DEBUNKED: Story claimed priest died after giving respirator to younger man

MARCH 25, 2020

A story that was widely circulated by a number of media outlets on Tuesday about an Italian priest who died from coronavirus last week has been debunked as partially untrue.

Don Giuseppe Berardelli, a 72-year-old priest in Casnigo, Italy, did indeed die last week after contracting coronavirus, two Catholic news outlets have confirmed. However, the claim that he died because he rejected a donated respirator in order to allow a younger man to use it are not true, according to both Crux Now and the Catholic News Agency.

Italian media site Araberara originally reported the claim that Berardelli had died after rejecting a respirator donated by his parishioners, saying he insisted it be given to a younger patient who needed it instead. Araberara had cited an unidentified employee at the San Giuseppe di Casnigo Rest Home as the source for the claim.

Jesuit priest James Martin of New York City had shared the report on Twitter Monday evening, and it was picked up by multiple news outlets.

However, Martin tweeted a correction Tuesday afternoon, saying the story had been determined to be inaccurate.

“Update: Serious questions now raised about Italian news stories about Don Berardelli (specifically, that he gave his respirator to a younger patient). Still, a friend describes a saintly priest, one of many who have died in Italy due to coronavirus,” Martin tweeted.

“Sources from the Bergamo Diocese have also confirmed that the story of the respirator (ventilator) is inaccurate,” he added.

The Catholic News Agency reported that friends said Berardelli was the type of person who would have done such a generous act, but that wasn’t what happened.

Fr. Giulio Dellavite, the secretary general of his Diocese, reportedly said, “There was not a donated respirator. There have not been any respirators coming from outside of the hospital.”

Also, an official at the rest home said it was unlikely any employee there could have known the exact details of Berardelli’s death, as he died at the hospital, not at the rest home.

Crux quoted Giuseppe Foresti, sacristan of Berardelli’s parish of St. John the Baptist in Casnigo, who knew Berardelli well, as saying that the reason he rejected the respirator was simply because he wasn’t able to tolerate it, due to preexisting health conditions.

“The problem is that when he got to the hospital, they tried to put the respirator on him, but he refused (to take it) because he couldn’t handle it,” he said, noting that Berardelli was already in bad shape when he arrived.

As of Tuesday night, Italy had a total of 69,176 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 6,820 people have died. Among the dead are at least 60 priests, the CNA reported.

“Fr. Giuseppe Berardelli is remembered fondly by those who knew him as a man of kindness and self-sacrifice, but reports that he gave up a donated respirator for a younger #coronavirus patient are not true,” the Catholic News Agency tweeted.

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