Washington D.C., Feb 12, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Government officials cannot close churches as “non-essential” establishments during the pandemic—particularly when they are contradicting the “science” in doing so, the Archbishop of San Francisco wrote on Thursday.
Catholics “have scientific evidence that positively demonstrates we can celebrate Mass safely indoors,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal [“California’s Unscientific Worship Ban”] on Thursday.
He penned the article after the Supreme Court on Feb. 5 ruled that the state of California’s ban on indoor worship was unconstitutional.
“Political elites issuing health orders that they themselves don’t obey—and destroying countless livelihoods without any scientific basis for such action—is infuriating,” Archbishop Cordileone noted, in reference to government officials not abiding by public health orders.
Cordileone added that such episodes were “especially” infuriating for Catholics, who had scientific proof that indoor Masses could be celebrated safely.
“Only religious authorities have the right to determine which religious services are essential for their people,” he wrote.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco has battled public authorities for months on worship restrictions. After churches were ordered closed for months due to the pandemic, Archbishop Cordileone marched in outdoor Eucharistic processions in protest, and said that the restrictions were mocking God.
In mid-September, the city allowed for outdoor worship services to accommodate 50 people at once, but still allowed only one person at a time inside a church building. After the Justice Department told the city its rules might be unconstitutional, San Francisco then allowed for indoor worship at 25% capacity.
Then in November, the state determined that San Francisco and San Mateo counties were among the areas at highest risk of COVID-19 spread. Under the state rules, the counties could not allow indoor worship services—although other businesses such as hair and nail salons, massage parlors, and tattoo parlors could remain open.
Critics of the order noted that religious worship was being treated more harshly than were secular activities.
A week before Christmas, the archbishop said he instructed priests to offer Mass indoors “if weather or safety required it,” in contravention of the state order against indoor worship.
“I knew my people had to have access to the Eucharist, rain or shine,” he said in his op-ed. Archbishop Cordileone noted that he instituted safety measures for indoor Masses, including an attendance cap at 20% capacity and requirements to wear masks and socially distance.
On Feb. 5, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that California’s ban on indoor worship was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the state could limit indoor capacity at worship services to 25% capacity at most, while allowing the state to ban singing at liturgies.
At the time of the ruling, the state had put nearly all counties in its top tier of restrictions reserved for areas with the worst spread of the virus. Thus, the state had a near-total ban on indoor worship.
Cordileone called the decision a “very significant step forward for basic rights.”
Chief Justice Roberts, writing in his own opinion, said that the total ban on worship in “the most cavernous cathedral” reveals “not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”
After Cordileone allowed priests to celebrate Mass indoors with restrictions, local officials sent warnings to parishes and the city’s health department issued two citations for violations, he said.
Following the victory at the Supreme Court, he said that outdoor Masses would continue “as weather permits. “But the decision allows us to exercise our constitutionally protected natural right to worship God without fear of harassment from government officials,” he wrote.
As CNA reported in September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described attending an indoor Mass in San Francisco—in apparent violation of restrictions in indoor worship at the time. Her office later told CNA that Pelosi “misspoke,” and had been “participating regularly in church services virtually.”
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