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Tobin: Unmasked parishioners won’t be turned away despite new rules

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence is encouraging parishioners to wear masks in the wake of new state guidelines, but said the church is not going to turn anyone away from attending Mass if they show up without one.

“Such individuals may have good and substantive reasons for not doing so,” Bishop Thomas Tobin said in a statement, adding that church staff – including priests, deacons, choir members, etc. – won’t be required to wear masks either.

Gov. Dan McKee announced that most indoor establishments in Rhode Island will need to require masks or proof of vaccination starting next week, in a bid to stem the state’s recent rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston announced earlier this month that masks would be required at all services beginning this weekend. During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers on Wednesday – hours before the governor’s announcement – Tobin said he was not willing to do the same.

“It’s a very controversial, very divisive thing for people,” Tobin said. “I think if at all possible it should be on a voluntary basis. People will do what is the right thing for themselves, family, church and the common good.”

Tobin – who said he is fully vaccinated himself – has urged clergy and staff at the diocese to get vaccinated, but said he does not know how many priests have followed his advice.

“I would hope their commitment to the ministry, their desire to do the right thing would encourage them, and I think the vast majority of priests have been vaccinated just from common conversations,” he said. “But I haven’t measured it.”

Tim White ( is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

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