At the end of a weekday evening Mass at St. Anne Parish, the Rev. Larry Brito walked around to the two dozen people seated in pews and administered Holy Communion, placing wafers into some of their mouths. 

Brito wore a mask and sanitized his hands, but he did not sanitize them after placing a wafer on each person's tongue, potentially increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus. 

In the process, he also was flouting the Archdiocese of Santa Fe's edict calling for priests to provide Communion wafers only in parishioners' hands as a safety measure. 

But Brito, 56, insists he conducts the rite safely by going to parishioners, rather than having them come to him, because they aren't moving around the church and brushing past one another. He said he thinks it's sufficient to wear a mask and sanitize his hands once. 

As for placing wafers on tongues, Brito called it "a theological discussion."  

"It's really up to the individual to receive," Brito said. "I haven't seen any evidence that COVID is spreading through the churches." 

Brito's candor on the pulpit and an unmistakable defiant streak have made him a polarizing presence to some in his midtown parish and beyond. Former parishioners complain the onetime Marine is offensive and even reckless, prompting them to leave St. Anne. But others see him as a bold maverick who sacrifices for his flock and adheres to a hard line in difficult, uncertain times.

In recent interviews, a few of his former parishioners said Brito discourages people from getting COVID-19 vaccines because they are remotely linked to stem cells that might have come from aborted fetuses. It's a charge the 21-year veteran of the priesthood denies. Such a stance runs counter to the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which encourage vaccination to help quell the deadly pandemic.  

Critics also complain that during the 2020 election season, Brito made his support clear for former President Donald Trump — "the pro-life candidate" — without naming him. He expressed similar veiled support for Trump in 2016, drawing complaints from some and prompting the archdiocese to deem it questionable.

Brito recently stirred an uproar by posting a notice on church doors announcing confession was canceled because he had been exposed to the "China virus," a term considered racist and demeaning to Chinese people. Brito stood by the phrase initially but later apologized.

Former parishioner Barbara Vigil, 58, said that during a holiday church service Brito referred to the song lyric "we three kings of the Orient" and remarked they could no longer use the term “ ‘Oriental’ because that is prejudice."

Vigil said she thinks the comment came off as snide, speculating Brito was still stung over the "China virus" flap. 

She said she left St. Anne, where she had been a lifelong member, due to what she felt was Brito's anti-vaccination stance.

Pushing boundaries

Brito's concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines are related to a report published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that states stem cells from aborted fetuses likely were used in testing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. However, the bishops say in the document that the lives saved by taking the shots outweigh the "evil" of abortion being linked to the medication.

The report also says that while the AstraZeneca vaccine is more directly connected to embryonic cells, it should be accepted to curb the pandemic.

Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester said he believes people should get the vaccine. 

"I can tell you right now, unequivocally, that not only is it morally acceptable to get the vaccine … but it is morally encouraged," Wester said in a phone interview. "The pope himself has been vaccinated." 

If any priest publicly casts doubt on the vaccine, it is "morally irresponsible," Wester added, because impressionable people, in turn, might not get the vaccine and could contract the illness and die.

Wester also said there's also no leeway on the rules that bar priests from putting Communion wafers on people's tongues.  

"We made the protocols and the protocols are to be followed," Wester said. "It has to do with the sanctity of human life." 

Carlos Ortiz, a Santa Fe resident, said he complained to the archdiocese about Brito's hand-to-mouth delivery of Communion. Ortiz said he heard Brito say the archdiocese told him to stop but that he would keep doing it because it's the parishioners' choice.

"He [Brito] went on to say, ‘And if you should get the virus and die from it, you're dying in the service to God,’ ” Ortiz said, adding this statement was one of the reasons he left for another parish.

Brito said he doesn't recall making such a  comment. 

"Who knows? People make up things," he said. 

Brito said he is fine with some people making the decision to leave his parish.

"My job as a priest isn't to make everybody happy," Brito said. "If everybody loves me, I'm probably not doing my job." 

He said he read the bishops' statements supporting the vaccine during a homily and then told parishioners to consider its connection to aborted fetuses — and to not take the shots blindly. 

"I just want them to look at it and get advice from the experts," Brito said. "And not just stand in line because they're telling you to stand in line." 

By all accounts, Brito never outright endorsed Trump by name or political party at the pulpit during the 2020 election. He voiced support more obliquely, telling people to "vote for life" and to go with the anti-abortion candidate, according to parishioners interviewed by The New Mexican

Wester said it's allowable for priests to advocate a position such as anti-abortion during a homily as long as they don't identify specific candidates. 

Priests can express their personal political views in private because they are not representing the church, Wester said.

Ron Lucero, 67, said he attends services every day and has never heard Brito support or denounce specific candidates. 

Lucero said the pastor applauded a document that Trump issued on the sanctity of human life. 

"He was not supporting the candidate. He was supporting church teachings that was stated by a politician," Lucero said. "There's a big difference in my eyes." 

In a break room at St. Anne after a recent service, Brito said he is registered to vote as an independent. But he said he thinks Trump was the nation's strongest anti-abortion president since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a woman's right to obtain an abortion in Roe v. Wade.  

"I'm not a Trumper," Brito said. "Unfortunately, the major news doesn't ever cover anything positive about him. I'm not saying he did everything good, but be balanced." 

Fostering the faithful

Brito, who grew up in Las Vegas, N.M., enlisted in the Marines when he was 17 and served eight years in the military. He spent the next several years attending college and working as a graphic designer, producing promotional materials for Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

He entered the seminary when he was 30 and was ordained in 2000. 

Brito said he wrestled for years with the idea of becoming a priest, going back and forth, and then made the leap when he realized it was a choice, not a mandate from God. In his career, he has served in a series of parishes, including in Taos, before moving to St. Anne about seven years ago. 

Although controversial at times, Brito is beloved by many parishioners. More than a dozen who were interviewed praised him as a fierce champion of the church's principles.

"He's amazing and he speaks the truth," said Grace Romero, 76, echoing a common refrain. "One super important issue is right to life. He's keeping with the teachings of the church. These are not our laws. These are God's laws." 

His allies extend beyond his parish. The Rev. Bill Sanchez, who heads St. Joseph Catholic Church in Cerrillos, sides with many of Brito's stances, including those on vaccines and offering Communion orally.

Brito's background in the Marines probably helped shape his forceful personality, Sanchez said, adding his friend's views on the vaccines aren't far different from many Catholics.

The pope decided his conscience allows him to take the vaccine, Sanchez said, but added: "Mine doesn't." 

"Each person out there must make that same process of decision, and not follow people blindly," he said. "They have to take responsibility for their own lives." 

Several of Brito's parishioners said they have no concerns about catching the virus through hand-to-mouth Communion. 

"We have to trust in our Lord, our God," Dorothy Rivera, 65, said. "I worked at the hospital for 27 years, and we had HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis — and didn't have no gloves and no masks — and God protected me." 

Longtime parishioner Orlinda Torres, 66, who plays guitar during services, said Brito tells people to do their own research on vaccines. She looked into them and learned they are connected to embryos. Still, she plans to be vaccinated with a message of protest to drug companies. 

As for Communion, she said Brito is careful not to touch people's mouths when placing wafers. 

"You can't deny someone Communion if they want to take it from the mouth," Torres said. "I don't think there's spread at all." 

Torres said she drives from Bernalillo County to celebrate Mass at St. Anne because she likes that Brito isn't afraid to say what he feels is right.

Brito insists his views are in line with church doctrine and other clergy.  

"I think I'm more vocal than most priests," Brito said. 

(44) comments

Michelle Encinias

I understand everyone's concerns about Father Brito giving communion on parishioners tongue's. However, I do agree with Father Brito. It's each parishioners choice on how they receive communion. We are all adults. We all know the risks of contacting the virus. You can choose to have Father Brito place communion in your hand. Also, just to clarify, when a parishioner receives communion on their tongue, Father Brito does not put his hand or fingers in your mouth, nor does he touch your tongue. You simply stick your tongue out a little and he drops it onto your tongue. I think people are making a mountain out of a mole hill. If you don't want to receive communion on your tongue, well DON'T!! Receive communion on your hand!!!

Al Chavez

Many Christian authors, Bishop Robert Barron among others, make the point that love consists in willing the good of the other. How is it wishing the good of the other if one knowingly does something that puts others at risk of harm?

Placing the host on someone's tongue arguably places them at risk. For example the priest may disinfect his hands before distributing communion. But then what if the first person he distributes communion has COVID but with no symptoms? The priest might easily pick up the virus from that person's tongue and give it to the next person who receives on the tongue, or even on the hand. How is that willing the good of the other? Disinfecting your hands once does not mean your hands stay disinfected. You can easily pick up the virus the next time you touch a surface that has the virus—like the tongue of a person who has COVID. Taking that chance is not an act of charity; it's just the opposite.

Khal Spencer

Exactly. The mouth is part of the respiratory system and if someone has The Bug, the chances of picking it up from exhalation aerosols isn't exactly remote.

Al Chavez

I can understand the reverence one exhibits by taking communion on the tongue. The Eucharist indeed is a sacred wonder to those of us who believe.

But go back to the beginnin. Christ told the Apostles, Take and eat." And he handed out his consecrated body. The Apostles very likely did as they were told, they took in their hands and ate. It seems a bit strange to think he broke the bread into little pieces and insist they take it on the tongue.

Come on now....

Khal Spencer

The Church has created a whole lot of ritual and I think a lot of that goes back centuries when ritual was available and learning to read was not. Sure, ritual is good in terms of putting one in the right frame of mind or getting one to contemplate the deeper meaning of the rituals but these are....rituals.

I loved the Taize chants back in grad school when I dove headfirst back into the deep end of the Catholicism pool after being away since, well, since my maternal grandmother stopped raising me as a little kid. She lost her husband when raising five kids, and every Sunday she went to Mass and that's where I learned about the Stations of the Cross and the rosary. So I get the ritual thing. But you nailed it, Mr. Chavez. If He can hand out the bread, Catholics can do what makes sense in a pandemic, without losing the significance of the act. The symbols refer to the faith, not vice versa.

Mari Martin

Father Larry Brito is one the most faithful and holy priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. His fidelity is to God as it should be. He would never sway anyone , he is speaks in Truth. The majority of people these days get very offended when they are told the truth. He is not a politically correct priest. He speaks in Truth that is his job to do as a priest of God to save souls. This article was written by a very ignorant columnist. The Eucharist is not a wafer, it is the true presence of God. 2. He would never tell anyone not to take the vaccine. He stands for the unborn and the infirm. The 6th Commandment is , Thou shall not Kill!!! This society of a culture of death. Infanticide and Euthanasia is murder!. Fr. Larry has and will always stand for Jesus Christ which is Way, the Truth and the Life, our savior and redeemer. This is blatant persecution of our true priests.

Emily Hartigan

Mari, As the Gospel asks, "What is truth?" Not for one person to dictate. Deep faith does not make you God, or all-knowing.

Your "pro-life" zeal leaves out the death penalty (flatly prohibited in Catholic doctrine) and the "preferential option for the poor" (who die in disproportionate members). Jesus spoke constantly about the poor. Never mentioned abortion.

I'm tired of folks' saying "it's Truth", when all of us try to say the truth. What's offensive is someone abusing Holy Orders by prideful behavior.

And I believe in the Eucharist. It is central to my faith. But I don't make it a fetish. It's God's, not ours.

Jeff Varela

God is the ultimate decision maker...not Presidents. governors, bishops, priests, etc. Fr. Brito chooses to lead the parish in a certain manner and it is up to the people, in the sight of God, to determine their destiny. Keep politics out of our faith and quit living in fear, panic and personal destruction!

Emily Hartigan

He thinks he's more Catholic than the Pope [seriously: the Pope got the vaccine].

That's humility? Pro-life when he says you'd be dying for God?

Seems he has deep faith, cares for [some of?] his parishioners, and fails to understand that Catholicism is one of the world's great Mystery religions. Catholic doctrine is that he is subject to the archbishop, but because this priest is a cafeteria Catholic [actually,, we all are -- that Mystery thing], he apparently operates from considerable pride. I'm sorry for those for whom this was a childhood parish. I'll be going elsewhere.

Michelle Encinias

Good

Donato Velasco

If your faith is strong god will take care of you.

Paul Johnson

So you are dismissing those who have gotten seriously ill or died. In your world view, it's their own fault. Not particularly Christian and certainly not the view of the Pope.

Donato Velasco

No cause if you believe you will live for ever in the pearly sky..

Stefanie Beninato

LOL

Sabine Strohem

He's a liability.

Angel Ortiz

[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

Interesting article here on some background. I wonder what NCR would say right now.

https://www.ncregister.com/blog/why-communion-on-the-tongue-is-more-suitable-than-in-the-hand

"The three above reflections offer a number of common elements relative to Eucharistic Communion: humility, docility, fidelity, selflessness. Which manner of receiving (the lex orandi) best expresses and fosters these truths (the lex credendi)?

Even though, as Pope John Paul acknowledges, Communion in the hand can be carried out with reverence and devotion; and even though reception on the tongue is no guaranteed symbol of fidelity and humility; Communion on the tongue is, all things being equal, the most suitable manner of reception."

On the other hand, it seems one is missing the forest for the trees if one wants to fight about hand vs. tongue in the middle of a pandemic.

Peace.

Why Communion on the Tongue is More Suitable Than in the Hand

Here's why Communion on the tongue is, all things being equal, the most suitable manner of reception.

Francisco Carbajal

All good points by all respects. Thank you for clarity and concise interpretation of good choices for words relating to humility, docility, fidelity, and selflessness. Take care and stay well, mi amigo!

Miguel Angel Acosta

St Anne's is a West Side Parish, not midtown, which is a term created by developers to refer to the area on and around the College of SF campus.

Diane Gonzales

Trump wrote a document on the sanctity of human life? That's interesting. Maybe he should have referred to it more often as the virus casualties mounted and yet, he continued to discourage mask use and stopped listening to people of science. Brito says his stance is not political when it is obvious to see that it is.

DeeDee Downs

Yes. Exactly.

Khal Spencer

"...Brito says his stance is not political when it is obvious to see that it is...."

Heh. When I went to Mass at the Newman Center at the Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, one of the three parish priests, all Jesuits, had just gotten back from the war zones in Central America where the killing was aided and abetted by the Reagan Administration. You want to talk about a political priest! Then again, I was deeply into the Liberation Theology movement and it fit right in.

Margaret Eyler

The only reason Fr. Brito gets this constant (negative) press is because he is attempting to do his job in the archdiocese of Santa Fe. Anywhere else in America (short of the Bay Area, where Wester is from of course) priests don’t become a hot button topic for things like saying mass and being pro-life. People in this town forget there is a great big world out there where they are in fact the odd man out.

Steve Martinez

When Father was ordained, he professed vows, among them, to be obedient to his Archbishop, and to his successors. The successor, Archbishop Wester, says no communion on the tongue, has made this the order during the pandemic.

Robert Kowalski

He professed vows to the church. Not to one person. You can’t pick and choose your vows

Steve Martinez

A diocesan priest will make three promises to the Church standing before his bishop. He promises to pray daily the Liturgy of the Hours, which include passages from the psalms and scripture. This is to keep him very close to God. Secondly, the diocesan priest promises to obey and be loyal to his bishop. The priest is guided by his bishop and ministers where the bishop asks him to serve. He does not represent the Church differently than his bishop would. Thirdly, the priest promises to live a celibate life so that he can completely give his own life to Christ, the Church – the people whom he has been called to serve. God gives him special graces to live this calling.

Yes, he promises to the Church that he will obey his Bishop.

Julee Clear

How does one measure what stage of a person's life is more valuable than another? Is a person more valuable at birth than as a juvenile or teen? I am confused why an unborn child's life is more valuable to the Church than that of the 100's of thousands young people whose lives have been and continue to be shattered by the culture of pedophilia within the Church. While the Catholic Church and the diocese of Santa Fe is bankrupt due to the numerous sexual abuse lawsuits against it, why is the focus heavily on right-to-life instead of quality of life and healing for its young people who have been traumatized? Can we make sexual abuse against minors as important asa right-to-life in the Church tenets?

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Anita McGinnis

A person's life is valuable at all stages. That is the reason for the pro-life movement.

Whether a person should live or die is not a matter of fashion or popular opinion.

Angel Ortiz

Getting the virus as a result of receiving communion? Dying in the service of God? I guess it is your choice to expose yourself and have trust in Fr. Brito. What about getting contimated and transferring the virus to someone else? Don't we have a responsibility to others in our families and our community? Sounds wreckless, irresponsible and ignorant. These are are my observations. Have a nice day

Robert Kowalski

Then you have that choice.

Angel Ortiz

Absolutely. I choose to protect my family and friends. I choose not to be wreckless and selfish.

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup][thumbup]

Bkanca Diaz

On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.c

4

He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”d

5

He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.e

3 Sucedió que, yendo de camino, cuando estaba cerca de Damasco, de repente le rodeó una luz venida del cielo,

4 cayó en tierra y oyó una voz que le decía: «Saúl, Saúl, ¿por qué me persigues?»

5 El respondió: «¿Quién eres, Señor?» Y él: «Yo soy Jesús, a quien tú persigues

Acts 9

Stop the persecution!

Robert Kowalski

Thank you Fr. Brito for teaching the true Catholic ideology. Not one driven by false beliefs and liberal views. It’s not Archbishop Westers job to decide which doctrine should be followed snd which should be ignored. Archbishop Wester should be removed and be replaced with someone who doesn’t follow the political wave and follows what is the true teachings of the church.

Margaret Eyler

Amen!

Francisco Carbajal

100% Support.

Francisco Carbajal

As strong advocate for Victim's of Crime, I have seen my share of horrific and traumatic death of all magnitudes. I have seen the worst nightmares that I do not wish them on any one regardless on time or day. I am also a long-time parishioner from the St. Anne's Catholic Church and I have seen many Roman Catholic Priest and Deacon's come and go. The Roman Catholic Church Theological Perspective relating to it's own Dogma of the Church can be interpreted and define by many of our own clergy at-will. Some will say this and some will say that, but it is their own consciousness that will determine where they fit it in regardless on what people say or do. Fr. Brito has been our parish priest for as long as I remember and he is as honest, trustful, honorable, a good character, understanding, empathy, and faithful one that I know of. Yes, his Marine and military bearing is not tainted with walking the "lukewarm" picket fence, either! I am also a Veteran Marine and I support him in my parish. By all respects to our Archbishop Webster, don't jump into any bandwagon thinking that only a few parishioner's that have left our St. Anne's Parish speaks for all of us, period! My point is that each human being has a choice and conscious at-will to make each day. Not every soul will agree with this specific news paper story and its "bias and unfair" attack on our beloved Fr. Brito today. I am one of them who will stand -by our Fr. Brito 1005. "Be Not Afraid, For I Am With You!"

Angel Ortiz

Are you ready to accept responsibility for spreading the virus to someone else who in your family or your community?

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Margaret Eyler

Be real—we’re talking about a wafer being gently placed on someone’s tongue. Any practicing Catholic will tell you (if they’re being honest) the hand-to-hand contact is far greater when distributing communion that way. They aren’t shoving the Eucharist into people’s mouths for goodness sake.

Carlos Vasquez

back to science... social distancing and masks...simply see the story of the last pandemic in 1918-20,

Santa Fe ran out of coffins):

Francisco Carbajal

By all respects, Ms. Ortiz, I don't have any anger towards you and/or any one else who thrives on arguing about who is right or wrong about the theological differences within the Roman Catholic Church. What is important to me is about how my own examination of conscious is acted on from my own choice to chose on how to receive the Blessed Sacrament that I love so dearly. I don't need to deal with the fear of isolation, bias, discrimination, hostile and evasive from my own faithful flock that we call "neighbors." You chose to expose yourself with anger, separation and division at your time and hour whenever you want and deal with it.

Angel Ortiz

Clarification Mr. Cabajal. I am Mr. Ortiz. The first name, Angel, is pronounced in spanish. I am not arguing or using hatred. You are so far off topic. You can choose to make your own choices 24/7. No argument there amigo. To be clear, our choices have a residual effect on our community, our families, and our friends. Examine your conscience everyday and as long as you are comfortable with your actions that is all I ask. Please keep in mind that this virus is far from being over and it's changing . Take a look at the repricussions that are occuring in Europe. We're soon to follow. I know my fears and through my past I have learned to adapt and improvise.

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