Ontario Catholic dioceses adapt to new coronavirus lockdown measures

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CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2021 / 17:46 pm (CNA).

In response to new and stringent coronavirus lockdown orders in the province, several of the Catholic archdioceses of Ontario, Canada are once again suspending public worship.

Notably, the Diocese of London, Ontario this week closed all its churches to the public and is discouraging baptisms and confessions except in serious circumstances.

“I realize these new restrictions will be a hardship for many, especially as access to the sacraments is once again curtailed,” Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London said in an April 17 letter.

“I want to express my gratitude to you for the sacrifices you are making during the pandemic, and also to emphasize that we need to be strong in our commitment to follow all health and safety measures to do our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford implemented new lockdown measures, effective April 19, intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, especially new and more transmissible variants. Ontario recorded 2,224 new cases of COVID-19 on April 19.

Among the new restrictions are a 10-person limit for both indoor and outdoor gatherings.

“In the past when we had such restrictions, it was decided that such a limit of ten people is impossible to be carried out in a fair manner,” Bishop Fabbro said, adding that Masses should still be celebrated in the churches and live-streamed.

Baptisms “should be discouraged until the lock-down ends, but may be celebrated in danger of death,” the bishop wrote.

Confessions, too, should be discouraged, but may be celebrated by appointment if a pastor determines “a serious need.” Confessions should be deferred until after the lockdown except in danger of death.

Weddings and funerals may proceed within the 10 person limit, Fabbro said.

The province of Ontario includes 13 dioceses, of which London is the southernmost.

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, the largest archdiocese in the province, announced that public Masses would be suspended during the new lockdown, with confessions, weddings, and funerals continuing within the 10-person limit, but with First Holy Communion, First Reconciliation and Confirmations postponed.

Bishop Thomas Dowd of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie issued a similar decree.

The Diocese of Hearst-Moosonee encouraged parishes to livestream Masses but has not suspended public worship.

Bishop Serge Poitras of Timmins announced the new 10-person restrictions saying “Obviously, we must respect this norm” but did not announce a suspension of worship.

The Diocese of Peterborough has suspended public Sunday Masses in most areas of the dioceses, while in one area of the diocese both Sunday and weekday Masses will still be celebrated publicly.

Bishop Fred Colli of Thunder Bay also suspended public Masses but did not mention whether baptisms or confirmations could continue.

The Archdiocese of Kingston, as well as the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, the Diocese of Pembroke, are encouraging Catholics to contact their individual parishes.

One of the original provisions of Ontario’s new lockdown was that police would be empowered to randomly stop anyone out in public to inquire why they were not at home. Ford, the premier, has since withdrawn this provision after an outcry from police and from the public.

Ford has faced calls for his resignation over his handling of the pandemic in Ontario.

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