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San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

PETITION: Stand with priest who faces Church penalties for saying “You can't be a Catholic and a Democrat.”! Sign the petition here.

SAN FRANCISCO, September 18, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — San Francisco’s archbishop has blasted the city’s newest coronavirus restrictions as “uniquely punitive” to believers and is asking Catholics to join Eucharistic processions this Sunday that will eventually “process together” as a “public witness of faith” to press civil authorities to “Free the Mass.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s call to action was sparked by Mayor London Breed’s coronavirus norms that came into effect September 14. A spokesperson for the archdiocese told LifeSiteNews that the archbishop's intent is not to engage in civil disobedience and that participants at the Sunday event will follow the requirements of remaining in groups of 50, and social distancing. 

In a September 13 letter to his priests, Cordileone said that under the “arbitrary” and “inconsistent” new measures, “believers are being singled out for uniquely punitive treatment,” and that the time has come to push back.

The mayor’s norms still forbid any indoor gatherings in houses of worship — other than 12 people to live-stream a service — and restrict outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people — up from the 12 previously allowed.

And while Breed permits indoor private prayer, only one person at a time is allowed inside.

By contrast, businesses such as hair salons, nail salons and massage parlors that involve “extended close one-on-one contact” have reopened. Public parks remain open “without numerical limit.”

Hotels in San Francisco are fully reopened; indoor gyms can operate at 10 percent capacity, most retail stores are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity and malls at 25 percent, according to Catholic News Agency.

“The civil government has no right to dictate to the Church whether or not it may ‘allow’ worship or not,” Cordileone told his priests. 

“This is an overreach of the government into the life of the Church and an infringement of our right to worship as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

“I have done my best to make the case that the Mass is safe, and the data show that, but it has been to no avail,” added the archbishop.

“So, I’ve made the decision that we can’t be silent any longer.  We cannot simply standby while our people are treated with this lack of compassion for their needs, and this lack of respect for their rights.”

Cordileone reiterated this in a homily the same day.

“We have been enduring unjust treatment at the hands of our elected officials for months, who are stifling our natural right to worship and overstepping the bounds of their authority,” he said.

“But we are Christians, so we must respond peaceably and always in the spirit of responsible citizenship, not with violence, as do those without faith.”

Cordileone’s  letter points out that San Francisco “is the most restrictive county in the entire country when it comes to public worship,” and the state of California “not much better.”

On July 13, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a new round of lockdown orders, after rolling back ones from March, in which 29 counties, representing about 80 percent of the state’s population, were ordered to shut down houses of worship as well as restaurants, bars, gyms, and other types of businesses indefinitely.

On August 31, the most restricted counties were allowed to open some businesses and activities “with modifications, including all retail, shopping centers at maximum 25% capacity, and hair salons and barbershops indoors,” according to a California government website.

“The numbers are totally arbitrary: Why only 50 people outside?  Why only 100 indoors? If social distancing is maintained, why is there any limit?  The City, in fact, has allowed, and even participated in, street protests without any limit on number,” the archbishop observed in his letter.

Cordileone emphasized that he has “worked hard” behind the scenes with local authorities to ensure churches are safe environments and to demonstrate that the archdiocese is determined to “adhere to sound principles of public health.”

The city has not responded to a plan for the safe operation of churches that the archdiocese submitted in May, he told Catholic News Agency.

His letter cited a review by three infectious disease specialists of the data of the more than one million public Masses that have taken place over the last 14 weeks. They concluded no outbreaks of COVID-19 have been linked to church attendance.

Cordileone told CNA in early September that many of his priests are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday, outside, and with social distancing, to adhere to the restrictions.

“The Body and Blood of Christ is the source and summit of our Faith. People are hungry for the Eucharist, and many priests are responding to the call as best they can,” he said.

As for the September 20 public witness to faith, Cordileone’s letter said the archdiocese has ordered 100 banners in English, 15 in Spanish, and 5 in Chinese with the motto: “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!” 

It would be “ideal” if people carried these banners in the three Eucharistic processions that will begin at St. Anthony, St. Patrick, and Star of the Sea parishes, he said.

The processions will join at United Nations Plaza near San Francisco City Hall and continue to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption where Cordileone will lead priests in offering multiple outdoor Masses in both English and Spanish, with participants observing social distancing.

He also asked priests at a minimum to hang the banners “on your church as a sign that the Church is speaking out with a united voice on this, just as we did when legislation was proposed that would have required priests to break the seal of confession.”

He urged them to promote a petition calling on the city of San Francisco to lift restrictions on public worship, as well as the upcoming October 3 Rosary Rally.

“I fear for our city, I fear for our nation. But we must not be ruled by fear. We walk by faith, not by sight,” Cordileone said in his homily.

“And so we must unite, pull together in a common witness of our faith and of the primacy of God.”

Cordileone’s call to action comes a week after some 12,000 Californians attended an outdoor worship service at the state capitol that was also an act of defiance against Newsom’s restrictions, as LifeSite’s Calvin Freiburger reported last week.

Numerous Protestant churches have defied the governor’s order, including Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, Cornerstone Church of Fresno, Destiny Christian Church of Rocklin, Harvest Rock Church of Pasadena, Godspeak Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks, and North Valley Baptist Church of Santa Clara. 

The last two currently face thousands of dollars in fines for holding in-person services and for singing during service. Los Angeles County has gone to court four times so far in efforts to secure a court order to quash indoor religious services at Grace Community.

Meanwhile, Catholics in the Bay Area attending Mass outside have had to endure some of the worst air quality in the world these last weeks because of the wild fires devastating the west coast. Air quality is expected to worsen this weekend as coastal winds push smoke toward the city, CNA reported. 

Read Archbishop Cordileone’s letter here. Sign the petition here.

For respectful communication, contact: 
Mayor London Breed
1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl, 
San Francisco CA 94102
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 415-554-5977


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