‘Makes no sense’: Archbishop slams COVID restrictions that allow more people inside a liquor store than a church funeral

By Wendy GillisStaff Reporter Sat., March 6, 2021

Cardinal Thomas Collins, shown inside St. Michael’s Cathedral in downtown Toronto last April, is calling on the province to adopt a fair and equitable approach to the return to worship. The cathedral, which has a 1,500-person capacity is currently limited to 10 people for funerals.

GTA

As Toronto and Peel Region are set to enter the “grey zone,” the Archbishop of Toronto is speaking out against continued limits on religious gatherings and what he calls “the growing inequities facing our faith communities.”

As of 12:01 a.m. Monday, strict stay-at-home orders lift in Toronto and Peel Region, a move that will allow all retailers, including malls, to reopen with a 25 per cent capacity restriction.

The new phase also allows slightly larger religious gatherings such as weddings and funerals, increasing from five to 10 people for indoor ceremonies, though regular indoor services are still not permitted.

But in a letter sent to parishioners Friday, Cardinal Thomas Collins said the new reopening plan unfairly caps religious gatherings regardless of church capacity, maintaining a hard limit of 10 worshippers “whether they seat 100 or 1,000 people.”

That means that a funeral happening in downtown’s St. Michael’s Cathedral next weekend must be capped at 10 people “while around the corner dozens can enter the local liquor store” or stream into the Eaton Centre, Collins wrote, noting the arrangement “makes no sense.” The cathedral has a capacity for 1,500 people.

“I do not believe that our elected officials and medical officers of health consciously intend to suppress religious freedom; I realize that they are in an extremely difficult position. We do, however, ask to be treated equitably,” Collins wrote.

“In recent days, it is becoming more difficult to believe that is happening,” he said.

A spokesperson for the province did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Collins’ letter included an anecdote about a recent request from a movie scout, asking if the basement hall of a church could be used to feed a crew of 50 people and noting the province had given the green light. Meanwhile, later that week, “the priest presided at a funeral in the same church, limited to 10 people inside (including himself).”

“Which of these do we consider more essential?” Collins asked.

Stressing that the pandemic is ongoing and “we must be prudent in our actions,” Collins is nonetheless calling for parishioners to contact their local MPPs to request that restrictions on places of worship “use a percentage of capacity as opposed to an arbitrary number.”

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