WESTCLIFFE, Colo. January 22 2021 Imagine attending a church mass when suddenly armed security guards enter the building to remove people who aren’t wearing masks.
Witnesses said it happened in Custer County and that their religious freedoms were violated.
On Monday, a sign was placed on the steps leading to the doors of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Westcliffe. It was put on display by parishioners after a shake-up at Sunday’s mass.
“There would not be mass if we had people who refused to wear masks,” said Carol Kennedy, who was at mass that Sunday. She said that’s what the congregation was told by church leadership before two armed security guards entered and asked one person to leave.
Fred Hernandez said he was right next to the person who was asked to leave.
“They told him to put on the mask and he said, ‘Why? Who are you?’ And they said, ‘we are security,’ and at that point, he realized there was going to be a problem. Very wisely he said please let’s go outside,” Hernandez said. He and others said they couldn’t believe what they’d witnessed.
“That was wrong,” Hernandez said. “That was totally wrong, very badly handled and there is absolutely no excuse for it.”
“Having people escorted out of the church by armed security people because they are not wearing a mask is inappropriate,” Kennedy said.
The security guards were hired by former Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino who runs a security firm and provides services for the Diocese of Pueblo. He said his firm got a call the week before from leaders of the diocese because too many people at the Westcliffe church were not wearing masks. Something church leaders had warned the congregation about.
“Subsequently that was not followed,” Corsentino said. “There was non-compliance by many parishioners from what we were told.”
Corsentino said there was no altercation, but his workers did ask people to leave.
Even though they have been told this was done for their safety and for those who are concerned about the spread of COVID-19, some parishioners believe it was done with other motives.
“They are doing this because they are trying to follow the orders of the Governor,” Hernandez said. “It’s a question of control.”
“They are not doing it for my protection,” said Terry Napolitan, another member of the church. “I’m an adult I can make the decisions on what’s best for me and my family.”
Parishioners tell us they have sent a letter to the bishop of the Pueblo Diocese who implemented the new rule and are waiting for a response.