ROME – A petition signed by some conservative Catholics claiming the coronavirus is an overhyped “pretext" to deprive the faithful of Mass and impose a new world order has run into a hitch.
The highest-ranking signatory, Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Vatican’s liturgy office, claims he never signed the petition. But the archbishop who spearheaded it said Friday that Sarah was fully on board, and he has the recorded phone conversations to prove it.
Thus Sarah, the Guinean-born hero to the Catholic right-wing, has landed in another he said-he said controversy, following the polemics over a book he penned with retired Pope Benedict XVI on priestly celibacy that created a huge firestorm this year.
The virus petition, signed mostly by Italian clergy, academics and journalists, is the latest initiative by conservatives to frame COVID-19 lockdowns as an assault on religious liberty, a threat to the global economy and a conspiracy to separate families.
The petition calls the pandemic a “pretext” by unnamed actors to manipulate and control people through panic and deprive them of their fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of worship. It warns that contact-tracing devices, required vaccinations and “criminalized” visits between grandparents and grandchildren are “a disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control.”
It's another manifesto from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Holy See diplomat who achieved notoriety with his 2018 j’accuse of a high-level Vatican cover-up of sex abuse. Vigano has gone on to opine — negatively — on everything from the Vatican's China policy to Pope Francis' outreach to Muslims and the pope's Amazon synod.
Aside from Sarah and Vigano, the prominent signatories include three other conservative cardinals who have been critical of Francis’ papacy, including the ousted prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, and the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen.
It was issued Thursday, the same day the Italian government and the bishops conference reached an agreement to resume Masses starting May 18, with strict protocols, after a two-month shutdown.