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Roman Catholic archdiocese seeks pandemic exemptions

Bar on more than 10 worshippers unconstitutional, court told

Vancouver’s Roman Catholics should be exempt from a Feb. 10 public health order restricting certain religious practices, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver says in a lawsuit.

That order barred people from being at gatherings in churches in groups of more than 10.

The church also wants the order declared unconstitutional as it applies to religious gatherings or worship – including masses, weddings, funerals and baptisms.

Filed in B.C. Supreme Court Feb. 26, the petition said the order breaches constitutional religious freedoms.

The petition said the archdiocese represents about 500,000 baptized Catholics, and operates 77 parishes, 51 schools and four places of higher education.

In a Feb. 19 letter to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Archbishop Michael Miller said the requirement to attend Mass on Sunday is binding on Roman Catholics for personal worship through the ministry of a priest.

“This foundational practice of the Catholic faith and life of divine worship has now been precluded for three months, with no clear end in sight,” Miller said.

Henry’s order recognized the order could impact religious freedoms but said those freedoms are not absolute and subject to reasonable limits.

“These limits include proportionate, precautionary and evidence-based restrictions to prevent loss of life, serious illness and disruption of our health system and society,” the order said.

Miller proposed allowing 10% attendance of church capacity be allowed with robust health and safety measures in place.

The petition said restaurants, pubs, gyms and bars have been open and COVID exposures taken place while the archdiocese has recorded none.

The petition noted requests have been made to the provincial government for relief but nothing has been forthcoming.

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