Santiago, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- Controversy erupted Monday in Chile over a bishop’s call for Catholics to flout the government’s Covid-19 restrictions and attend Mass in-person, an act of defiance that coincides with a high case load and new lockdown orders affecting metropolitan Santiago and other large cities.
“When a law is unjust and when a law goes against your conscience, you can disobey the law,” the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Punta Arenas, Bernardo Bastres, said during his Sunday homily in the far-southern city of Punta Arenas, located more than 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles) from Santiago.
His remarks, which went viral on social media, came just hours after the Chilean Bishops’ Conference issued a statement saying a ban on in-person spiritual gatherings is “incomprehensible” given that “other activities that involve larger crowds and flows” are permitted.
“The freedom to worship and practice one’s religious faith is a basic social element for a modern democracy and achievement of the common good,” the episcopal conference added.
In response to that pressure, the government on Sunday reversed course and authorized the celebration of in-person worship services in cities that are in Phase 2 of Chile’s reopening plan, albeit with capacity restrictions.
One of the cities in that phase is Santiago, a metropolis home to 7 million of Chile’s 19 million inhabitants where people have freedom of movement during the week but are under total lockdown on weekends.
“I think it’s not good for a bishop to call for non-compliance with health rules, especially when we were talking to the Bishops’ Conference about changing this resolution. I find it regrettable,” Chilean Health Minister Enrique Paris said Monday in a press conference.
Chile, which has reported 896,231 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21,772 deaths attributed to Covid-19 over the past 12 months, on Monday registered more than 5,000 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 for the fifth straight day. That level is comparable to the peak of the pandemic last June, when the country’s hospital network was being stretched to its limits.
The severity of the second wave of the coronavirus forced authorities last week to announce a return to Phase 1 (total lockdown) in cities such as Valparaiso and La Serena, as well as a regression to Phase 2 of the reopening in the Santiago Metropolitan Region.
They also announced that the nationwide nighttime curfew would start an hour earlier – at 10 pm – and that restaurants and retail establishments would have to shut their doors at 8 pm to allow time for their employees to return home.
Despite the high number of cases, Chile’s vaccination drive continues apace, with 5 million people expected to have received at least one dose of the vaccine by next week. EFE-EPA