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Cardinal Thomas Collins Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

TORONTO, Canada, December 2, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The leader of Canada’s largest diocese has cancelled public Masses in the Toronto & Peel Region after government lockdown regulations said there could be no more than 10 people inside a church at one time.

In an announcement published on the Archdiocese of Toronto website, Cardinal Thomas Collins stated:

By Monday, November 23, 2020, parishes must restrict attendance inside the church to 10 people, including priests hearing confessions or a staff member/volunteer required to monitor capacity restrictions. Due to these measures, public Masses must be temporarily cancelled. Priests are asked to celebrate private Mass daily for the intentions of parishioners and for those suffering from COVID-19. 

There is no evidence that Catholic worship has spread the virus in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Other parts of the diocese where the government has imposed less strict lockdown regimes are permitted to continue Mass and other liturgical celebrations, so long as the church does not exceed 30% capacity.

Collins threatens to ‘shut down’ priests for giving Communion on the tongue

A week before the announcement a recorded webinar obtained by LifeSiteNews shows Collins saying that he will “shut down” priests if they do not strictly follow the archdiocese’s coronavirus procedures.

These procedures include an explicit ban on Communion on the tongue.

Collins explained that the archdiocese’s regulations stipulate that those distributing Communion must be six feet away from the (masked) recipient and put the Host “vertically” into the recipient’s hand. 

“But we cannot have communion on the tongue,” Collins said. 

“We can’t. And we have to be effective in our protocol.” 

Moments afterwards Collins said that he would “shut down” any priests that didn’t comply with the archdiocese’s coronavirus regulations.

“I’ve dealt with cases, and I said to a priest, ‘I will shut you down. I will shut you down in a heartbeat!’” he said. 

“If we have a place, one of our parishes, if we have one parish where they’re loosey-goosey with the protocol […] Whatever! I will shut you down! Because I cannot have a parish, one parish or any parish, mess it up for us all, endanger the whole diocese, every church in the province for that matter.” 

In his 17-minute introduction to the “Covid Updates/Advent, Christmas Planning” webinar, Collins revealed that he believes that the coronavirus threat is as serious as the government is presenting it and that carelessness in conducting religious services could be dangerous. The full webinar is available to view at the Vox Cantoris blog.

 “We want to be safe,” Collins told his webinar audience. 

“We want to care for our own people, for the parishioners, for those who work in the diocese, work in the parishes, and we want to be really responsible to the community outside,” he continued. 

“We don’t want to be the source of the spread, an increase of the spread of this, among our neighbors. […] We want to protect everyone.”

Collins also revealed that there was a danger the state might order the churches to close if they are not strict enough in applying the coronavirus protocol.

“We also want to protect the possibility of ensuring that everyone has access to the Holy Eucharist and the sacraments,” Collins said. 

In the webinar Collins made it clear that he has been under pressure from civil authorities to prove that Catholic worship is not dangerous to health. He stated that he had been called into an emergency meeting with Ontario’s “Safe Worship” committee just before Toronto was declared a “Red Zone”. There he was told that in another diocese a “very fine priest”, who was not wearing a mask, had been caught  giving someone Holy Communion on the tongue by an agent of the state.  

“A government inspector walked in and they got slapped with a compliance order,” Collins related to his priests. 

“As I said at the meeting, we can have the strongest chain, but the weakest link breaks the chain, and that’s putting at risk all the parishes in Ontario.” 

Collins meant here that the parishes were at risk of being closed by the government. He told his listeners that he had been meeting with the mayors of Toronto and Peel and with medical officers, and that he had argued that the Church was “part of the solution” in the fight against “collateral damage” caused by the pandemic shutdown. He told them the archdiocesan churches “provide an essential service,” such as caring for the lonely, and also that there “is no evidence that churches are a breeding point of the pandemic.” 

“But it doesn’t take much,” he warned his hearers and alluded to unspecified Catholic religious services that had spread disease in the past. However, he stressed that there was no evidence of this in the Toronto diocese. 

The third point Collins made to the civil authorities, he said, was that the Archdiocese of Toronto’s very strict coronavirus protocols, which force Catholics to take Communion in the hand, masked, from a masked priest or minister, and consume the Host only after stepping to the side, are “effective.”

“I’ve been saying, ‘We are very rigid in our Church’,” Collins stated.

“Fortunately. Sometimes they don’t like us to be rigid, but this is good in this situation. It’s an effective protocol,” he continued.

“All of this says, ‘Leave us alone. We know what we’re doing. We’re protecting the people. We’re not a source’. I think that’s true.” 

However, Collins also stressed that the “effective” protocol must also be “enforced.” If the protocol is not followed, it is “worse than useless.” He said that this could make people sick, or that individual churches could be visited by a government inspector, or seen by someone watching a video of a Mass, which would result in the archdiocese being given a compliance order.

“We can’t have that,” said Collins. “So what I say to them is not only is it effective, but it is enforceable. Effective and enforceable. Those two have got to go together.” 

Collins suggested that the very fact that the Church is hierarchical, and that in the Archdiocese of Toronto he is at the top, had convinced civil authorities that the protocols he has presented to them are enforceable.

“If I find out something, I move right in,” Collins said.

“And that has so far protected us. And it has allowed us to continue on.” 

Collins also told his listeners that the archdiocese is not dealing with “antagonism to religion” or “religious prosecution.” He said that the medical officers were “very virtuous” and “want to protect us all.” However, he made it clear that the government has been forcing the Catholic Church to prove it is not a problem. 

“If we can prove that we have an effective and enforced protocol, we are contributors to the common good,” he said.

Collins said repeatedly that the Church was not a problem, or part of the problem, but part of a solution, a point he said he had been making that week “a lot.” 

“So I urge everyone—I tell everyone—I order everyone:  follow the protocol precisely, precisely. It’s just essential. We can’t have anything less than that.” 

After Collins’ address, the Archdiocese’s Director of Public Relations and Communication, took the floor. Neil MacCarthy estimated that approximately 60,000 people had returned to Sunday worship when the archdiocesan churches opened to the public again on the weekend of June 20/21. 

Multiplying that number by the 21 Sundays the churches have been open, MacCarthy came up with a figure of approximately 1.26 million worshipers. Of that number, only 32 had tested positive for COVID-19, representing 0.0025% of Catholics who attend Sunday Mass in the Archdiocese. 

Contacted by LifeSiteNews, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Toronto stated: “We will use official archdiocesan communication vehicles to convey public statements and accurate information regarding the work of the Archdiocese of Toronto and our ongoing efforts during this time of pandemic.”