VANCOUVER -- Vancouver's Catholic archbishop had some harsh words for the provincial government's new rules banning in-person worship services to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In a news release, the Archdiocese of Vancouver shared an excerpt from Archbishop J. Michael Miller's homily Sunday, in which the archbishop described the changes as "baffling."

"The reason why gathering for worship in limited numbers where all safety precautions are met is not allowed, while bars and restaurants and gyms can remain open with measures that are no more safe, is simply baffling," Miller said. "That is why the new provincial health order is hard to understand, and why I hope that a further explanation from the provincial government – now that there has been time for further reflection – will be forthcoming."

When provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced new restrictions on social gatherings in the Lower Mainland on Nov. 7, she noted specifically that faith-based gatherings were not included in the order.

When she expanded those orders province-wide on Thursday, however, Henry ended the exemption for religious services.

Explaining that decision during her announcement, Henry said she had spoken to faith leaders about the importance of stopping transmission of the coronavirus in religious settings.

"We need our faith services more than ever right now, but we need to do them in a way that's safe," she said. "With the community transmission that we're seeing and the fact that we have seen transmission in some of our faith-based settings, we need to suspend those and support each other and find those ways to care for each other remotely."

On Sunday, Miller told the region's Catholics there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks in Catholic churches in B.C.

"The faithful of the archdiocese have been exemplary in respecting the health orders of the provincial government because they care for the well-being of their neighbour, especially the most vulnerable among us," the archbishop said.

Miller then pointed out that church facilities are still allowed to be used under the new rules, just not for regular Sunday services. He contrasted this with the ongoing use of bars, restaurants and gyms, each of which are allowed to continue operating with plans in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

"In light of this record within the archdiocese, it is puzzling, to say the least, to comprehend why our facilities can be used – and we are delighted that they are – for meetings such as AA in the basement, while not even limited worship can take place upstairs in the church," Miller said.

"To limit the religious freedom of believers to worship is a very serious matter, since such freedom is specifically protected in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms," he added. "We all want to protect the health of British Columbians, but that burden should not – must not – fall unjustifiably or unequally on communities of faith."