[Update 10/27/2021, 10:01 a.m. EDT: The Archdiocese of Seattle replied to our request for comment with a letter from Fr. Brunel. Earlier updates include the reporting from Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO-7. The story has been updated to reflect the latest developments.]
Yesterday, October 25, 2021, Toronto Sun reporter Bryan Passifiume tweeted a dramatic video clip of an incident between a Catholic priest and another man during Mass in a Catholic church, with the comment, “Father declined to forgive those who trespassed against him.” After the priest, who was standing at the altar, pointed at the man and told him loudly that he was “trespassing,” the man stood up from his front-row seat and rushed into the sanctuary towards the priest, before being tackled and carried out of the church by a group of men who were present.
The name and location of the Church, the identities of the two men, and the reason for the confrontation were not initially released. Passifiume later tweeted that he did not know the background of what transpired on the video, only that he found it amusing:
Just to clarify: I did not shoot this video, I’m not a Catholic, I have no clue what church it is, I don’t know what opinions the man in blue holds on mask mandates, I don’t know where it took place… it’s just an amusing video I found, and thought you would enjoy it. That’s it
— 𝘽𝙧𝙮𝙖𝙣 𝙋𝙖𝙨𝙨𝙞𝙛𝙞𝙪𝙢𝙚 (@BryanPassifiume) October 25, 2021
People on social media soon began speculating that the confrontation had to do with the fact that the man, who was dressed in jeans and a blue tee shirt, was not wearing a mask, including some of his fellow priests. The responses fell along predictable lines. Father Dave Nix, a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver who opposes the Covid-19 vaccine and public health restrictions, tweeted, “This is diabolical dialectical health materialism meant to divide Catholics.” In another tweet, he wrote, “I’m not totally defending the first guy yelling at the priest, but notice the gang of masked cowards who only pile on when there’s no risk of joining a fight of 20 guys versus 1. THAT is the type of fortitude I only expect from a group of weak, masked-outlaws.” Others pointed out that some of the other men present were not wearing masks either, however.
Regardless of the cause of the confrontation, the video shocked many people. Franciscan priest Fr. Casey Cole lamented that violence took place in a church during Mass. He tweeted, “Everything about this is so sad. I don’t know what started the initial confrontation, but I have to think that there were ways this could have been diffused peacefully.”
In addition to shouting about the man “trespassing,” the priest—later identified as Fr. Paul Brunet, the pastor of St Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Lakewood, Washington—can also be heard asking, “Would somebody get the security guards?”
It appears that this incident may have nothing at all to do with mask mandates.
According to documents filed with the Superior Court of Pierce County, Washington, a petition for a Sexual Assault Protection Order was filed against Fr. Brunet by a man on September 27, 2021, who wrote that the reason for the order was that, “My son will be sexually abused.”
The petition was rejected the same day by Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner Karen Watson because “The sexual assault protection order petition does not list a specific incident and approximate date of nonconsensual sexual contact” and “preponderance of the evidence has not established that there has been nonconsensual sexual contact.”
According to the petition filed by the man, he believed that Fr. Brunet “is unstabe [sic] after I confronted him at the Parish office on September 23rd 2021. He could potentially commit a murder suicide. Because he could or will be thrown out of the church.”
In the section of the form where he was asked to describe the respondent’s nonconsensual sexual conduct, it says that on one occasion in April, “During mass when priest (Paul) was at stations of the cross he kept batting his eyes at me.” He also describes “Previous dates throughout 2021 and previous years the priest would specifically pick me out to look into my eyes at the altar then look away suddenly. During Mass.”
In addition to the September 23 confrontation, the man recounted another meeting in the parish office on September 14, when he met with the priest for spiritual help. He alleged at the meeting:
“My son was with me. Priest spoke of a man giving confession & spoke of sexual thoughts he had. He then used my son as an example to explain why I would get mad.
….Basically I asked about my anger/other emotions towards bad forces (satan).
He used an example of sex to explain what Satan does(…he Satan will introduce sex into your mind) so that person would get mad at Satan.
–Then immediately after he spoke of the example of Sex he said ‘just like your son if anyone hurt him you would be mad.'”
The full context of these alleged statements attributed to Fr. Brunet is not provided, and the petition was dismissed due to lack of evidence that Fr. Brunet engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct.
On the form, when asked to describe why he has “reasonable fear of future dangerous acts,” the man wrote that Fr. Brunet’s “actions,” as well as past experience of sexual abuse in his own family in the early 2000s “leads me to believe that my son is in imminent danger to go to school. He will be abused.” He went on to add that his son has attended the school since prior to Fr. Brunet’s arrival at the parish, and that “The priest lives adjacent to the school and has contact with all the children.”
In the section asking whether the possession of a firearm by Fr. Brunet poses a “serious and imminent threat to public health and safety,” Indicating his belief that both he and his son were in danger, he wrote, “I am afraid of this man and what he will do to my son.” He also indicated that Fr. Brunet was a risk “To my wife as well. I don’t trust him at all.”
Fr. Brunet, who is originally from Michigan and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Seattle in 2011, has been pastor of St. Frances Cabrini since 2016. According to a local parishioner who knows Fr. Brunet and who spoke to Where Peter Is on the condition of anonymity, Fr. Brunet is a well-loved priest with a popular ministry of healing.
During the 6 p.m. evening newscast Tuesday evening, Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO-7 reported, “A lieutenant with the Lakewood Police Department said the incident occurred Oct. 24 shortly before noon. The man was previously served a notice of trespass Oct. 11, when he was notified he’d be arrested for returning to the property. The man was arrested and booked into jail for trespassing on Oct. 24.”
In response to a request for comment, Patty Lewis, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Seattle, provided Fr. Brunel’s letter to the St. Frances Cabrini parishioners and school community regarding the incident. She added, “Hopefully, this gives you the information you need to clarify what happened in the video. Most of what’s circulating on social media is incorrect.”
In the letter, Fr. Brunet wrote:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I am writing to provide some context for the upsetting situation which occurred at the 11:00am Mass on Sunday involving Mr. (name redacted). As you may have already heard, (name redacted) entered the sanctuary of the church during the Eucharistic prayer and approached me. He was apprehended and arrested.
First, I wish to ask for your prayers for (name redacted) as we are concerned for his wellbeing.
The events leading up to this unfortunate incident began last month. After an initial pastoral appointment with Mr. (name redacted), his behavior has worsened and become less predictable. He has engaged in a course of abusive and threatening conduct, directed not just at me but towards the parish and school staff. Under the circumstances, the parish and school had no other choice but to obtain a “No Trespass” order from the Lakewood Police Department against (name redacted). He chose to disregard this order when he appeared at Mass yesterday.
The safety of the children, parishioners and staff are our top priority. The parish and school are working closely with the Lakewood Police department, the Lakewood City Attorney and private security to maintain extra safety precautions.
We are aware of some videos being posted and shared on social media which I ask you to refrain from circulating out of concern for the privacy of all involved.
Please join me in praying for all who were involved in or witnessed this incident and be assured of my prayers for all of you.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr Paul Brunet
Pastor- St Frances Cabrini Parish
In addition to Fr. Brunet’s request that others not circulate the videos in the letter, a similar request was made on St. Frances Cabrini’s Facebook page:
Image: Adobe Stock.