Vancouver archbishop works with provincial officials to get churches open

Vancouver archbishop works with provincial officials to get churches open

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, pictured in a Dec. 15, 2016, photo, says he hopes that by Holy Thursday, churches in British Columbia can open with limited capacity. (Credit: Ben Nelms/CNS.)

Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver says he hopes that by Holy Thursday, churches can open with limited capacity.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver says he hopes that by Holy Thursday, churches can open with limited capacity.

At the recommendation of Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, the archbishop is working with Robert Daum of Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue in a “process” to consider how to provide “small, safe indoor services” for parishes for important Easter services.

“Let’s hope that this process will come to a fruitful conclusion in time for the celebration of Easter,” the archbishop said.

Under current health orders, churches are allowed to open their doors for weddings, funerals, and private prayer at a maximum of 10 total participants.

Henry turned down Miller’s February request to let churches open at 10 percent capacity.

Miller told Makani Marquis, archdiocesan communications director, he plans to return to conversations with health authorities with a modified request: For indoor services at 10 percent of church capacity with a maximum of 50 participants starting Holy Thursday, April 1.

He said this basically amounts to a return to where churches stood in November, before health orders completely banned indoor religious gatherings.

Miller filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking for an exemption from the government’s ban on public worship. He said that, if necessary, he will take the legal route, but he is hoping to find a solution outside of court.

The archbishop told The B.C. Catholic, Vancouver archdiocesan newspaper, that although he was disappointed by Henry’s decision not to allow reopening at 10 percent capacity, he was “gratified” that she “acknowledged that ‘the Roman Catholic Church was exemplary in supporting their congregations during this critical time, including through Easter of 2020 and indeed since.'”

In her response, Henry said the request to open churches at 10 percent would, in some cases, amount to gatherings of 100 people or more who do not usually interact in person, coming together indoors and creating “risky settings.”

She added that clusters of positive cases “stemming from religious gatherings and religious activities have been noted since the onset of the pandemic globally, nationally and in British Columbia.”

Her letter did not say how many COVID-19 cases have been linked to religious gatherings, but elsewhere it has been reported 180 positive cases — out of more than 82,400 — are linked to religious services within the province. That data does not specify the type of religious service or which health regulations were being followed.

Miller has maintained that there have been no known outbreaks in churches in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, but in her letter, Henry said there may have been cases linked to churches, and those cases could be unknown to church officials for confidentiality reasons.

She added she expects a return to larger gatherings and easing up on restrictions by this summer.

Ruck is assistant editor of The B.C. Catholic.

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