SAN FRANCISCOThe San Francisco Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone called Catholics to protest perceived discriminatory government policies on church gatherings in a Memorandum sent to priests of the San Francisco Diocese on September 13. The protest according to the letter and online posts is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. at the UN plaza and the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption on Sunday, September 20. 

The public post on the diocese website’s ‘events’ page called worshippers to protest for the right to hold church services “at a level consistent with other activities in San Francisco and with stringent health and safety protocols in place.” Alerts were also posted on the Archbishop’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Archdiocese San Francisco post calling for street demonstrations, Sept 13, 2020.
Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Francisco/Facebook page.

“I invite you all to participate in this public witness of our faith, and to invite your friends and fellow Catholics to join as well,” reads the post. 

The first phase of the protest includes three simultaneous processions from three San Francisco parishes that will converge at the UN plaza at 10 a.m. The three San Francisco parishes include the St. Anthony of Padua Church, the St. Dominic Church, and the St. Patrick Church. 

During the second phase, from UN Plaza, the group will walk in Eucharistic procession, a form of liturgical prayer, up to the Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption and celebrate multiple Masses outdoors, with masks, and proper social distancing. 

The theme of the protest, according to the Twitter account of the San Francisco archdiocese Twitter is “We are Essential: Free the Mass!”

The archbishop said that believers were being “singled out,” according to a memorandum posted on the San Francisco Archdiocese website on September 13. Archbishop Cordileone said the number of people government officials have decided may attend religious services are “totally arbitrary” and inconsistent with what is permitted in indoor businesses such as retail stores.

Acknowledging the stated purpose of the COVID restrictions he wrote, “Certainly, civil government has the authority to issue regulations to protect the public good that apply to everyone equally, including the Church.” 

The San Francisco Archbishop questioned whether the civil government issued “reasonable and consistent” regulations to protect public health. He referenced San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s announcement that the city of San Francisco would allow outdoor church services “will be able to allow” 50 attendants beginning on August 14. 

“Why only 50 people outside? Why only 100 indoors? If social distancing is maintained, why is there any limit?” he questioned. “St. Mary’s Cathedral could easily fit 1000 people either indoors or outdoors, with proper social distancing. But the Mayor tells us only that she hopes to allow indoor religious services at 25 percent capacity, up to a maximum of just 25 people (less than 1% of the total capacity of St. Mary’s Cathedral).”

Outdoor service, Archdiocese of San Francisco, August 21, 2020.
Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of San Francisco/Facebook page.

Archbishop Cordileone compared the local government’s treatment of church indoor activity to retail stores: “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.”

As part of Cordileone’s argument that San Francisco in particular has uniquely strict restrictions on church activity, he pointed out that gatherings at parks and outdoor protests have no numerical limit. 

Cordileone said he worked hard to cooperate with local government officials to protect church congregants as well as neighbors, and to “demonstrate a determination to adhere to sound principles of public health.” 

The document gave the details to the organizers and their contact information, the methods of protest that will be used such as banners, and the scheduled meetings of the three processions that will converge at the UN Plaza. 

Cordileone also cited an article published on signed by three medical doctors and infectious disease experts who claimed there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks at public masses at the 17,000 churches that have followed social-distancing and sanitation guidelines during mass over the course of 14 weeks.

The article mentioned studies and public health reports of church gatherings, and claimed that the only churches that experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 did not abide by health guidelines.

In an expression of his conviction to protest peacefully and make their voices of dissent heard, Archbishop Cordileone said: “So, I’ve made the decision that we can’t be silent any longer. We cannot simply standby 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.” 

Archbishop Cordileone’s Memorandum sent to priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco can be reached via the Archdiocese website. The protest alert page can be reached at the website’s events page at: