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Archbishop Cordileone: New COVID church closures violate right to worship

“[W]orship is both a natural and a Constitutional right. My people want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ; they need it, and have every right to be free to do so,” the archbishop said in a November 28 statement.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone leads a rosary rally through the city's streets Oct. 3, 2020. (CNS photo/Dennis Callahan, Archdiocese of San Francisco)

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2020 / 09:07 pm (CNA).- As surging COVID-19 cases lead to new restrictions in the San Francisco area, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said the treatment of churches is discriminatory and violates the right to worship.

“[W]orship is both a natural and a Constitutional right. My people want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ; they need it, and have every right to be free to do so,” the archbishop said in a November 28 statement.

He criticized a new health order from the state of California placing San Francisco and San Mateo Counties into a more restrictive tier of coronavirus restrictions, resulting in a ban on indoor worship services.

The health order treats religious worship as a “non-essential” activity, while allowing hair and nail salons, massage parlors, and tattoo parlors to remain open, Cordileone noted.

“This is precisely the kind of blatant discrimination to which the Supreme Court gave injunctive relief in New York,” he said, referencing a decision Wednesday which blocked New York from similarly closing houses of worship while allowing secular retail venues to remain open.

Cordileone criticized the government for “demoting worship” by designating it as “non-essential.” He stressed that the archdiocese has been meticulous about following regulations regarding masks, social distancing, ventilation and sanitation measures. He said indoor worship services have not resulted in any known cases of COVID-19 transmission in San Francisco.

“But the government still chooses to treat worship as less important than shopping for shoes,” he continued.

The archbishop recognized concerns over rising COVID hospitalizations, and said he is discerning the proper course of action, with advice from his fellow bishops, archdiocesan lawyers, and infectious disease specialists.

Cordileone has been an outspoken critic of San Francisco’s restrictions on religious worship, which he described as “an insult” and “mocking God.” In September, he led Eucharistic processions outside city hall, with banners reading, “Free the Mass!” A petition calling for the lifting of Mass restrictions has drawn more than 40,000 signatures.

Until Sept. 14, public worship in San Francisco was restricted to 12 participants outdoors, with indoor services prohibited. Restrictions were gradually loosened, allowing 50 people at outdoor worship services. However, only one person at a time was allowed inside a house of worship, regardless of the building’s size.

On Sept. 25, the U.S. Department of Justice warned San Francisco officials that the city’s restrictions on public worship may be unconstitutional. The DOJ noted that other venues where people share enclosed spaces – such as gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares – were being allowed to operate at 10-50% capacity, provided that sanitary measures and 6-foot distancing were followed.

Days later, the office of San Francisco’s mayor announced that places of worship would be permitted to hold services indoors at 25% capacity, up to 100 people. The change was attributed to a decline in COVID-19 cases.

Cordileone thanked the mayor for the changes at the time, but said further changes were needed.

“California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building is still unjust,” he said in late September. “We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols. But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities.”

California’s church service limits earlier this year were challenged by a Pentecostal church, which argued houses of worship were being unfairly treated more strictly than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

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.

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 been linked to the celebration of the Mass, despite more than 1 million Masses being celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders.

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.

“Do not show a lack of compassion for people who are afraid of catching a disease that is quite deadly to many people with comorbidities and the elderly, which we Catholics should particularly respect and protect,” he stressed earlier this year.

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    • Many people misunderstand the Supreme Court’s ruling. All that ruling decided was that government cannot impose stricter capacity limits on churches than it does for comparable secular establishments. The ruling did not address whether prohibitions of indoor worship when similar prohibitions are imposed on comparable secular establishments is unconstitutional. Thus, the current “purple” level of restrictions that prohibit indoor worship in San Francisco and in almost all of California is not a settled legal question at this time.

    • I’m not sure that I understand your comment. Are you saying that the Supreme Court has decided that religious worship is less essential to a person than being able to obtain a tattoo or exercise in a gymnasium?

    • What do you mean?? The Archbishop is about his business, the business of bringing God to the people. You can go to secular places and the restrictions are minimal why would church impose any more risks than anywhere else? They don’t . This is about control government officials I think they have a right to deny the people their rights to worship freely.

      • There are a lot of comments here, so not entirely sure to refer towhat I said, but if so, let me clarify: The Supreme Court spoke-the govt should not be imposing restrictions. Ergo, the Bishop should simply ignore San Fran authorities and open with whatever “safety protocols” he, the bishop, deems proper.

    • The Supreme Court is wrong on this one. It’s not the first time. And as for the Archbishop- it is his duty and obligation to protect the right of the faithful to worship God without unjust interference from government dictates.

      • The decision upheld the 1st Amendment; it was not about abortion or slavery.
        Frankly, the Bishops never should have referenced any state authorities in their decisions to suspend Mass, etc. Honestly, they never should have suspended Mass or ANY sacrament, especially Penance and Annointing of the Sick/Last Rites.

    • Thank God The Supreme Court “spoke” before RBG died and ACB came on board.
      John Roberts was the swing vote then.
      Are you a troll or just a poorly formed Catholic? The Archbishop IS “about his business”.

  1. Thank you Archbishop Cordileone! You are absolutely right. We need the body and blood of Christ. We need to have mass. Please keep fighting for us.

  2. The Issue of Human nature of a choice of humans, of people, in looking to God to save them, or to evil to save them.
    Directly the single factor that determines the future, prosperity, and greatness of a nation tomorrow, is the Family today. The foundation of a strong civilization, is, Family, no exception. To, the family that prays together, stays together.

  3. When people convey themselves to a place of worship, a Catholic church in this case, I see no place for an edict from “government officials” telling them its time to turn around and go home. No place for that at all. Not here. Not in America.

  4. We need more bishops who are willing to stand up against the government officials who have forgotten that they are servants of the people, not the other way around and have forgotten that our country was based on God Given Rights that, too often, politicians tend to list as second-place to their agenda.

  5. Bishop Cordileone,, I have been waiting for the Bishops in the Catholic Church in California to begin giving Governor Newsom some push back. Now, let’s have our San Diego Bishop begin pushing back against these draconian and illegal rules. Newsom isn’t our king. We find that we are farther apart when we attend Mass in our church than outside. Let’s get our Bishops in California to toughen up and begin pushing back against someone like Newsom who hasn’t seen the inside of a church for a number of years.

  6. I believe if the Supreme Court already ruled on NY that set precedent! Go to Mass get your people back in church! They are already getting used to staying home. They need to feel, smell, & taste the word of God! Before they forget! 😢

  7. The bishops should NOT be “asking permission” to stay open, reopen, allow greater numbers of Mass attendees, or whatever other nonsensical restrictions are put in place. They just need to ignore the state and run their churches. In this country, we have freedom of worship, and this doesn’t change just because of some proclamation from a “health official.”

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Archbishop Cordileone: New COVID church closures violate right to worship - Catholic Mass Search
  2. Archbishop Cordileone: New COVID church closures violate right to worship – On God's Payroll
  3. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone: New COVID church closures violate right to worship |
  4. Archbishop Cordileone: New COVID church closures violate right to worship – On God's Payroll

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