Vancouver Archbishop Criticizes Pandemic Restrictions on Masses

Archbishop Miller said the archdiocese has “scrupulously observed” health mandates to help stop the pandemic.

Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (photo: Courtesy photo)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver expressed disappointment with the government’s decision to ban religious services as part of a plan to curb the pandemic in British Columbia.

During Sunday Mass at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver, Miller said religious institutions are not being treated fairly compared to the other establishments.

“As I mentioned in the letter written last Thursday: ‘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 said.

“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.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer for British Columbia’s Ministry of Health, expanded restrictions to social gatherings province-wide on Nov. 12. The order has suspended many religious gatherings, including church, synagogue, and mosque services, and will suspend Sunday Masses in the Vancouver archdiocese.

As of Nov. 20, most British Columbia Masses will be conducted without a congregation. Funerals, weddings, and baptisms can take place if they are attended by fewer than ten people. This directive will also restrict other activities and gatherings held at church facilities.

The archbishop said prayers, adoration, and confession will still be available at parishes throughout the archdiocese.

Archbishop Miller said the archdiocese has “scrupulously observed” health mandates to help stop the pandemic. He said not one of the archdiocese’s 78 parishes has been a source of a coronavirus outbreak in the community.

“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,” he said.

He said it is a “very serious matter” to restrict religious members from public worship and he pointed to the rights protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He said, while measures should be taken to ensure public safety, the burden can not rest on communities of faith alone.

The archbishop said it has been a challenge to refrain from public worship, but he expressed faith in the Church’s perseverance. Pointing to a theme coined in the early days of the pandemic, he said “the Church can not and does not stop.”

“It must be recognized that we are making a great sacrifice and observing a Eucharistic fast which, I pray, will bring us the Lord’s blessings. Certainly we must pray that the situation will soon change, so that we can return to Mass with a congregation, even if reduced in number.”

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