Tuesday.

Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window of his studio overlooking an empty St. Peter's Square, due to anti-coronavirus lockdown measures, at the Vatican, April 26. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window of his studio overlooking an empty St. Peter's Square, due to anti-coronavirus lockdown measures, at the Vatican, April 26. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Over the weekend, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte’s government announced that funerals could resume, but no information was provided about whether the faithful could celebrate Mass.

Italian bishops said they “cannot accept that freedom of worship is compromised,” arguing the government should have distinguished between its duty to provide health guidance and the church’s right to “organize the life of the Christian community, respecting the measures but in full autonomy.”

Conte's office responded saying they are working on the possibility with "conditions of maximum security."

Pope Francis' vicar of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, who contracted the coronavirus and has since recovered, sparked an outcry among some of the faithful when he ordered all churches shut to comply with Italy's complete shutdown of services in March.

“I think in any relationship, if it's true, there will be moments in which you can and must raise your voice, as long as this doesn't become the norm," the Rev. Ivan Maffeis, undersecretary of the bishops conference, told the TV2000 broadcaster.

Pope Francis attends a Mass for Holy Thursday, inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (Alessandro Di Meo/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis attends a Mass for Holy Thursday, inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (Alessandro Di Meo/Pool Photo via AP)

Francis, who has previously said he feels like he's in a "cage," weighed in on the fraught issue at the start of morning Mass on Wednesday, which he celebrated alone in the Vatican.

The Vatican has had 10 positive cases, the last one confirmed Tuesday.

Catholics around the world, including evangelicals pastors in the U.S., Brazil, and elsewhere, have bristled at the closures and framed them as a violation of their right to religious liberty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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