Outcry over packed Easter service at Paris church

'It is clearly absolutely unacceptable,' said deputy interior minister Marlene Schiappa
'It is clearly absolutely unacceptable,' said deputy interior minister Marlene Schiappa Bertrand GUAY AFP
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Paris (AFP)

French church leaders and the government expressed indignation Tuesday after images showed a major church in Paris holding a packed Easter service, with few masks worn and without social distancing in defiance of Covid-19 restrictions.

The outcry over the service at the Saint-Eugene-Sainte-Cecile church comes on the heels of an explosive television report on secret high-end restaurants were operating in the French capital despite the rules.

Paris prosecutors told AFP that that an investigation had been opened into accusations of putting the lives of others at risk over the religious service.

The newspaper Le Parisien published a video of the church service showing worshippers packed together, masks not being worn and priests directly placing communion wafers into the mouth of the faithful.

It said the service had lasted four hours.

"It is clearly absolutely unacceptable," deputy interior minister Marlene Schiappa told Franceinfo radio.

Karine Dalle, spokeswoman for the diocese of Paris, said it was "stunned" by the lack of social distancing at the service and said it distanced itself from "such disrespectful behaviour".

"Unfortunately, the videos are not open to question. We see a significant number of people without masks and without social distancing. We unequivocally condemn it," she told AFP.

"The subject will obviously be discussed internally with those in charge. The vast majority of parishes in Paris have fortunately respected the numerous health instructions for several months."

- Minister's condemnation -

Rules stipulate that masks must be worn by all worshippers aged over 11 with two seats left between each person or family group, as well as an empty pew between each row of people.

Over the weekend, a report by a French television channel gained access to a "clandestine" luxury dinner in Paris held despite the pandemic and alleged there were others being held.

It has sparked an investigation and furore over claims the nation's political elite were brazenly ignoring rules they themselves had set.

It is not clear who attended the dinners -- where the M6 channel said the most expensive menu went for 490 euros ($578) per head -- but the government has rejected claims they could have included ministers.

The scandal sparked the viral hashtags on social media #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want the Names) and #OnVeutLesDemissions (We Want Resignations) as speculation swirled over who might have attended the dinners.

Comparing the two controversies, Schiappa commented that neither going to a fancy clandestine restaurant or to church could ensure protection against Covid-19.

"Being rich and famous is not a vaccine against the pandemic and being in a church is not a vaccine either," she said.