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STANWOOD, Wash. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Seattle's Abp. Paul Etienne is threatening to end public Masses at a rural parish if rebellious parishioners continue to refuse to wear masks.
Parishioners of St. Cecilia's in Stanwood were notified in an emailed letter on last week that their public Mass privilege would be revoked if parishioners didn't comply with the archdiocese's COVID plan.
Etienne made clear the consequences.
"If parishioners continue to violate safety protocols and remove their masks during the Mass, then permission for the celebration of public Mass at St. Cecilia parish will be retracted," Etienne wrote.
This isn't the first time the archdiocese has had to interact with the parish over China virus compliance.
Helen McClenahan, managing director of communication, told Church Militant the archdiocese has been communicating with the parish since July on the topic of mask compliance.
In an email, McClenahan wrote, "Unfortunately, St. Cecilia parish has faced challenges in enforcing the safety guidelines. The archdiocese has received multiple emails and voicemails from concerned parishioners, volunteers and staff starting in July. Many report they do not feel safe going to Mass at St. Cecilia."
In August, the diocese ruled that anyone who cannot wear a mask be seated in a separate area outside the main portion of the church and that a distance of 12 feet be maintained between families. So non-maskers were moved to the parish hall where they view the Mass through a glass partition.
But the maskers are still troubled and continue to complain to the archdiocese, appealing to the archdiocese's more than 60 pages of regulations.
Father Raymond Bueno, pastor St. Cecelia's, admits the parish is deeply divided and estimates 40% of his parishioners do not wear masks to Mass.
Bueno says the non-maskers are divided into three groups: people who can't wear masks for medical reasons, people who object out of reverence to wearing a mask during Mass and people who "flat-out refuse."
"Stanwood is a small town in the northern part of the diocese. They [parishioners] have very strong opinions," Bueno observed.
A woman who can't mask for medical reasons feels caught in the middle of the conflict.
"We have no COVID cases at all in our parish. There is no reason for this threatening letter," she wrote to Church Militant.
She reported being harrassed by masked parishioners. She reported that one person said, "Go home and tell your husband he's not a real man because he doesn't wear a mask."
A non-masking parishioner claims the chief of staff for the vicar for clergy said for the common good of all, non-maskers should stay home if they can't wear a mask.
While Etienne is not telling non-maskers to stay home, he did say, "As Catholics, it is our responsibility to care for the common good and to protect the vulnerable among us. Doing our part to minimize the spread of the coronavirus by following safety protocols demonstrates our love for our neighbors and for Jesus Christ."
Bueno read the archbishop's letter before each Mass, explaining that the edict would go into effect immediately. When asked what he thought would happen the following week, he said, "I'm not sure what is going to happen. Some will stay home, some will try to come in."
If non-maskers try to return to the parish hall, it is likely the maskers will report the infraction.
The first U.S. case of the China virus was reported Jan. 19 when a Washington man became ill. The diocese of Seattle was the first to shut down in response to the virus.
Archbishop Etienne wrote a letter in June to prevent Catholics from kneeling to receive Holy Communion.