Despite the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in Toronto and Peel, churches were kept at a hard cap of 10 people, prompting calls for “fair and equitable” treatment in returning to worship. Photo by Michael Swan

Archdiocese of Toronto urging Catholics to call on MPPs for ‘equitable’ approach to a return to worship

  • March 5, 2021

Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins is sending a clear message to Queen’s Park: It’s time for a “fair and equitable approach to the return to worship.”

As discussions with the Ontario government continued, the Archdiocese of Toronto launched a website on March 5 through which people could add their voice in calling for removing the hard-cap restrictions on places of worship in favour of limits based on a percentage of capacity.

As of March 9, more than 12,000 used the site to send messages to MPPs.

“We very much appreciate the overwhelming response of the faithful to the campaign,” said Neil MacCarthy, director of communications and public relations for the Archdiocese of Toronto, adding that there has been ongoing productive conversations with the government.

With many churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto limited to 10 people while retailers can now operate at 25-per-cent capacity, the cardinal has become increasingly frustrated with political decisions regarding the COVID restrictions.

“I do not believe that our elected officials and medical officers of health consciously intend to suppress religious freedom … We do, however, ask to be treated equitably,” Collins said in a March 5 call to action statement to the faithful.

MacCarthy said concerns regarding equitable treatment “were escalated in recent days when the province indicated they would relax the rules for retailers… while maintaining a hard cap of 10 people inside places of worship, whether they had a pre-pandemic capacity of 100 or 1,000.”

“We understand the need for restrictions but they need to be applied in a fair and equitable manner,” said MacCarthy.

“Next week, a funeral at St. Michael’s Cathedral (capacity 1,500) will be capped at 10 people, while around the corner dozens can enter the local liquor store and thousands will visit the Eaton Centre. This makes no sense,” Collins wrote in his message.

“Our strict WorshipSafe protocols in our churches have proven to be effective,” added Collins. “It’s time to address the growing inequities facing our faith communities.”

Collins made his statement after the government announced it was moving Toronto and Peel to the grey zone of its colour-coded re-opening matrix on March 8. Under the relaxed conditions, all shopping outlets can open to 25-per-cent capacity and grocery stores and pharmacies can swell up to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

However, places of worship still retained strict in-person limits of 10 people, including the celebrant. Churches in the red zone can operate at 30-per-cent capacity.

On the website, the archdiocese lists two items reflecting “a fair and equitable approach” toward houses of worship:

1) That capacity limits reflect a percentage of pre-pandemic capacity instead of an “arbitrary limit” like 10 people.

2) That the province “engage directly with faith leaders” to understand the work done in churches and the measures taken to operate safely.

Collins’ call to ease restrictions on churches comes on the heels of a number of other Canadian bishops expressing similar concerns. The archbishops of Montreal and Quebec City, Archbishop Christian Lépine and Cardinal Gerald Lacroix, respectively, and Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller have recently released statements or written to provincial officials about their concerns with the shutting down of worship services.

Miller was denied an exemption by B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to open churches to 10-per-cent capacity and has vowed to take his fight to the B.C. Supreme Court if necessary. He said he is trying to work things through without resorting to that.

Last modified on March 10, 2021

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