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Twin Cities archbishop disavows priest's COVID-19 conspiracy sermon

Archbishop Bernard Hebda addressed the controversy in a letter.

The leader of the Twin Cities Catholic Church has officially taken a stance against a local priest's controversial sermon about the coronavirus.

Earlier this month, Father Robert Altier, who serves at St. Raphael's Church in Crystal, shared conspiracy theories about COVID-19 during a Sunday service. 

The homily — a Catholic term for sermon — ended up on YouTube with the title, "Coronavirus: The Truth Revealed," and has garnered over 430,000 views as of this writing. 

One of Altier's claims is that the virus was "man-made," having been created in a North Carolina lab before being "shipped to China to finish the work."

He also railed against the wearing of masks and social distancing and told his congregation, "we have been lied to in a huge way."

In a letter posted online this past week, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, says that "none of our priests or bishops... is an expert in public health, infectious disease, epidemiology or immunology."

"It would be a mistake to attribute any expertise in these areas to us simply on the basis of our ordination."

Hebda goes on to say that he spoke to Altier about his statements, and that  Altier "remains firm in his opinions on the pandemic situation, but he has acknowledged that his remarks were inappropriate in the context of a homily during Mass."

He also quoted Church doctrine about the content of homilies, which notes that:

...the homily “should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.” Pope Francis has said that it is to be “a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth”

"The use of a homily to present medical or scientific speculation does not serve that noble purpose and could be seen as an abuse of the cleric’s position of authority to address an issue unrelated to the liturgical celebration," Hebda writes.  

Altier does not seem to have been disciplined over the sermon. You can read the full text of Hebda's letter — which also covers the Catholic Church's current position on COVID-19 as well as vaccine ethics — right here.  

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