In the first week of September, Father Robert Altier provided a topical homily for his congregation at the Church of St. Raphael out in Crystal.
He began with a few words about prophets and what it means to prophesize – to tell the truth, according to God, even when it is difficult.
“I have an obligation to stand here and speak the truth, even when people don’t like to hear it,” he said. “So here we go.”
He went on to say that we had been “lied to” with regard to novel coronavirus. While it is a “real” virus, Altier said it had been “man-made” in a laboratory in North Carolina, then shipped to China, where it was completed and unleashed upon the world, “so that people would get sick.”
Altier insisted that “all of this is being done on purpose,” and that if we weren’t sure about that, we could “look it up.”
“I have no desire to lie to you, I have no desire to try to blow smoke over your head; I want to tell you the truth, if that is what God is going to hold me responsible for.”
Altier then spun into a variety of what he saw as inconsistencies with the government’s handling of the virus, including claims that the government confined sick adults to nursing homes because “there weren’t enough people dying,” and that forthcoming vaccines were either “heinous” or “pure evil.” The only way he was getting one, he said, is if he was arrested and held down as it was administered. He also gave Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska) a shoutout -- which doesn't reflect well on either Altier or Jensen.
Once, Altier literally used the word “sheeple.”
This narrative that has been raised and debunked again and again in some form or another, pretty much as fast as virologists can get to it. It makes a tempting degree of internal sense (COVID-19 is a really weird respiratory illness with a tendency to creep into other unrelated organs), but experts all over the world repeat that it’s not a feasible claim when it comes down to the details.
The genetic blueprint of coronavirus is pretty consistent with the stuff we’re finding in the natural world – just what you’d expect with something that evolved in animals and eventually hopped to humans. The going hypothesis is that it has been circulating amongst bat populations for the past few decades, locked in an evolutionary arms race with the bat immune system, until it muddled its way into a human host... and here we are.
Experts also say we simply don't really know enough about viral pathology to make a new deadly strain out of whole cloth. If we'd reassembled one by recycling an existing genetic backbone and throwing in some additions of our own, it would be pretty easy for virologists to tell where something man-made had been spliced into the code. They haven't found anything so far that doesn't exist out in nature.
We don’t know exactly what Altier’s sources are for his claims, or what “agenda” is being accomplished through a pandemic. When asked for comment, St. Raphael sent a statement saying the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis were “aware” of the homily and had “been in contact with [Altier].”
“With the assistance of experts in this area, the matter continues to be under review,” it said. “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.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, some 86,700 people in the state have tested positive for coronavirus over the course of the pandemic. Over 7,000 have been hospitalized as of Thursday afternoon, with 240 in the hospital currently. Over 1,900 have died.
It's really not easy to acknowledge we live in a mostly random, chaotic, and ill-managed world, where your life can be changed just because of a human somewhere out there having an accidental encounter with an animal.
It's scary to know that there are tiny, invisible creatures which, through no motive more sinister than self-replication, kill many of us at a time. Feeling responsible for the health and safety of your friends and neighbors is terrifying.
The truth can suck sometimes. But preaching something else won't make it suck any less, and might just get you and your flock sick.
Update: A church leader sent a statement to City Pages on Friday saying the homily had been taken off St. Raphael's website.