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A local Catholic priest who has a history of politicizing the pulpit said Wednesday he didn’t feel “any remorse” for referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” even though the term has been deemed racist and xenophobic.In a typed message recently posted on the front doors of St. Anne Parish at the corner of Hickox and Alicia streets, the Rev. Larry Brito wrote that confessions at the church were going to be canceled that day after he had been exposed to a couple who had tested positive for the “China/Corna [sic] Virus.”Brito, who has since tested positive for the virus and is in quarantine, said he doesn’t believe the term is racist.“That’s one of the terms that’s used that I’ve seen being used,” he said.But it doesn’t make it right, said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of San Francisco-based Chinese for Affirmative Action.“It is extremely disappointing to see someone in his position — someone who has parishioners who look to him for guidance and see him as someone who is a leader in the community, in their church community — spouting a racist term,” she said. “He is right in the sense that others use this term, such as the president of the United States, and other elected officials, but we also condemn them for using racist terminology.”President Donald Trump has said he calls the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” because COVID-19 originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. He and others also have called it the “Kung Flu,” which has also been labeled derogatory, especially among Asians.Choi said “this type of racist rhetoric” has consequences.“We started a reporting center to document incidents of hate related to COVID-19 that is being directed at Asians and Asian Americans in the United States,” she said. “What we have found is over 3,000 incidents of Asian Americans living out their lives, suffering in the pandemic as everyone else is, who are also being blamed for the coronavirus and are being verbally, physically attacked. They’re being discriminated against. So words matter, racist rhetoric matters, and it has led to endangering the lives of Asian Americans.”A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe did not return a message seeking comment.Asked whether he had heard the term was offensive to some people, Brito said “there’s a lot of things that are offensive” to some people.“Christ himself was offensive to some folks,” he said. “In fact, to a lot of folks.”Brito said the virus would probably be called the “American flu” or the “American virus” if it had originated in the United States.“Did you know we had a flu in the United States that’s called the ‘Spanish flu’ that killed a whole bunch of people?” Brito asked. “It was called that, and no one took offense to that.”At the time Brito posted the message on the church doors, he wrote he had been exposed to COVID-19 and was awaiting test results.A message posted on the church’s website Tuesday stated he had tested positive. The online message didn’t use the term “China virus.”“I’m doing fine,” Brito said. “I’m [in] quarantine and doing all the things I’m supposed to do. I don’t have any ill effects. I know there’s some false positives, and maybe that’s what’s happened or maybe I’m just asymptomatic.”Brito said the message to parishioners had been removed from the church doors because the information had been conveyed to his flock, not because it contained the term “China virus.”Brito is no stranger to controversy.Before the 2016 presidential election, he wrote a letter to parishioners essentially encouraging them to vote against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton because of her stance on abortion rights and endorsement by the nonprofit health organization Planned Parenthood.“We have one candidate who has been endorsed by this evil organization and has proudly embraced their endorsement,” Brito wrote.In an interview at the time, Brito said the church wasn’t campaigning for one candidate over another.“There’s several candidates that are running for president, for example, who are pro-choice, and so I think there’s several who are pro-life, so you know, that’s up to the individual,” Brito said then.“Do you think it’s right to be silent when something like the Holocaust is going on?” Brito added.The issue of abortion came up again before the general election two years ago when the church installed a sign above the front doors encouraging the flock to “Vote Pro-Life.” A similar sign had been displayed outside the church eight years prior.“If we were standing up for immigrants, nobody would complain,” Brito said in 2018 after questions about whether the church, a tax-exempt organization, was violating IRS regulations.“But when we stand up for others who have no voice, the 4,000 children a day who are killed by abortion, they complain. It would be a great disservice to be quiet during this holocaust,” Brito said at the time.“People criticized the church for being silent during the Holocaust during World War II,” he added. “But now they want us to shut up.”
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