Canadian provinces move to reopen churches for public worship with crowd limits, health restrictions
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June 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Ontario is the latest Canadian province to allow church services to resume indoors after announcing Monday that places of worship will be able to operate at 30 percent total capacity beginning Friday, albeit with health restrictions in place.
Ontario’s places of worship reopening measures are the second least restrictive in Canada after Alberta in terms of allowed church attendance size. The Alberta government announced Tuesday that there will be no limits on church capacity, but physical distancing remains.
Today, the government of Saskatchewan announced it is moving to Phase 3 of its reopening plan. It allows for an increase in the allowed size for places of worship from 30 people to 30 percent capacity of a church, up to a maximum of 150 people, or whichever is the lesser amount.
Churches and other places of worship in Canada were shut down in March after provincial governments imposed public health measures as a response to the coronavirus.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that they were moving ahead with a regional approach to Stage 2 of their reopening plan, which includes the reopening of places of worship.
At his press conference on Monday, Ford said places of worship are an “important” part of this regional approach.
“During these uncertain times, our faith has never been more important,” Ford said in his press conference.
“These are important steps to getting life back to normal.”
Ontario weddings and funerals are limited to a maximum of 10 people, which is in line with the increased allowance for social gatherings, while churches will be allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, announced yesterday that the earliest public masses will resume in his archdiocese is June 17.
In a statement on June 8, Collins also said he welcomes the news from the Ontario government.
“We thank Premier Ford and Minister Monte McNaughton (who coordinated and liised with faith communities during this period of pandemic), for their efforts in recognizing the importance of places of worship for so many Ontarians,” Collins said in his statement.
“I am grateful to Catholics throughout the archdiocese for their patience and understanding as we worked collectively to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 over the past several months. I am also keenly aware that closing our more than 200 Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto has been a painful and difficult period for all of us.”
Collins has asked that Catholic churches be opened for private prayer on the feast of Corpus Christi, which is this Sunday, June 14. Full masses will resume the weekend of June 20-21.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday Phase 2 of the province’s post-coronavirus relaunch. Kenney said that as part of Phase 2, starting Friday, churches in Alberta along with all other places of worship will be allowed to fully reopen with no limits on congregation size.
Social distancing and health protocols measures still must be kept in place, however, and the government released an updated Guidance for Places of Worship that is to be followed. Indoor weddings and funerals are limited to 100 people.
In his press conference on Tuesday, Kenney said people should not be “guilted” into second-guessing as to whether they should go to church.
“People shouldn’t feel guilty now about going out responsibly with their family to a restaurant. They shouldn’t second-guess going to their local places of worship within the limitations that are in place,” he said.
“Enjoy life. Do it safely. No need to panic.”
Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary said in a statement Tuesday, “The Catholic Bishops of Alberta are welcoming today’s news that attendance limits on worship services will be expanded under Stage 2 of the Alberta government’s relaunch strategy.”
“The return of these public celebrations has been a source of joy for our parishioners and priests alike … It is important to note, however, that the pandemic is still with us. Therefore, the expansion of the attendance limit will not mean an immediate return to full churches.”
Despite Alberta allowing for churches to open with no restrictions on attendance size, a controversial section in the Alberta Guidance for Places of Worship, which asks that attendees provide their contact information for contact tracing, remains. The guidance does, however, have clear wording stating that it is optional for attendees to provide their information.
It also notes that “faith-based organizations” have full ownership of the list and would only be required to share the attendance lists with Alberta Health Services “if a potential exposure occurs onsite.”
The Alberta Bishops’ June 9 statement says that under the new guidelines parishes are still expected to record “contact information of attendees for the purpose of contact tracing if necessary.”
LifeSiteNews reached out to the Archdiocese of Edmonton to inquire if any new guidelines from the bishops would include wording that notes that providing contact information is voluntary, as per government regulations.
Lorraine Turchansky, chief communications officer for the archdiocese, responded to LifeSiteNews saying, “The bishops are reviewing their guidelines, but for now, current measures remain in place.”.
The guidelines also ask that churchgoers wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and receive Holy Communion on the hand only with the mask on. Singing is still not allowed as it is deemed a “high risk” activity.
LifeSiteNews reported that the original May guidelines suggested that Alberta churches were banned from distributing Communion. Tuesday’s announcement from the Alberta bishops makes no mention of banning communion
Churches in British Columbia are currently restricted to 50 individuals. There is a 25-person limit in place in Manitoba. Atlantic provinces have caps in place for attendance at 15 in Prince Edward Island and 50 in New Brunswick.
Newfoundland & Labrador only allows gatherings of up to 20 people for funerals, burials, and weddings. In Nova Scotia, only drive-in style services are allowed, and small gatherings for funerals.
Churches in Quebec have not been allowed to reopen, despite their provincial government allowing for stores and restaurants to open with some restrictions. The Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops recently sent out a health-protection protocol to each of its dioceses, which it says will change with the provincial health guidelines as they are updated.