The Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver is calling out what it says is a “baffling” double standard in new COVID-19 restrictions targeting religious worship.
A provincial health order issued Thursday has banned all in-person religious services until Dec. 7, as part of a broader effort to freeze social gatherings and clamp down on rising virus numbers.
In a statement issued Sunday, Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller said the move was “puzzling” given that no community outbreaks had been reported in any of the church’s 78 parishes.
The restrictions appear to treat religious indoor gatherings differently than secular ones, 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,” wrote Miller.
“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.”
Miller said he hoped for more explanation from provincial officials, “now that there has been time for further reflection.”
In issuing the order Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she had consulted with faith leaders, but noted that there had been prior spread of COVID-19 in some religious settings.
“With the community transmission that we’re seeing and the fact that we have seen transmission in some of our faith-based settings, we need to suspend those and support each other and find those ways to care for each other remotely,” Henry said.
Under the order, churches may remain open to the public, but may not hold services with multiple attendees.