Police interrupt Mass for mask check


West Australian police’s interruption of a Catholic Mass last week for a mask check – to ensure compliance – has left parishioners concerned and Perth’s archbishop looking for a better way forward.

St Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Mount Hawthorn, Perth had to stop the Mass after a police officer walked in to ensure every parishioner was masked.

The Perth and Peel regions of Australia imposed a mask mandate on January 16 in response to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

One parishioner said it was “troubling” to see a policeman interrupt the service.

He said the police officer stormed into the mass and demanded the pews’ attention. There had been reports of people not wearing masks in the church.

“[They – the police] proceeded to check three or four parishioners’ exemptions and then left, everything being in order.”

An exemption is required from a doctor for somebody to skip the mask requirement.

“Everyone was sort of pretty stunned, I suppose. Then as soon as it started it was sort of over as he left.”

People were left shaken by the incident, the parishioner said.

“It’s just pretty confronting seeing police vests and stuff in church.

“He didn’t remove his hat, which is pretty disrespectful in that environment.”

Police have confirmed officers had attended the church and undertaken a mask check.

“Police responded to a report from a member of the public of people not wearing masks inside a church,” they said is a statement.

“Upon attendance, five people were spoken to by police and complied in wearing a mask.

“One person provided proof of an exemption.”

Since the pandemic erupted, Australia has been vigilant with a strict Covid-19 mitigation regime.

A priest from the church wrote a social media post after the incident reminding the congregation to comply with the Covid-19 order to prevent the church being penalised.

“Heavy fines on the parish priest, our parish and individuals will be incurred if you are caught not wearing your mask. Please co-operate with this request so as to avoid any complications,” he said.

While supporting the need to be vigilant in complying with Covid rules, Catholic Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe is concerned that future checks will be handled without interrupting worship.

“It is highly regrettable that the police felt themselves obliged to intervene during a religious service in one of Perth’s Catholic parishes in order to enforce the mask-wearing mandate,” Costelloe said in a statement.

“The celebration of the Eucharist is the central act of Catholic worship and is sacred to all Catholics.

“It is my hope that other ways can be found to deal with this delicate issue in future and my office stands ready to co-operate with the police in this manner.

“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.

“They should not have been placed in this position”.

Costelloe said his office will continue to ensure all Catholic parishes and agencies have very clear advice as to their obligations in complying with the government‘s directives.


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