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Bp. Gregory J. Bittman of Nelson, B.C.Grandin Media / YouTube

BRITISH COLUMBIA, November 18, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — A Catholic family man in the Nelson diocese of British Columbia has been told by his bishop and parish priest that he is not to attend Mass unless he wears a mask despite the fact that there is no government mandate to wear masks in houses of worship and no diocesan policy mandating masks in the parishes of the diocese.

“It started with our parish priest telling us to wear a mask, that it’s mandatory,” the man, who wishes to remain unnamed for fear of reprisal, told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview. “So I looked up the bishop’s letter, and when I read the letter it said to make exceptions for people who can’t wear masks,” he told LifeSite.

“So I just continued going to Mass (without wearing a mask) and the parish priest got a little more mean about the way he was going about it. He included us in homilies about how we weren’t being obedient to the government by not wearing masks, and he also said we were not raising our children properly to obey Caesar,” he said.

“And then he bluntly told me after, ‘You don’t come to Church if you don’t wear a mask.’”

The man turned to Nelson’s bishop, Gregory J. Bittman, for help, but the bishop told him the same thing. When he pointed out that the bishop’s own directive was to “make allowances for those who come to Mass or prayer and cannot wear a mask,” Bittman told him that he was going to amend that. “He said ‘You have to wear a mask, because COVID cases are going up in B.C.’”

He also told LifeSite that the only place he is required to wear a mask in his town is at Mass. “You can go everywhere else and not wear a mask. … The only place I’ve had to wear a mask now is to go to Mass,” he said.

Although he strenuously objects to his pastor’s requirement to wear a mask, he intends to assist at Mass whenever possible. “I hate to do it, but I thought, I’ve got to pick and choose here,” he said. “Because I don’t think we’re gonna have the Mass much longer. If they have their way, they’re gonna shut it down again.”

The Bishop’s Office of the Nelson diocese told LifeSite that the diocese does not currently have a mask policy but that it is a work in progress.

The province does not have a universal mask policy, either. In an opinion piece published by CTV News on Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained why there is not a universal mask mandate in British Columbia.

“Some people are asking when we will see masks mandated in B.C. The answer is that they already are. The mandate to use masks appropriately is a cornerstone of businesses’ and organizations’ COVID-19 safety plans, and is embedded in our health-care facilities’ operational policies and restart protocols in other public institutions,” she wrote.

Saying that “ordering universal mask use in all situations creates unnecessary challenges with enforcement and stigmatization,” Henry also noted that these kinds of orders have little proven benefit. “We need only look at the COVID-19 transmission rates in other jurisdictions that have tried using such orders to see what little benefit these orders by themselves have served.”

In light of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s expectation that organizations and businesses will implement mask policies, Archbishop Miller of Vancouver recently urged all parishioners of the diocese to wear masks at church but stopped short of mandating them absolutely.

In a letter published on November 13, the bishop wrote, “On Monday, October 27, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, made the following statement: ‘It is now the expectation that people will wear a non-medical mask in public spaces.’ In light of this statement and in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our Province, I am urging that all parishioners wear masks during Holy Mass, except for the reception of Holy Communion. Exceptions are made, of course, for those who cannot wear a mask because of a disability or medical condition.”

B.C. currently records 6,589 active “cases” of COVID-19, with 198 hospitalizations, the vast majority of which are in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal regions of the province. B.C.’s interior, in which the diocese of Nelson is located, currently records 193 active cases with two hospitalizations. Three of the province’s 310 recorded deaths “with or from” coronavirus are from that region.