By Jonah McKeow
The Archdiocese of San Francisco is pledging to comply with the city and county public health orders barring indoor public Masses and limiting outdoor services, including funerals, to 12 people.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a letter June 29 to the archdiocese’ lawyer, ordering the archdiocese to cease-and-desist from indoor public Masses and giving it one day to comply.
“Upon reviewing the reports of multiple San Francisco parishes holding indoor Mass over the last few weeks, the Health Officer has concluded that the Archdiocese is putting not only its parishioners but the larger community at risk of serious illness and death,” the letter said.
The archdiocese told CNA today that it has made a good-faith effort to comply with the city’s public health guidelines, despite some occasional confusion and last-minute changes to the city’s public health orders.
“Our intention has always been to conform to what we understand to be the City orders and timelines,” the archdiocese said, noting that the city’s orders have been constantly changing throughout the pandemic, sometimes on short notice, the archdiocese said July 2.
Indoor gatherings are not currently permitted in San Francisco, but outside religious services and funerals are allowed with a 12-person limit, ABC7 reports.
The San Francisco archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco, as well as San Mateo and Marin counties.
The letter laid out several complaints the city had received about parishes around San Francisco holding indoor Masses.
According to the letter, Archbishop Cordileone had informed all parishes that they could resume public Mass June 14.
Dr. Tomas Aragón, the county public health officer, subsequently informed the archbishop that “he planned to issue a revised order that would allow for larger outdoor services and general indoor services…limited to 12 attendees, subject to safety and social distancing protocols, which would be effective June 29.”
Aragón later informed the archdiocese, on June 26, that such a revised order would be delayed.
A lawyer for the archdiocese sent a letter to the City Attorney’s Office June 30 saying that Archbishop Cordileone has now notified his priests “that the order limiting religious services to outdoors with no more than 12 people remains in force with appropriate social distancing and face coverings.”
One of the examples the City Attorney’s letter cited as a supposed example of a congregation flaunting the public health rules was a complaint that alleged that a priest from Star of the Sea Parish “led a procession on June 8 without wearing a face covering.”
The letter cited the blog of Father Joseph Illo, Star of the Sea’s pastor, and a picture he posted June 13 of a Eucharistic procession in San Francisco.
In a July 2 email to parishioners, Father Illo disputed the letter’s characterization of the procession, which he said actually took place several years ago. The image first appeared on his blog during May 2016.
Illo said his parish will comply with the city’s orders, in obedience to the archbishop. But he lamented what he sees as an unjust application of the city’s orders.
“Dozens of people eat at restaurants on the streets around my church, without masks. The mayor addresses hundreds of people in a protest at City Hall, many of whom wear no masks. And the city is telling my church that we cannot have a gathering of more than 12 people, outside, for an activity that is specifically protected by the Constitution?” Illo wrote in his July 2 email to parishioners.
For its part, an archdiocesan spokesperson told CNA that they were surprised by the City Attorney’s letter.
“We have initiated contact to help decision-makers understand the nature of our religious services, the sizes of our churches and the care with which the California bishops have taken to plan very safe reopening of our churches for public Masses – when Public Health officials permit,” a statement from the archdiocese to CNA reads.
Archbishop Cordileone is currently seeking a meeting with “a senior city official” to discuss further “the nature of our religious services and how to fairly apply City policies to religious services,” the archdiocese concluded.