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Paris archbishop opens canonical proceedings against parish over maskless Masses

Sainte-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile church in Paris, France Sainte-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile church in Paris, France./ Thomon via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The archbishop of Paris announced canonical proceedings Wednesday against a parish priest for reportedly refusing to follow coronavirus health measures at the Easter Vigil.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Paris on April 7 said that the pastor of Sainte-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile church in Paris’ ninth arrondissement did not enforce “the health measures in force to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic during a celebration on Saturday, April 3.”

“These measures were, however, the subject of clear instructions that the diocese of Paris regularly reminded all parishes of,” it said.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit’s decision to open proceedings within Church law was made public the day after Paris police opened an investigation into the parish for “endangering the lives of others.”

French media first raised concern by showing clips of the live stream of the parish’s Easter Vigil on French television, calling attention to the crowded church with parishioners not wearing masks during the candlelight processions and baptisms while an extraordinary form Mass (the 1962 Tridentine Mass) was offered.

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While the original video of the Easter Vigil has since been removed by the parish, the live stream of the Easter Sunday Mass at the parish the following day showed priests and altar servers without masks standing close together. The congregation cannot be seen.

“Since the pandemic began, we have not had a single outbreak,” Fr. Marc Guelfucci, the parish priest of the church in question, told a group of journalists outside of his church.

In a video published by Le Parisien, Guelfucci said that masks were not worn during the baptisms because “we do not spit on people when we baptize.”

A parishioner identified only as Marie-Thérèse also spoke to the journalists and defended her pastor.

“There were a lot of people because there were 10 baptisms,” she said.

“It was perhaps because of his [Guelfucci’s] benevolence that people were not left outside.”

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A cantor at the parish said: “We were victims of our success … We did not expect so many people even after proposing five services on Sunday.”

Another parishioner, who wished to remain anonymous according to Le Parisien, said: “It’s been a year that health rules have not been respected in this church.”

Karine Dalle, the spokesperson for Paris archdiocese, said that priests at Saint-Eugéne-Sainte-Cécile church had already been given a warning.

“We see there is a gap between what has been asked and what has been done in this church,” she said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Reims, northeastern France, have reportedly opened criminal investigations into two Easter Masses offered at the Church of St. Joan of Arc for not wearing masks.

Fr. Jean Maïdanatz of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Reims, which organized the Masses, told AFP in response: “The majority of the faithful, 90 on Saturdays and 100 on Sundays, have respected protective measures and distances.”

“Masks and hand sanitizer are distributed, but I do not have the means to force the faithful to use the masks,” he said.

Paris archdiocese said that the pastor of Sainte-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile had been asked to “strictly enforce respect for sanitary measures” in his church “while awaiting the conclusion of the canonical procedure.”

He was also asked to relay a message from Archbishop Aupetit to his parishioners over the weekend “in order to remind them once again of the rules that apply to all.”

There were 1,615 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the city of Paris as of April 6, according to the French health authorities.

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