Cordileone Speaks Up

Archbishop leads his people to 'Free the Mass'

In August San Francisco’s Department of Public Health limited the number of attendees at outdoor religious celebrations to 12 people. No indoor gatherings were permitted. This order stood in stark contrast to the city’s guidelines for indoor retail establishments, which were allowed to operate at 25% capacity, and gyms, which could operate at 10% capacity.

What is troublesome about these restrictions, beyond the fact that churches must remain closed while “essential” activities such as shopping and pumping iron may continue, is the fact that they were enacted over and above what was allowed by California re-opening guidance. While the State guidelines allowed places of worship to re-open at a safe pace, the City of San Francisco would not follow State recommendations. Instead, Mayor London Breed took restrictive, repressive action, unfairly singling out churches and withholding the faithful’s right to congregate and worship.

By September, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone had had enough. He orchestrated an outcry – for the city and the country to hear. It culminated with a Washington Post op-ed that chastises the City for its discriminatory and unconstitutional treatment of places of worship. Cordileone didn’t request special treatment for churches or allowances that city officials didn’t grant to other establishments. He took a strong posture of dissent and was unwilling to accept inequity and religious discrimination. He called on Mayor Breed to allow churches to open at the same safe levels as other establishments and as State guidelines allow. (A link to Cordileone’s op-ed can be found below.)

Counties across the Bay Area were not subjected to the same restrictions imposed on churches in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. As they progressed through the tiered coding system, every other diocese was allowed to hold outdoor Masses and then indoor services, as the State advised.

Archbishop Cordileone enabled the faithful to protest the glaringly obvious inequity. His willingness to speak up gave us all a platform to be heard. Shepherd of the people, he gathered us and led us – in protest, yes, but also in demonstration of what is essential for spiritual health: the Sacrament of sacraments, the Eucharist. The Sunday after his op-ed was published, the archbishop led the faithful in a march through the streets of San Francisco to the Cathedral of Mary to “Free the Mass.” At the head of this procession was the consecrated Eucharist, prominently on display, a reminder to everyone of what truly matters.

And now, in mid-October, the results are in. Mayor Breed has heard the people’s cry in San Francisco, and from Washington, D.C., whence the U.S. Attorney General’s office sent a letter threatening legal action if the city didn’t allow churches to open. Beginning October 1, churches are now allowed to hold outdoor services for up to 200 people, and indoor services at 25% capacity, up to 100 people – a far cry from the 12-person outdoor services of September.

This is our lesson, our cautionary tale. We must not let “ordinances” and “guidelines” serve as a façade for religious discrimination. As Archbishop Cordileone wrote, “When government asserts authority over the church’s very right to worship, it crosses a line. Our fundamental rights do not come from the state. As the authors of our Declaration of Independence put it, they are ‘self-evident,’ that is, they come from God.”

Cordileone’s Washington Post op-ed:


Magdalena Moreno is a wife, mother of four, and Assistant Managing Editor for the NOR: opening mail, answering the phones and sending out renewals -- and now blogging, too!

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