Previously, the limit for outdoor services had been 12 people, with all indoor services prohibited. The archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco— where the cathedral is located— as well as San Mateo and Marin counties.
In contrast, hotels in San Francisco are fully reopened; indoor gyms are set to reopen at 10% capacity; and most retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while malls are restricted to 25%. Gyms operated in government buildings for police officers and other government employees have already reopened.
“Catholics in San Francisco are increasingly noticing the simple unfairness,” Cordileone wrote.
“As one of my parishioners asked recently, ‘Why can I spend three hours indoors shopping for shoes at Nordstrom’s but can’t go to Mass?’”
Becket, a religious liberty law firm, has a page tracking restrictions on public worship related to the pandemic. By their estimation, six states— California, Nevada, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine— are treating religious activities unequally as compared to similar secular activities.
The City of San Francisco has been closely monitoring Catholic churches in the city and has repeatedly issued warnings to the archdiocese for apparent health order violations.
“I sometimes wonder whether the increasingly secular elites imposing these restrictions understand the pain they are unnecessarily inflicting. The sacraments as we Catholics understand them cannot be live-streamed,” Cordileone wrote.
“People are being denied the religious worship that connects them with God and one another. For hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans facing the simultaneous challenges of a pandemic and economic downturn, the church is their key source of spiritual, emotional and practical help.”
Cordileone said priests at many parishes around the archdiocese, including the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday— outside, and spaced out— in order to adapt to the restrictions.
These outdoor Masses pose their own health challenges, as the Bay Area is experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world, due to smoke and other pollutants coming from wildfires ravaging the West Coast.
Cordileone related the message of Father Moises Agudo, who pastors the predominantly Latino churches in San Francisco’s Mission District. The priest said his people have “lost many things” because of the pandemic but “the consolations of the Mass should not be one of those things.”
This weekend, San Francisco Catholics will participate in Eucharistic processions across the city, which will join together and walk past city hall, in part to protest the city’s revised limits on public worship.
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Cordileone said the archdiocese has ordered 100 banners in English, 15 in Spanish, and 5 in Chinese that read: “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!” He asked that parishioners carry the banners during the Eucharistic processions.
While the archbishop said city officials have been “cordial and respectful” in their dialogue with the archdiocese, he added that the city still has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan— outlining how churches could be safely opened for indoor services— which was submitted in May.
Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines, adding that “Catholics are not indifferent to the very real dangers posed by covid-19.”
In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited a recent article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.
By following public health guidelines, Catholic churches have largely avoided viral spread during the more than 1 million Masses that have been celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders, the doctors found.
They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have yet been linked to the celebration of the Mass.