“Religious gatherings indoors and outdoors are already set to expand in a few days. This expansion is beyond what is described in the federal government’s letter. It's consistent with San Francisco’s careful approach and follows closely behind what the State of California allows."
The mayor has said the city will allow indoor worship services with a 25 person limit by Oct. 1. The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption has a capacity of nearly 2,500 people.
“One person at a time in this great Cathedral to pray? What an insult. This is a mockery. They are mocking you, and even worse, they are mocking God,” Cordileone said in an outdoor homily Sept. 20.
Catholics in San Francisco had marched in Eucharistic processions across the city that day to protest the city’s continued restrictions on public worship, culminating in several concurrent outdoor Masses as the Cathedral.
Priests at many parishes around the archdiocese, including the Cathedral, are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday— outside, and spaced out— in order to adapt to the restrictions.
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.
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.
In addition, Archbishop Cordileone has noted, businesses requiring extended, close one-on-one contact reopened Sept. 14, such as hair salons, nail salons and massage parlors, but “we are allowed only one person in church at a time for prayer.”
While Cordileone has said city officials have been “cordial and respectful” in their dialogue with the archdiocese, he said the city still has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan— outlining how churches could be safely opened for indoor services— which they submitted in May.
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.
In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited an 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 not yet been linked to the celebration of the Mass.
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.
(Story continues below)
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More than 19,000 people have signed a petition supporting Archbishop Cordileone’s call to end “unfair” restrictions on the Mass.