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Priest claims coronavirus is 'man-made virus' during Twin Cities church service

He said he'll refuse to receive a vaccine if one is developed.

Father Robert Altier's 20-minute homily during a recent Sunday church service in the Twin Cities focused entirely on sharing COVID-19 conspiracy theories, including claims that the virus is man-made.

Altier, a priest at the Church of St. Raphael, located at 7301 Bass Lake Road in Crystal, began his homily by saying "I have an obligation to stand here and speak the truth, even when people don't like to hear it. So here we go..." You can listen to his homily here

"We have been lied to. We have been lied to in a huge way. So let's get the facts," Altier said, then telling the congregation – without evidence – that the coronavirus, which he admitted is a real virus, is a "man-made virus" that was created in a North Carolina laboratory before it was "shipped to China to finish the work and it was released so that people would get sick." 

Extensive study into bat coronaviruses have confirmed that such viruses exist in nature and some of them can be transmissable from animals to humans.

This strain of coronavirus originated in 2002 with different forms of it evolving in the past two decades, eventually leading to a pandemic of the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. More info on coronaviruses can be found here, from the World Health Organization. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have originated at a wet market in China, possibly from a bat species. 

The notion that the virus is "man-made" has been a popular conspiracy theory from the onset of the pandemic, but has been rejected by experts including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Diseases, which said there is "exactly zero" evidence the virus was created in a lab.

In response to Altier's homily, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis says it has "been in contact" with Altier following his homily.

"The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is aware of Father Altier’s homily from last Sunday and has been in contact with him. With the assistance of experts in this area, the matter continues to be under review. Stemming from our belief in the dignity of all human life, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is committed to the safety and wellbeing of all people and has consistently collaborated with public health officials and government officials in the development of safety protocols for our parishes and schools. Please join with us in prayer for all those who are sick with COVID-19, those who care for them, and for individuals and families affected in any way by the pandemic. May all we do reflect the compassionate face of Christ the healer to one another."

Conspiracy theories include Bill Gates, face masks

Altier continued with false claims regarding Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has long spoken out about the lack of preparedness for a deadly global pandemic, and as a result has become the subject of numerous conspiracy theories.

Altier referenced an October 2019 pandemic exercise hosted by Johns Hopkins University, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Called 'Event 201," the 3.5-hour exercise in pandemic preparedness featured a simulation of a coronavirus pandemic beginning at pig farms in Brazil that quickly encompassed the globe, killing 65 million people over an 18-month period. 

Players in the exercise included 15 global business, government, and public health leaders who were tasked with working together to fill "important gaps in pandemic preparedness as well as some of the elements of the solutions between the public and private sectors that will be needed to fill them." 

Altier however insinuated – again, without evidence – that Gates and those involved in Event 201 "knew it was coming or something," suggesting to his congregation that they "look it up."

Altier then challenged government-mandated lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and face mask wearing, referencing advice given at the start of the pandemic that told people not to wear face masks.

However he failed to include the context that health officials were attempting to prevent a run on face masks to preserve them for medical and other essential workers. The World Health Organization did advise in March those with the virus or close to those with the virus to wear them, and initially advised that healthy people don't need to wear them as it could give wearers a "false sense of security" and lead them to be less vigilant with other infection control measures.

Further research as the pandemic developed found face masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when used with other measures such as social distancing, and frequent hand-washing, prompting the WHO to change its advice "in light of evolving evidence," suggesting in June that healthy members of the public should wear masks "where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult."

The priest also suggested – again, without evidence – that people are being hospitalized "because of bacterial infections from what they're breathing in from the masks" and that dentists say face masks are "messing up your gums and your teeth."

"Every doctor, every scientist, every whomever who gets up and says something different than the narrative has been taken off of Facebook, taken off of YouTube, taken down from every place else," he added. "Remember, we have freedom of speech .... unless it goes against the narrative." 

Many universities, hospitals, and public health experts have debunked claims that wearing face masks make you sick. You can find some here, here, and here from the Mayo Clinic.

The priest also claimed that positive test results and deaths from COVID-19 are inflated – another popular conspiracy theory – when global health bodies including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say excess death figures suggest that the number of COVID-19-linked deaths are actually being undercounted.

Altier finished his homily saying at least one of the vaccines under trial uses cells from aborted babies, then added that the only way he'll get a COVID-19 vaccine is "if they arrest me, hold me down and forced it on me." 

Science Magazine reports it has been common practice for vaccines to be developed using decades-old aborted fetal cells since the 1960s, and has been used to create vaccines including those for rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and shingles, as well as being used to make drugs to treat diseases including hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis, and cystic fibrosis. 

At least five of the 130 candidate vaccines put forward for COVID-19 have used these cells, two of which are at the human trials phase – including the AstraZeneca trial ongoing at HealthPartners in Minnesota.

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