A traditionalist Catholic community in Berlin, The Friends of St Philipp Neri, is resisting the Berlin Senate’s order to suspend Masses and has taken its case to the Berlin Administrative Court.
The community has applied to the court for permission to hold services for up to 50 participants. In return, the community promises that, should permission be granted, the participants will stay at least 1.5 metres from each other when they enter and leave the church.
It also promises to collect and keep the names, addresses and telephone numbers of those who attend.
A Berlin Administrative Court spokesman has meanwhile confirmed that the court has received the community’s application for interim measures.
According to Dpa International newsagency, a Bavarian church community has also protested against the Mass suspensions. The Bavarian Administrative Court has received a similar application from a Bavarian Catholic community. A court decision can probably be expected by Maundy Thursday
This weekend just gone, about a dozen elderly members of the faithful came forward to receive communion in the church of St Afra in Berlin, where The Friends of St Phillip Neri hold its services.
After Provost Gerald Goesche had prayers in Latin, they knelt at the altar rail to receive the Eucharist on the tongue. Neither Goesche nor the communicants wore masks. “”A small risk of infection naturally remains, but no-one is obliged to go to communion,” Goesche said.
Provost Goesche says the ban on holding services in church is “disproportionate”. If supermarkets were allowed to remain open, then church services could also be held. “One is safer in our churches than in any supermarket”, he told the German quality daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and the state broadcasting cooperations, Northern German Radio and Western German Radio.
The German Catholic Church disapproves of such applications.
According to German bishops’ conference circles, they are not in line with the German Church’s position during the coronavirus crisis. The communities were “going it alone”, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne told the Cologne daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. “I do not think it a good thing to invite people to partake of communion publicly.”
The faithful could, however, receive communion individually after going to confession. Woelki was referring to the incident at St Remigius Basilica in Bonn the previous Sunday, when city dean Wolfgang Picken had given communion to about 80 Catholics.
For Provost Goesche, however, the fact that the Church was not “raising a hue and cry” in protest against the ban especially a few days before Easter, was a “huge disappointment”.
He fully expected that the Berlin court will rule today or tomorrow that the church can hold services, he said. The present total suspension could become dangerous, he pointed out. Members of the faithful might decide to meet somewhere where they were not controlled and might undertake something on their own.
However, several German bishops have defended the total suspension of church services against those who want to see them re-opened, especially over Easter.
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer said he fully agreed with the suspension even if it was painful and difficult to endure. "We must learn to accept and endure, even with tears in our eyes, that under the present circumstances not encountering one another is an act of neighbourly love."
Bishop of Würzburg, Franz Jung, said:"Christians should not flout the strict isolation measures. Blessed are those who come in the name of the Lord if they do not high-handedly defy the present regulations, but, out of consideration and love for their neighbours, do their best to cope with this emergency situation," he said.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, vice-president of the German bishops' conference, called on people to stay at home in Holy Week and over the Easter holidays. Keeping to the strict isolation regulations meant saving lives, he underlined.
Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg also defended the Mass suspensions. It was not a case of self-preservation, he pointed out, but of solidarity with all one's fellow citizens.
The Institute of St Philipp Neri in Berlin was established in 2003 and recognised as a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right a year later. According to the Institute’s website, this was thanks largely to the then Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.