Churchgoers of an Australian congregation are expressing outrage after police interrupted a service last week to ensure parishioners were wearing masks as required by local law.
Police walked, without notice, into St Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Mount Hawthorn, Western Australia, during Thursday mass, according to 7 News, a local television station. Police said they were acting on a tip that some parishioners were not following the law, which requires masks in public indoor settings.
In the end, police found five people not wearing masks, although one person had an exemption. The four remaining persons were told to wear their masks.
Video of the incident was shared on Facebook by a churchgoer. A policeman can be seen walking up the aisle as a priest at the front of the church watches helplessly.
One parishioner, named Matthew, told 6PR Radio that churchgoers were “left a bit shaken.”
“Everyone was pretty stunned. It was confronting,” he said. “It’s troubling to see the liturgy you love stopped by police.”
Tim Costelloe, archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, called the incident “highly regrettable,” according to 7 News.
“It is my hope that other ways can be found to deal with this delicate issue in the future, and my office stands ready to cooperate with the police in this matter,” he said. “It is the formal and very public policy of the Archdiocese of Perth to do everything it can to facilitate compliance with all the government’s requirements in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is a matter of regret to me that the police were placed in a position which led them to take the action they did,” the archbishop added.
The police department released a statement.
“On Thursday evening, police responded to a report from a member of the public of people not wearing masks inside a church in Mount Hawthorn,” the statement said. “Upon attendance, five people were spoken to by police and complied in wearing a mask. One person provided proof of an exemption.”
Photo courtesy: Noah/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.