The Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver has issued a statement taking issue with the way new COVID-19 restrictions have been applied to religious ceremonies.
The new rules, announced Thursday (Nov. 19), suspended religious in-person gatherings and worship services until Dec. 7, at which time restrictions will be reconsidered. The new rules followed multiple days of more than 700 new cases and three days of double-digit deaths last week. Religious groups are asked to use Zoom or other virtual methods for ceremonies, but contemplation and personal prayer is still allowed inside a house of worship. Funerals, weddings and baptisms are allowed as long as the facility has a COVID safety plan and no more than 10 people present.
In his Sunday (Nov. 22) statement, Archbishop J. Michael Miller said Vancouver Catholics have abided by all rules set forth so far.
“The faithful of the Archdiocese have been exemplary in respecting the health orders of the provincial government because they care for the well-being of their neighbour, especially the most vulnerable among us,” he wrote.
“The restrictions placed on banning congregations, even limited ones, from attending Holy Mass are, of course, a matter of grave concern to us both as Catholics and as citizens of British Columbia.”
Miller goes on to note that there have been no outbreaks in the church’s 78 Vancouver locations.
“No evidence has been forthcoming to help us understand why worship in Catholic churches must be curtailed from its current status so as not to put a strain on our health-care system, a system that certainly needs to be protected for the common good,” Miller said. The ban on in-person worship services applies to all religious groups.
“From today’s order it seems that religious institutions are not being treated with the same consideration regarding the number present at religious gatherings compared to that at secular indoor gatherings,” he added.
“The reason why gathering for worship in limited numbers where all safety precautions are met is not allowed, while bars and restaurants and gyms can remain open with measures that are no more safe, is simply baffling.”
When speaking on Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she had consulted with faith leaders while praising many for their work throughout the pandemic, but noted there had been outbreaks limited to religious settings. One such outbreak was recorded at the evangelical Kelowna Calvary Chapel in September.
Along with religious gatherings, secular and community gatherings that were previously allowed with up to 50 people are also banned, including galas, silent auctions, holiday activities, musical and theatre performances.
Michael finished his statement with a hope that a further explanation for the temporary ban on religious gatherings would be forthcoming, noting that “to limit the religious freedom of believers to worship is a very serious matter, since such freedom is specifically protected in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
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