(CNSNews.com) - Under the COVID-19 rules it is currently enforcing, the City of San Francisco is allowing shopping malls to admit up to 25 percent of their normal capacity and indoor retailers to admit up to 50 percent of their normal capacity as long as people can remain six-feet apart.
But San Francisco is allowing only one person at a time into churches and other places of worship—including the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral, which has a normal capacity of 3,000.
“They allow only one person at a time in a cathedral that has a capacity for about 3,000 to 3,500--if you include the standing room,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone told CNSNews.com in an interview.
CNSNews.com asked the archbishop: “Do you think that the city government of San Francisco is specifically targeting religious practice and the Catholic Church?”
“Very clearly they are targeting the Catholic Church,” he said.
“They are clearly targeting us. They are clearly targeting us,” he later emphasized.
CNSNews.com also asked the archbishop: “Are there actually people in the government of the city of San Francisco who want to target the Catholic Church for discrimination?”
“All I can do is draw an inference that there is because we are clearly being targeted,” he said. “We are being discriminated against. So that has to be intentional. Somebody inside there must want to do this because it is very intentional.”
Archbishop Cordileone said that the attack that the City of San Francisco has launched on the freedom of worship is the “most severe” he has seen yet on the First Amendment-protected right to the free exercise of religion.
“I never expected that the most basic religious freedom, the right to worship — protected so robustly in our Constitution’s First Amendment — would be unjustly repressed by an American government,” he wrote in an op-ed published Sept. 16 in the Washington Post. “But that is exactly what is happening in San Francisco. For months now, the city has limited worship services to just 12 people outdoors. Worship inside our own churches is banned.”
“In that op-ed,” Archbishop Cordileone told CNSNews.com, “when I said freedom of worship what I meant is: Religious liberty means a whole lot of different things. Most fundamental within that is the freedom of worship. They are not the same thing. Freedom of worship is the most basic part of freedom of religion. So, we have seen the free exercise clause being chipped away by these court cases that are trying to keep us from practicing, serving the community in accord with the moral values we get from our faith. But now they are starting to chip away even at the freedom of worship, even going inside the walls of the church and saying we can’t do that.”
At the same time, the archbishop emphasized the he is not trying to hold Masses or religious services in a manner that will put the health of the congregations at risk.
“The city asked faith communities to submit a safety plan for when we go back to indoor worship in May. And we sent ours—the same ones that we’re following all over the country,” he said.
“It’s a model that was developed by the Augustine Institute in Rome,” he said. “They put together a team of experts, of health-science experts, theologians, liturgists, to come up with a way to do Mass safely that is respectful to the ritual of the Mass. So, the whole country is following these and each diocese may make a few little adaptations.”
The City of San Francisco has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan that was submitted four months ago.
“So, we submitted ours in May,” said the archbishop. “The health officer himself spoke approvingly of it to me. Retail stores sent in their safety plans. They got their safety plan approved for 50-percent indoor capacity and went back into operation. We are still waiting to hear back officially on our plan.”
The archbishop emphasized his intention to “make sure our people are safe.”
“Now, I understand that we have to be safe and I have been emphasizing this all along,” said the archbishop. “It’s not like we want to be reckless when we go back to worshipping indoors. As I said, I issued those safety protocols and I want to make sure our people are safe. I mean, I’m a pastor of souls, so I care for their bodies, too. I want to make sure that our people are safe. We want to do it in a responsible way, and we can do it in a responsible way. But we want to be treated fairly and equally as others.”
The Archdiocese of San Francisco is currently conducting a petition drive aimed at getting San Francisco Mayor London Breed to back away from the rule that says only one person can enter a church.
“There is a petition drive going on now to urge the mayor to free the Mass,” said Archbishop Cordileone. “People can sign up at FreeTheMass.com. They can sign this petition to urge the mayor to let up.”
The COVID-19 rules published by the City of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health on Sept. 14 continued to impose the one-person limit on houses of worship. These rules say:
“Members of the public, may enter a house of worship, subject to the following conditions: (i) Only one individual member of the public may enter the house of worship at a time. If the person is a parent or guardian of minor children, the person may bring their children with them but not other adults from the same household. If the person is an adult who needs assistance, the person may bring a caregiver.”
But the rules for stores inside shopping malls that do not have an opening to the street say they can admit up to 25 percent of their capacity:
“Retail stores that are in an enclosed Indoor Shopping Center…and that do not have direct access to adjacent sidewalk, street, parking lot or alley area, may only reopen for in-store retail at no more than 25% capacity if the Indoor Shopping Center submits to the Health Officer a proposed plan for reopening and that plan is approved as provided below.”
San Francisco’s rules also allow retail stores that are not in enclosed malls to admit up to 50 percent of their capacity as long as people remain six feet apart. The rule says:
“Beginning at 6:00 a.m on June 15, 2020, retail stores may begin to operate for indoor shopping subject to the following limitation and condition: (i) The store must reduce maximum occupancy to limit the number of people (including both customers and Personnel) to the lesser of: (1) 50% the store’s normal maximum occupancy or (2) the number of people who can maintain at least six feet distance from each other in the store at all times.”
Here is video of the full interview with Archbishop Cordileone:
Here is a transcript of CNSNews.com’s interview with Archibishop Cordileone:
Terry Jeffrey: “Hi, welcome to this edition of Online With Terry Jeffrey. Our guest today is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. Archbishop Cordileone was born and raised in San Diego. He graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in philosophy, and then earned degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1981. In 1982, he was ordained a priest in San Diego. In 1985, he returned to Rome and earned a doctorate in Canon Law from the Gregorian University. From 1995 to 2002, he was an assistant on the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Then, in July 2002, Pope John Paul II made him Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI made him bishop of Oakland. And, in 2012, he became the archbishop of San Francisco.
“Your excellency, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone: “Your welcome. Thank you for having me.”
Jeffrey: “The City of San Francisco has a webpage, which I looked at this morning, where they have published their rules for how many people can congregate in different types of spaces. For example, these rules say that cannabis retailers—and, I gather, there are a fair number of those in San Francisco nowadays—are, quote unquote, ‘open for takeout, delivery and indoor retail.’ Then the rules say of, quote unquote ‘retailers,’ like cannabis retailers, quote, ‘open for curbside and indoor retail if open to the street or sidewalk, maximum 50-percent normal capacity or however many can be inside while 6 feet apart, whichever is less.’
“The rules then say for shopping malls, quote, ‘open indoors with an approved safety plan, maximum 25 percent of normal capacity.’
“But the rules for places of worship say, quote, ‘open indoors for one person at a time for prayer or counselling’ unquote.
“Why has San Francisco decided that a cannabis retailer can have 50 percent normal capacity, and a shopping mall can have 25 percent normal capacity, but a place of worship, like a Catholic church, can only have 1 person inside?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Here’s the science as it’s been explained to me. When a group of people are inside for an extended period of time, there’s a greater chance for infection because the virus moves around inside a confined space. And in a store people go in, make a purchase, and leave. Now, there may be some stores like that. You won’t be surprised that I don’t know how cannabis dispensaries work—"
Jeffrey: “You haven’t been patronizing them apparently.”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Opposed to that, I think probably that is a time to go in and make a purchase and leave. But the problem is, there are these large retail outlets, where people can easily spend an hour or two hours, even three hours, shopping around, right. And a shopping mall, I would think that the thinking there is that it’s a large indoor space, a very high ceiling, many malls are indoors, so there’s a lot of circulation of air.
“The thing is our churches are the same way. Well, it’s hard to make a steadfast rule for every church. Some churches are small, some are large. Some are in a confined space; some have doors that go outside. So, I made the point that in many retail outlets people can be in there for hours, the employees are in there all-day long indoors. In a church, we can keep our services, if necessary, to an hour, and the people are stationary, right. We can ensure they are six feet apart and they stay there, face coverings, keep the doors and windows open for air flow, and we can sanitize the high-touch areas between services, as opposed to a store where people are moving around, they might bump into each other and they’re touching everything. So, in a way, a store [church] can be safer than an indoor retail, which now malls are at 25 percent—at one point 50 percent.
“The city asked faith communities to submit a safety plan for when we go back to indoor worship in May. And we sent ours—the same ones that we’re following all over the country. It’s a model that was developed by the Augustine Institute in Rome. They put together a team of experts, of health-science experts, theologians, liturgists, to come up with a way to do Mass safely that is respectful to the ritual of the Mass. So, the whole country is following these and each diocese may make a few little adaptations.
“So, we submitted ours in May. The health officer himself spoke approvingly of it to me. Retail stores sent in their safety plans. They got their safety plan approved for 50-percent indoor capacity and went back into operation. We are still waiting to hear back officially on our plan.”
Jeffrey: “Your excellency, so, as you said, the City of San Francisco is allowing shopping malls to have 25-percent capacity. I am familiar with your cathedral there in San Francisco. It is somewhat modern architecture. It is a very broad, open space in the sanctuary of that church. You have other very large churches in San Francisco like St. Ignatius, St. Dominic’s, St. Boniface. These are big spaces. And they’re literally--They won’t tell you whether or not it’s okay, following health guidelines, to put 25-percent capacity in the cathedral?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “They allow only one person at a time in a cathedral that has a capacity for about 3,000 to 3,500 if you include the standing room.”
Jeffrey: “And they’ve made no response at all to your proposal?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Nope. When I brought up the point about why churches can be safer than stores in some circumstances, the only response I got was that it is much safer to do it outdoors. When I brought up the point about the street protests and why only twelve and now fifty, I got no response.”
Jeffrey: “In the op-ed that you published last week in the Washington Post, you said, quote: ‘I never expected that the most basic religious freedom, the right to worship—protected so robustly in our Constitution’s First Amendment—would be unjustly repressed by an American government. But that is exactly what is happening in San Francisco.’ Do you think that the city government of San Francisco is specifically targeting religious practice and the Catholic Church?”
Cordileone: “Very clearly they are targeting the Catholic Church. Because, to get back to your earlier question—I forgot to fill that out—what we’re doing in response: When it was twelve—a limit of twelve—I decided we could have multiple—our cathedral plaza is very large. So, we started having multiple masses of twelve on the plaza. We got up to twelve masses of twelve people each.
The city said that they were going to allow 50--and they would announce it the follow week—50 for outdoor gatherings. So, when they issued the norm for 50 outdoor gatherings, they added the provision that it forbids multiple gatherings at the same location. And then that’s when the added this other one—before they didn’t say anything about people going by themselves inside a church to pray--that’s when they added this about one only one person at a time inside a church. While they are allowing--They also at the same time are allowing these one-on-one indoor services that involve extended contact one-on-one like hair salons, and nail salons, and massage parlors.
“They are clearly targeting us. They are clearly targeting us.”
Jeffrey: “So, they actually, when you—As you’re saying, you had those small Masses out on the plaza outside the cathedral, they wanted to stop you from doing those the way you were doing them?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Yes. Well, what happened was they announced we were going to open up for fifty. So, that’s when I decided we need to be more visible on this. I was very patient. I’ve been trying to cooperate. I’ve told them I want to be a good partner, working with you to help our people, and they kept restricting us without any explanations. So, we planned, and we did this last Sunday, three processions coming from different directions—different parishes from different directions—converging on city hall, which is about a twenty-minute walk to our cathedral. Then together processed to the cathedral. And we had twenty masses of fifty people each on Sunday. So, that was my plan.
“I was not anticipating that they were going to add this further provision, forbidding multiple Masses. But we went ahead with it anyway to manifest that, as we are saying, the Mass is essential. We are essential: Free the Mass. In fact, there is a petition drive going on now to urge the mayor to free the Mass. People can sign up at FreeTheMass.com. They can sign this petition to urge the mayor to let up.”
Jeffrey: “So, what you did on Sunday with the separate Masses of 50 people outside the cathedral, they’ve now put out a regulation saying you cannot do that?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “It ended up being out of regulation. I did not know it was going to be out of regulation when we were planning it, because we started planning it when the city said that we were going to be able to open up to fifty for outdoor gatherings. That’s when we began planning it. We had the plans in place when we found out they added this prohibition of no multiple gatherings at the same location.”
Jeffrey: “Your excellency, I have to say, I am a native San Franciscan. I went to St. Ignatius high school. When I was growing up, many of the people involved in the government of San Francisco were actually Catholic—
Archbishop Cordileone: “Yes.”
Jeffrey: “—if not sympathetic to the Catholic Church. It seems to me this would have never happened in the 1970s in San Francisco. What’s going on there? Are there actually people in the government of the city of San Francisco who want to target the Catholic Church for discrimination?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “All I can do is draw an inference that there is because we are clearly being targeted. We are being discriminated against. So that has to be intentional. Somebody inside there must want to do this because it is very intentional."
Jeffrey: “Have you seen this in other realms of your activity before or is this a new thing? Is something you’ve seen building?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “This is just the most severe. California, in general, is already overly severe. So, the state has its guidelines and then counties implement them, and counties can have stricter health orders than the guidelines of the state, which is happening in San Francisco, the most restrictive county in the whole country. But the guidelines of the state of California are already overly oppressive and unrealistic for worship. For worship, it’s 25 percent capacity with the limit of one hundred people. So, there’s an absolute numerical limit that they don’t apply to others. So, it’s already overly restrictive. What I see happening is the free establishment clause, right, protects our right to follow and practice our religion in public life. It’s a robust protection of our public activity can be informed by the values that come from our faith. Right. So, in that op-ed when I said freedom of worship what I meant is: Religious liberty means a whole lot of different things. Most fundamental within that is the freedom of worship. They are not the same thing. Freedom of worship is the most basic part of freedom of religion. So, we have seen the free exercise clause being chipped away by these court cases that are trying to keep us from practicing, serving the community in accord with the moral values we get from our faith. But now they are starting to chip away even at the freedom of worship, even going inside the walls of the church and saying we can’t do that.”
Jeffrey: “Right, and here you have COVID-19 as the excuse for prohibiting the worship you’re describing within the Catholic Church, but over the last ten years we’ve had a court battle that actually hasn’t been adequately resolved, as far as I am concerned, where the question is whether the federal government can force Catholics and other Christians to act against their conscience in purchasing health insurance that provides abortion-inducing drugs and devices. And the government was willing to take the Little Sisters of the Poor all the way to the Supreme Court on that.
“In the latest case, they decided that while the new regulation by the Trump administration is within the letter of the law, so they can issue it. But they did not say that the free exercise clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing a Catholic to buy an abortifacient. Do you see there’s a bigger struggle here for religious freedom?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Oh yes, yes. It’s a much bigger struggle. It’s getting worse now when they’re beginning to chip away at worship. Now, I understand that we have to be safe and I have been emphasizing this all along. It’s not like we want to be reckless when we go back to worshipping in doors. As I said, I issued those safety protocols and I want to make sure our people are safe. I mean, I’m a pastor of souls, so I care for their bodies, too. I want to make sure that our people are safe. We want to do it in a responsible way, and we can do it in a responsible way. But we want to be treated fairly and equally as others."
Jeffrey: “Right. In your sermon from September 13, you said: ‘All throughout her history, the Church has faced attempts by governing authorities to shut her down. She has prevailed when all the members of the body of Christ joined together in solidarity, solidarity made possible only by a spirit of contrition and recognition of the primacy of God.’ How do you think Catholics around the nation should respond now in solidarity with the Catholics of San Francisco, of your archdiocese, in responding to what’s happening there now?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “I see it happening around the country. We had our three processions and then converging and processing to the cathedral. I see these kinds of processions happening around the country. There’s another movement called Unite Our Nation that began in Wisconsin. And I see in other areas these kinds of public manifestations. This is very important. They can support us in San Francisco as I mentioned before about this petition, FreetheMass.com, which is helping us in San Francisco, but it has consequences beyond San Francisco because California is not the only state that is treating religions unequally to other, to secular activities. There are other states as well. So, it would have consequences beyond just San Francisco and the Bay Area. So that’s another thing that people can do. And, of course, we have to be rooted in prayer. Spirituality has to be at the heart of it. So, continue a life of prayer. Contrition—that means availing oneself to the sacrament of penance. And keeping ourselves spiritually grounded.”
Jeffrey: “Your excellency, I want to ask you about one other issue which is the Catholic history of the state of California and the City of San Francisco. St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis, was a Spanish Franciscan who came to California. What impact did he have on California and what it became?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “He’s truly the Father of California because he began the mission system. There’s so much, of course, revisionist history going on here. But he heroically defended the indigenous people from the abuses of the Spanish soldiers and governing authorities.
“So, he developed the mission system. But one significant turning point was when he arrived in San Francisco and founded the mission there, he—Well, let me back up a bit.
"He started in San Diego. That was the first mission he founded. I grew up—actually, I clocked it--3.3 miles from that church. So, he was very much a part of my growing up. It’s the last place I lived in San Diego before I moved North to the Bay Area. It’s still a thriving parish. Where they settled though is not where the mission is now. It was on a bluff overlooking the bay and they were going to put everything there, the mission, the school, the presidio, which is the barracks for the soldiers. But, then, they realized the soldiers were abusing the Indians, there was an Indian uprising and they had to move the Indians away from the soldiers to keep them safe. So, they moved the mission inland, close to the river. And, you see in the mission system, wherever there is a presidio it is miles away from the mission church. So, that’s when--You can’t revise that history. We have a physical reminder of what he did. When he got to San Francisco, he got this idea that he needed more soldiers, so he asked the viceroy to send soldiers who were married, send them with their wives and their children, so they wouldn’t be so tempted to abuse the women, the Indian women. So, this is when the pueblos started. These little towns started growing up, and this really began the social and economic infrastructure of California.”
Jeffrey: “And the oldest building in the city of San Francisco is?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Mission Dolores. A mission founded by Father Serra.”
Jeffrey: “And it is quite a ways from the Presidio.”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Yes. The Presidio—Mission Dolores is in the heart of the city, the Presidio is—well, Presidio Park—the Presidio at the foot of the bridge there, the Golden Gate Bridge. So, it’s probably four miles away, three or four miles.”
Jeffrey: “In June, the statue of Junipero Serra was attacked and vandalized in Golden Gate Park. Have they found out who did that and why? And has there been any accountability for that at all?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “No. There’s been no accountability. It was a mob. I know people won’t like me using that word. But that’s what it was. Some group of people who were acting violently and tore the statue down. But there’s been no attempt to try to track them down and have any accountability. I don’t know if it’s possible at this point.”
Jeffrey: “You’re not aware that it was seriously investigated by the San Francisco police?"
Archbishop Cordileone: “I am not aware whether or not it was. No.”
Jeffrey: “Has the statue been replaced?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “No.”
Archbishop Cordileone: “No. The base is still there, but not the statue on it.”
Jeffrey: “So, is there any plan at this point to restore a statue to St. Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “Well, what we are trying to do is gain possession of the statue. It was donated by an independent group called the Native Sons of the Golden West. Way back, it was set up in 1907. So, there’s some legal issues to look at. We are trying to gain possession of it, which I think it’s a real possibility. But I don’t have any hope that the city would allow re-erecting the statue there on that spot.”
Jeffrey: “You think they might actually ban a statue of a Catholic saint who founded the state of California from Golden Gate Park?”
Archbishop Cordileone: “I don’t think they would ban it so much as not authorize it or vote to re-erect it because it’s public property, it belongs to the city. So, we would want to take possession so we can re-erect it on our property.”
Jeffrey: “Okay. That would be a good thing. I hate to even think what they would think about the name of San Francisco, what it means. I am serious about that. But it’s a great name for a great city. And, your excellency, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to have had this conversation.”
Archbishop Cordileone: “You’re welcome. Thank you.”
Jeffrey: “Thank you very much.”