French church leaders launched an investigation on Tuesday after images emerged of a packed Easter service during which priests and the congregation disobeyed government rules aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The shocking pictures showed worshippers at the Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile church in Paris’s ninth arrondissement standing and moving in close proximity, with few masks being worn and priests placing wafers directly into the mouths of communicants.
According to newspaper Le Parisien, which circulated copies of the images, the mass on Saturday lasted four hours and was attended by up to 400 people.
The Archdiocese of Paris on Tuesday condemned the images and said an inquiry had begun.
“We are astonished by the clear non-respect for the essential rules of distancing and mask-wearing. We distance ourselves from any behaviour that does not respect a difficult health situation,” Karine Dalle, spokesperson of the archdiocese, told AFP agency.
“The issue will be dealt with internally. Fortunately, the vast majority of parishes in Paris have respected the numerous health orders for several months.”
Dalle said that rules for attending church services in Paris included mask-wearing for anyone aged 11 and above, keeping two empty seats between members of different households and leaving a pew empty between each row of people.
France’s government also weighed in on the violations of health rules.
“It’s obviously absolutely unacceptable,” said junior minister for citizenship Marlène Schiappa.
Le Parisien said it was alerted to the mass by a 31-year-old participant who was not a regular churchgoer but attending for the baptism of his young brother, and who sent the newspaper a link to a YouTube video of the mass.
“There were very few people wearing masks, not even the priests had them. At no moment were precautionary gestures respected,” the man told the newspaper.
“At a time when the health situation is critical in France, when schools are closing, such behaviour is just criminal, and dangerous.”
The images surfaced over the same weekend as a French television channel published images of alleged secret luxury dinners in a Paris palace.
It is not clear who attended the dinners. The government has rejected claims the soirées could have included cabinet ministers.
Schiappa commented that neither going to a secret fancy dinner nor to church ensured protection against Covid-19.
“Being rich and famous is not a vaccine against the pandemic and neither is being in a church,” she said.