Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is urging Catholics in his archdiocese to “Free the Mass” and publicly demonstrate against the coronavirus restrictions on worship that are inconsistent with rules applied to other non-religious activities in the city and county.
On Sunday, Cordileone sent a memorandum to the priests of his archdiocese regarding the reopening of churches for public Masses.
“We can’t be silent any longer,” Cordileone warned his priests. “We cannot simply stand by while our people are treated with this lack of compassion for their needs, and this lack of respect for their rights. I have therefore formed a strategy committee consisting of both chancery staff and others, both clergy and lay, to advise me on how we can best make our voice heard in a peaceful but forceful way.”
— Archdiocese of SF (@ArchdioceseSF) September 14, 2020
The archbishop noted San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) has been restricting the celebration of Mass outdoors to only 12 people, and has recently said she will be easing some restrictions.
Cordileone observed, however, Breed’s announcement read that “houses of worship will be able to allow” 50 attendees at outdoor religious services, effective September 14.
“[T]he civil government has no right to dictate to the Church whether or not it may ‘allow’ worship or not,” the archbishop wrote to the priests, acknowledging he does not dispute the authority of civil government to issue rules that apply to everyone in order to protect the public good.
Nevertheless, the archbishop asserted government “cannot be so restrictive as to effectively ban public worship.”
Cordileone is urging San Francisco Catholics to participate in the Free the Mass demonstrations on Sunday, September 20, when three parishes in the city will organize Eucharistic processions to UN Plaza by City Hall.
“From there, the entire group will process together up to the Cathedral and celebrate multiple Masses outdoors (with masks, and proper social distancing),” the archbishop stated, asking priests to organize their parishioners to join the processions.
“The procession and the Masses will be our witness to our unity of faith in the diversity of our cultures, united as one, in and for the Body of Christ,” Cordileone wrote. He called upon the priests to hang specially made banners on their churches that state, “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!”
“[H]ang these 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. “Our people need to know that the Mass can be offered safely and that we want to be their advocates.”
Cordileone noted that California and the county of San Francisco, in particular, have been “the most restrictive” regarding public worship during the pandemic.
“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,” he asserted.
The archbishop said the numbers of people government officials have decided may attend religious services are “totally arbitrary” and inconsistent with what is permitted in stores, businesses, and other non-religious venues.
“Why only 50 people outside? Why only 100 indoors? If social distancing is maintained, why is there any limit?” he questioned. “Indoor retail stores have a limit gauged by the ability to observe proper social distance. I have indicated in the past how our churches can be a safer indoor space than a retail store; hence, this should also be the norm for churches when reasonable and effective safety measures are observed.”
“Believers are being singled out for uniquely punitive treatment,” the archbishop continued:
Businesses requiring extended close one-on-one contact will also be open tomorrow, such as hair salons, nail salons and massage parlors, but we are allowed only one person in church at a time for prayer. This norm is doubly inconsistent in that the City still allows twelve people in a house of worship for the purpose of livestreaming a worship service. Our people, though, are still barred from our own churches for a regular, non-streamed Mass.
“We can’t be silent any longer,” Cordileone wrote.
Further information on gathering for the “Free the Mass” processions can be found on the archdiocesan website.