NORTHBROOK, Illinois, October 27, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic parish priest has threatened to call the police on a parishioner if she shows up to church service not wearing a mask.
Fr. Christopher Gustafson of St. Norbert Parish in Northbrook, Illinois, told Colette O’Regan in an Oct. 15 letter that her stubborn refusal to wear a mask during Mass was “disruptive” and “intransigent.”
“I find it necessary to enforce prevention of your entering and remaining in the church until you comply with the protocols asked of all, including the simple request of wearing a mask,” he told the 48-year-old mother of seven in the letter obtained by LifeSiteNews.
The priest went on to tell O’Regan that he would use legal force to keep her out of the church if she refused to wear a mask.
“As we spoke of recently, your failure to comply has consequences – spiritual, but also sadly, legal. The church is private property, and unless you comply, your continued disruptive and intransigent behavior will prohibit your entry to and remaining on the premises.”
“Civil authorities have assured me of their readiness to enforce the law in this regard,” the priest warned the woman.
Cook County, where the parish is located, has no mandatory masking policy. The county’s public health guidelines issued in July urge, but do not demand, that “everyone should wear a cloth face cover in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” The county allows for exceptions to this policy for children under two and “anyone who has trouble breathing.” The Archdiocese of Chicago, where the parish is located, goes further than the county, telling the faithful in guidelines issued in May that they are “required to wear masks during any services/ceremonies.”
The Archdiocese makes it clear that it realizes that masks are often ineffective, telling parishioners that they “should understand that they assume the risk of contracting COVID-19 any time they enter a public space since such precautions do not eliminate the risk of infection.”
LifeSiteNews reached out to the Archdiocese of Chicago for comment on the priest’s action, but did not receive a response.
O’Regan, who had attended Mass daily at the parish for over 21 years, had been eager to get back after weeks of staying home and watching televised Mass during the lockdowns that forced the closure of churches.
“My heart and soul were yearning for the Eucharist,” she told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview.
She began attending daily Mass again after her church reopened, with new protocols in place in response to COVID-19. She wore a mask when she first returned, but had it pulled down below her nose so that she could breathe more easily. She was emboldened to wear it this way when she saw other older parishioners doing the same. It was at this time that Fr. Gustafson and parish staff began to repeatedly request that she wear her mask “properly” – that is, over her nose.
The priest’s insistence motivated O’Regan to investigate for herself the effectiveness of wearing a mask to fight the virus.
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“So I went home and started googling about these masks,” O’Regan said.
Online searches about masking to fight COVID reveal that many masks worn by the public are largely ineffective at stopping the transmission of viruses. There are also clearly documented hazards of wearing masks for long periods of time. LifeSiteNews co-founder Steve Jalsevac wrote a two-part series on masks in July where he made the case that the explosion in mandatory masking was not driven by science, but by fear (read Part I here and Part II here). John Paul Meenan wrote a piece in July where he makes the case that mandatory masking has a moral side because it hides “our identity as persons made in God’s image.”
O’Regan said that her investigation led her to conclude that mask mandates were “control tools” and “Marxist.”
“I said, ‘I’m not playing this game anymore. God made us unique and unrepeatable. Our faces are masterpieces made by God,” said O’Regan.
She then referred to the words of Catholic author and evangelist Mark Mallett, who has described the reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak as a “spiritual coup.”
Mallett wrote, “For the face is the icon of the image of God in whom we are created. In fact, the Hebrew word for face is often rendered as ‘presence’: our face is essentially the physical representation of our presence. As such, when Adam and Eve sinned, they ‘hid themselves from the face (presence) of the Lord God.’”
O’Regan also described the panic over mask-wearing as an expression of a lack of trust in God. “My trust, then, doesn’t rely on Him, it relies on me and everyone else around me. We are not in control. We can do the best we can, but you got in a car today and drove and we all know there are terrible drivers.”
O’Regan decided at this point to entirely forgo wearing a mask while attending daily Mass.
Fr. Gustafson wrote his first letter to O’Regan on Oct. 3, castigating her for not wearing a mask.
“For whatever reason you have chosen to not wear a mask while coming into church, despite our asking everyone to do so. I cannot imagine that you would politicize the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and use it as a forum for protest. I am assuming, therefore, that wearing a mask in some way offends your sense of proper religious practice,” he wrote in the letter obtained by LifeSiteNews.
“All of us can agree,” the priest continued, “that it is the smallest of inconveniences, easily undertaken, to enable your neighbors, many of whom are vulnerable, to feel safe. Failing to wear a mask is disturbing to others, and truthfully, is a moral issue. I ask you to prayerfully consider your actions in light of the Gospel’s twofold call to love and for your own spiritual wellbeing.”
O’Regan continued to attend church service without a mask. Less than two weeks after receiving the first letter, the priest threatened her with calling the police if she dared show up in church one more time without wearing a mask.
Fr. Gustafson elaborated on the situation to LifeSiteNews. He pointed out that people at his parish have come to him with concerns that people who do not wear masks put everyone else at risk.
“I’ve had a [Mass-goer] who’s a doctor, who is herself immuno-suppressed and has a sick child at home and she said, ‘How can we do this, now I can’t come anymore,’” Fr. Gustafson related.
“As in many things, especially in the moral world, there’s a question of burden and benefit; and it seems very minimally burdensome for someone to wear a mask, and a tremendous benefit for others to continue to be able to come,” he said.
When asked by LifeSiteNews whether he thought refraining from wearing a mask posed an actual physical risk to others, he replied: “The risk is people being unable to receive the sacraments and avail themselves of the spiritual goods of the church. That’s what’s at risk here. The mask-wearing is a simple response to the situation of the pandemic. I’m not doing this on science, I’m basing it on people who are telling me that they cannot participate because of someone’s behavior.”
O’Regan, by contrast, commented to LifeSiteNews, “We cannot collectively force other people to do things because it makes us feel safe. That is Marxist.”
O’Regan said that police confirmed to her that while there was no local law mandating the wearing of masks, her pastor could have her arrested or cited for trespassing on private property if she showed up to a service.
O’Regan commented, “I thought you denied people the sacraments because they’re in mortal sin. They don’t deny anyone anymore for that reason. We’re so concentrated on our physical health at this church. We could be completely dead spiritually, but that doesn’t matter, as long as everyone feels like they’re physically safe.”
The Catholic mother lamented that the church, on account of the actions of the priest, was no longer “open to all.”
LifeSiteNews asked Fr. Gustafson if his actions contravene Canon law regarding the obligation to give sacraments to faithful Catholics who are “properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.”
When asked whether or not he thought he could reconcile his actions with Canon 843, Fr. Gustafson said, “I read that canon to say that I’m doing exactly what I need to do because otherwise, by doing nothing and her continuing to come and disrupt the Mass by not wearing a mask – she’s never been denied the Eucharist, by the way – but by my failure to do something, I’m depriving others, precisely the rest of the flock, when all she needs to do is wear a mask while she’s in the church. So it’s her behavior that’s denying the Eucharist, not mine.”
As far as her next steps are concerned, O’Regan said, “I’m letting God lead this.”
Contact information for respectful communications:
Fr. Christopher Gustafson
St. Norbert and Our Lady of the Brook Parish
1809 Walters Avenue
Northbrook, IL 60062
Ph: (847) 513-6710
Email: [email protected]
Archdiocese of Chicago
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago
PO Box 1979
Chicago, IL 60690-1979
Email: Use online contact form here
Editor’s note: LifeSiteNews’ Pete Baklinski contributed to this report.