SAN FRANCISCO—In recent weeks, Catholic churches in San Francisco have been going against the San Francisco health order by holding large indoor gatherings of people for religious services. In addition priests and altar boys have been conducting these services without masks.

In response, on Monday, June 29, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a seven-page cease and desist letter to the Archdiocese of San Francisco. ABC7 News was able to obtain a copy of it. In the letter, he told the Archdiocese that the city could give them a temporary restraining order if they fail to cooperate with the current health protocols.

Herrera also mentioned multiple complaints he has received about Catholic churches opening to the public and thus putting communities at risk. For instance, on June 14, the City Attorney’s office received complaints about Saint Peter and Paul Church on 666 Filbert St having “public mass six times” that day. There is also a YouTube video of a priest holding mass without a mask at the Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco. The complaints were the incentive behind the City Attorney’s investigation into the Archdiocese’s failure to follow the health protocols.

“These large gatherings of people indoors for a long period, in some instances reported without face coverings and with singing, place clergy, staff, volunteers and congregants alike at heightened risk of transmission of COVID-19,” Herrera wrote.

According to Dominic Fracassa of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Archdiocese responded to the City’s ‘s letter stating that churches would require social distancing and face coverings at outdoor services while continuing to live stream services. 

While the recent in-person services conducted by churches in the San Francisco Archdiocese present a possible communal health risk, religious services—whether done over the Internet or in-person—appear to play an important role for some San Franciscans during the COVID-19 pandemic.