Police in Western Australia are facing backlash after an officer interrupted mass to check that people were wearing masks in church and enforce compliance with the local mask mandate.
Following a tip about mask-less worshipers, police entered St. Bernadette’s Glendalough Catholic Church in the Perth suburb of Mount Hawthorn last Thursday evening. The priest, who was in the middle of the liturgy, watched as the officer instructed four parishioners to put on face coverings. A fifth person without a mask showed an exemption letter.
Masks in Church: ‘Everyone Was Pretty Stunned’
On social media, shocked worshipers shared photos and videos, expressing dismay at what they call an unfair intrusion. One writes: “A policeman allowed himself in, strutting up the aisle demanding correct mask behavior and checking exemptions. Where have we seen this behavior before in history?” Another writes: “This is an appalling abuse of power.”
Another Facebook post reads: “ISNT IT SACRILEGIOUS TO INTERRUPT A HOLY MASS just to ask worshippers to wear masks? This happened at our very own parish last night… A police officer just budged in and interrupted the service without asking permission from officiating priests to tell a few people to wear masks! Purely no respect for an ongoing service and for our parish priests!”
It continues: “Our dear [Father] Doug had to rushed to the presbytery to get a box of masks to allow a few worshippers to stay otherwise the policeman said they have to leave! What’s the fuss with masks anyway when they don’t work? The signs of times…happening as we speak!”
Speaking to a local news station, a parishioner named Matthew says congregants were “left a bit shaken.” Describing the scene, he says, “Everyone was pretty stunned. It was confronting. It’s troubling to see the liturgy you love stopped by police.”
In a statement, the police department indicates it was responding “to a report from a member of the public” about mask-wearing violations at the church. Throughout Western Australia, masks are required at all public indoor settings. About 93% of Perth’s population ages 12 and up have received at least two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Archbishop Calls Incident ‘Highly Regrettable’
Timothy Costelloe, archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, says it’s “highly regrettable” that police felt the need to interrupt worship to check that people were wearing masks in church. “It is my hope that other ways can be found to deal with this delicate issue in future,” he says. “My office stands ready to cooperate with the police in this matter.”
Costelloe adds, “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.”
On St. Bernadette’s Facebook page, the parish priest reminds attendees that “MASKS ARE MANDATORY!” He writes, “You are not permitted to enter the Church unless you are wearing a mask. If you have an exemption letter from your doctor, then please make certain that you carry this on you at all times. Heavy fines on the parish priest, our parish and individuals will be incurred if you are caught without wearing your mask. Please co-operate with this request so as to avoid any complications.”