The Archdiocese of Vancouver will conduct a review of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Church of Vancouver, how the Archdiocese has responded, and what, if anything, should be done to improve responses to future emergencies.
The announcement of the in-depth review was made on March 23 and came as criticism mounted over the narrow parameters of a B.C. government pandemic review that will not examine the consequences of control orders. the Victoria pandemic, including restrictions on religious communities.
The archdiocese said it will convene a task force to examine how the Church – including the archdiocese itself, the 77 parishes and individual Catholics – has responded to the pandemic, which was officially declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.
A spokesperson for the archdiocese said the task force will gather input from outside experts, clergy and laity, and consult with other faith communities on the impact of the disease itself, the media, communications, social changes and government measures on the Catholic community, as well as the Archdiocese’s handling of the pandemic and various restrictions.
The working group will review what has been learned over the past two years and identify areas for improvement.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller said the ongoing Synod provides opportunities to examine how the pandemic has affected the Church, from liturgy and sacraments to the well-being of the Catholic community and Church relations with governments and religious communities.
The task force aims to complete its work by summer to capitalize on the ongoing public debate about how governments, churches and individuals should manage future responses to the pandemic.
Much of this discussion is currently focused on the BC government’s internal review. As announced on March 16 by Deputy Prime Minister Mike Farnworth, the review’s mandate will focus solely on how decisions were made, preventing it not only from assessing the impact of economic and public policy decisions. taken by the government, but also to submit recommendations .
Additionally, the review team will not assess any lockdown policy, mask or vaccination mandate orders issued by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Neither Farnworth nor the terms of reference mentioned plans to assess whether the province’s pandemic plan, adopted in 2012, was actually being implemented. This plan identified four policy spheres, with the economy identified as the most important, followed by public space, healthcare and education. Each of the province’s health authorities was to have its own pandemic strategy.
Also missing from the review’s mandate is any public scrutiny of the little-publicized provincial Unintended Consequences (UniCon) Task Force, which Victoria established at the start of the pandemic to monitor the effects of public health orders and make recommendations on the answers.
British Columbians can voice their opinions on the government’s handling of the pandemic by Provide Feedback before April 20.
In response to British Columbia Catholic questions about the group and its work, a BC government official provided a link to a BC Center for Disease Control web page titled “Societal consequences of COVID-19.” The page read: “The measures implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent serious consequences and deaths also affect the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and well-being of people, the health care system, the environment and the economy.
But while the website has links to several reports released this month on topics including mental health and addiction, racism and unemployment, it contains nothing on the impact of COVID measures. on spiritual health.
BC Liberal Health Critic Shirley Bond said The British Columbia Catholic that the government should have launched a full and independent review of all aspects of the pandemic response.
“This must include public health decisions and the impacts they have had on various groups – including religious communities,” she said. “We need to look at how prepared the government was for the pandemic and what lessons need to be learned to ensure the government is better prepared to respond to future crises.”
Bond’s former colleague in the BC Liberal caucus, Rich Coleman, said in an interview that it was “very disappointing” that the provincial review was so narrow. “I think what they left out is all that matters,” said Coleman, who was an opposition MP when the pandemic broke out and is now retired from politics.
Coleman, a member of St. Nicholas Parish in Langley, said in an interview that restrictions on religious gatherings “have never been justified” by Dr Henry. Incongruities such as orders that shut down religious gatherings while allowing hundreds of people to shop at a Costco have never been adequately explained and so must now be brought into the public spotlight. “I think we deserve to know,” he said.
Coleman also said he had searched for “people I knew from my old days in government” in an attempt to find the scientific basis for the faith gathering restrictions, “but at no time could I find who whether it be. And my concern has always been, ‘as you made decisions, on what basis did you make them? You say you made the decision based on science, but where is the data to back up the decision? »
A religious freedom expert says the B.C. government failed to consider the importance of religious faith when it closed churches during the pandemic because officials don’t understand the nature of the religious life.
“The government ignores the nature of sacramental worship,” said Reverend Andrew Bennett, director of the religious freedom program and director of religious community engagement at Cardus, a nonpartisan think tank.
“They were also responding to so much fear being stirred up among the public,” he said in an interview with The British Columbia Catholic. “They came up with the idea of keeping people safe, taking precautionary measures, vaccinating, distancing, wearing masks.”
The government’s failure to see the importance of having churches open likely contributed to questionable decisions such as harsh restrictions on churches while allowing liquor stores and restaurants to remain open, he said. he declares.
Asked about the need for a full and open review of the impact of Henry’s restrictions on religious communities, Philip Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, cited a remark last year by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Christopher Hinkson, who noted that Henry never had to fully explain his rulings.
In a ruling upholding restrictions on religious gatherings, Hinkson said, “Dr. Henry really holds all the cards.
Hinkson told the hearing: “When you deprive plaintiffs of the ability to understand how [Dr. Henry] got it from A to B, the court can’t look at it, it’s really not really a review. This gives Dr. Henry absolute authority and if she chooses not to share her thought process with the court, there is no control.
Horgan said the justice watch “revealed the lack of awareness [to faith communities] by physicians and questioned the extent to which these authorities take religious freedom in general seriously”.
Speaking in a telephone interview from his office in Surrey, the Reverend Mark Peters, district superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, said Victoria should have organized a full and open review of its measures in pandemic case.
“I think government looking at what it decided, how it communicated and implemented…would be a healthy part of any decision-making process,” Peters said. “And I hope they learn something if they need to implement similar decisions in the future.”
He noted that government orders in the event of a pandemic cause great polarization in society, including within religious congregations and even families. The reconciliation that is now needed can be facilitated by a better understanding of how the government decided on the actions that led to the disagreements, he said.
The government’s lack of transparency in its pandemic-related decision-making clearly needs to be revisited, said Heidi Tworek, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in the History and Politics of Health Communications at UBC.
“I’m really puzzled because I think it raises suspicion,” Tworek told reporters. “It’s kind of strange, in a way, to have such a limited review, and I think it raises questions about the conclusions that will come out of it.”
She said in a later interview with The British Columbia Catholic that the province’s review should include a review of the impact of pandemic restrictions on religious communities, as this “could potentially be a very important issue.”
“That’s reasonable, especially in light of, not only are we continuing to deal with the pandemic, which we’re seeing around the world is certainly not over, [but also] and in terms of how we handle preparations for future pandemics,” Tworek said. “These kinds of reviews are actually very important.”
She noted that she had participated in a study of nine countries’ responses to the pandemic six months after it began and found that in places like Senegal, the government was working closely with religious leaders to develop and explain its measures.
“The research we did found that in places that had faith communities, it was one of the many ways to make sure you were reaching as many people as possible, working with people you trusted as intermediaries, trying to find ways to preserve what was important to people.