Valencia’s government authorities have had a divided reaction to a Spanish cardinal’s decision to open  a church to allow the faithful to see an image of the Virgin Mary on Sunday, despite restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The governor of the region believes there was wrongdoing, while the mayor disagrees.

In a video available online, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares is seen next to the image of the Virgin Mary, clearly within the boundaries of the church, with several hundred people who had gathered watching into the building and revering the image. Those seen, however, are following the recommendations of wearing a face mask and keeping a safe distance among themselves.

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The feast of Our Lady of the Forsaken is marked every second Sunday of May in Valencia, and usually involves a procession of the image from the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados to St. Catherine’s Cathedral – a distance of around 200 yards.

However, this year it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Since the incident, the Masses that were expected to resume this week in the region have been canceled, and services will continue behind closed doors. Churches are allowed to open for a few hours in the morning and then again in the afternoon for private prayer, provided people wear face masks and observe social distance rules.

Ximo Puig, the President of the Generalitat of Valencia and leader of the Socialist Party of the Valencian Country, reminded the Archdiocese of Valencia on Monday that the rules issued on the occasion of the coronavirus pandemic are applicable to everyone after the local police submitted a proposal to charge the cardinal with the prosecutors’ office.

The Generalitat of Valencia is the head of different self-government institutions under which the Spanish autonomous community of Valencia is politically organized.

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On the weekend before the feast, Cañizares had issued a pastoral letter asking the people of the Valencia to respect the precautions due to the pandemic, but to still join in the celebration for Our Lady of the Forsaken by watching the Mass from their homes.

According to the police, the cardinal “led to the gathering of the faithful to see the image of [the city’s] patron saint.”

When he was speaking to a Spanish news outlet, Puig was asked if he shares the police’s decision, and he answered that he’s in favor of acting to the full extent of the law.

Joan Ribó, mayor of Valencia, confirmed what the videos of the celebration show, meaning that “the image of the Mare de Déu [Mother of God] was not taken outside the basilica and whoever has to analyze the facts, let them do so.”

Ribó is a member of the Coalició Compromís, a local political party born as an electoral coalition of the Valencian Nationalist Bloc, the left-wing Valencian People’s Initiative, and a group of environmentalist and independent parties.

“My impression is that there was no agglomeration” of people, the mayor said. “Obviously, the cardinal, the mayor, the president of the government of Madrid … we all have an obligation to comply with these rules, which are fundamental, but I think that the situation is not as in Ifema, particularly taking into account that every year, thousands attend the festival of the Mare de Déu.”

Ifema is a make-shift hospital in Madrid that has been heavily criticized in the media for its overcrowding and lack of funding.

The comments from the mayor during a press conference on Monday to discuss the normalization of the city’s activities in order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

About the events at the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, Ribó said that in the images he has seen “it does not seem clearly that there is a concentration or a very large agglomeration of people and, surely, similar agglomerations can be seen in other areas of Valencia.”

The archdiocese had released a statement on Sunday saying that no norms had been broken and pointed to the presence of three members of the police force and members of the Red Cross, who kept reminding people of the need to keep the proper distance from each other.

A government delegate of the city of Valencia, Gloria Calero, said that she’s aware of the fact that “the archdiocese has acted with prudence and sensitivity in these times [of pandemic],” but “we cannot promote actions that put at risk the work we have done among all. Responsibility and prudence are the ingredients to continue taking safe steps.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma