Vancouver archbishop asks officials to ease ban on religious services

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As religious services in British Columbia are still shut down by government orders, a Catholic archbishop is asking the government to reconsider and offer religious institutions the same rights as businesses. 

On Feb. 19, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver issued a 19-page statement asking B.C. health officials to grant the Church the same treatment as bars, gyms, and restaurants. 

He asked the government to permit in-person Masses that follow COVID-19 restrictions, such as a 10% capacity limit, masks, social distancing, and other sanitation requirements. 

The archbishop specified that he is asking the government to provide the Church with fair treatment, not preferential treatment. He noted that religious freedom is protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  

“While we respect the measures taken by the government to protect the health of British Columbians, we want to be assured that the orders are being fairly applied to all sectors of the population,” he wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to the diocese. 

“Specifically, we seek to understand why gathering for worship in limited numbers with safety precautions is not allowed, while bars, restaurants, and gyms remain open.”

The ban on worship services was introduced on Nov. 19, 2020. It was extended monthly until officials extended the ban indefinitely on February 5. 

“As a result, our priests have been unable to offer Holy Mass with a congregation, despite the precautions that we had previously taken to combat the spread of COVID-19,” he added. 

“As Easter approaches, I want to assure you that the Archdiocese is taking steps to advocate with the Provincial Government for a safe return to in-person attendance at Mass. It is my ardent hope that we can return from our extended ‘fast’ from the Eucharist and join together to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection this Easter.”

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Prior to the ban, Catholic churches in the region followed strict safety measures, such as mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing. The archdiocese had not seen any outbreaks tied to Church services, Miller stressed.

“While there have been no known COVID-19 transmissions or outbreaks within our churches, we continue to see reports of outbreaks at skiing facilities and local businesses that have been permitted to continue in their operations,” he said.

“I have no doubts that the ban on religious gatherings has had a detrimental effect on the spirituality and mental health of Catholics in British Columbia.”

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The government has acknowledged the archbishop’s statement and said it would respond “in the near future,” The B.C. Catholic reported.

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