Archbishop Cordileone: I won’t be silent any more
Opinion piece in Washington Post before tomorrow's demonstrations

2020-09-18T14:14:41-07:00September 19th, 2020|Religious Freedom|

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. For months now, the city has limited worship services to just 12 people outdoors. Worship inside our own churches is banned. The city recently announced it will now allow 50 for outdoor worship, with a goal of permitting indoor services up to a maximum of 25 people by Oct. 1 — less than 1 percent of the capacity of San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

This is not nearly enough to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of Catholics in San Francisco. In imposing these restrictions, the city is turning a great many faithful away from their houses of prayer.

People can freely go to parks here, as long as they stay six feet apart. If they follow proper social distancing and wear masks, people can eat on an outdoor patio with no hard numerical limit. Indoor shopping malls are already open at 25 percent capacity. Catholics in San Francisco are increasingly noticing the simple unfairness. As one of my parishioners asked recently, “Why can I spend three hours indoors shopping for shoes at Nordstrom’s but can’t go to Mass?”

And it is not just San Francisco. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, six states with a combined population of 67 million Americans single out religious worship for unfavorable treatment compared to similar secular activities: California, New Jersey, Maine, Virginia, Connecticut and Nevada.

We Catholics are not indifferent to the very real dangers posed by covid-19. This is one of the reasons Catholic churches have developed rigorous protocols to protect public health in our facilities. We submitted our safety plans to the city in May along with other faith communities, and while indoor retailers had their plans approved and went into operation, we are still waiting to hear back.

Meanwhile, the scientific evidence from other jurisdictions is clear: These safeguards are working. As three infectious-disease specialists who reviewed the evidence on more than 1 million public Masses over the past few months concluded, there have been no documented outbreaks of covid-19 linked to church attendance in churches that follow the protocols. We have demonstrated that we know how to hold Mass safely. There is no reason not to allow us to put that knowledge into practice.

Nor do our concerns stem from hostility toward government. We Catholics respect legitimate authority, and we recognize that the government has a right to impose reasonable public health rules, just as we recognize its right to issue safety codes for our church buildings. But 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.

Even this injustice, though, is not as hurtful as the simple lack of compassion. I sometimes wonder whether the increasingly secular elites imposing these restrictions understand the pain they are unnecessarily inflicting. The sacraments as we Catholics understand them cannot be live-streamed. People are being denied the religious worship that connects them with God and one another. For hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans facing the simultaneous challenges of a pandemic and economic downturn, the church is their key source of spiritual, emotional and practical help. I worry about the poor, the jobless and especially the addicted whose major access to community help is the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings formerly held in churches all over the city and the country.

As one of my parishioners, Kathryn Reese, wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Even more than food for my body, this is food for my soul. I need it. My faith is what got me through all these years, raising my kids, going through a divorce, working as a correctional officer and correctional counselor in San Quentin, and volunteering for my community.” And the Rev. Moises Agudo, who pastors the overwhelmingly Latino churches in the Mission District, echoes the sentiment, saying that his people have lost many things because of the pandemic but “the consolations of the Mass should not be one of those things.”

We want to be partners in protecting the public health, but we cannot accept profoundly harmful and unequal treatment without resisting. This is why I and other Catholics from across San Francisco will join in a public demonstration this Sunday calling on the city’s mayor, London Breed, to treat religious believers fairly.

At our demonstration, we will not be asking for special treatment. We just don’t want religious worshipers singled out for unfavorable treatment relative to people participating in activities with comparable risk profiles. All we are seeking is access to worship in our own churches, following reasonable safety protocols — the same freedoms now extended to customers of nail salons, massage services and gyms. It’s only fair, it’s only compassionate, and, unlike with these other activities, it’s what the First Amendment demands.

The above comes from the September 16 issue of the Washington Post.


  1. Kristin September 19, 2020 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Catholics Unite! Bravo Archbishop Cordileone, would that the entire USCCB join you in demanding our religious liberty!

  2. Kevin T September 19, 2020 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Stop with the show and just declare your churches open for Mass, Archbishop. Force them to arrest you and your priests. Force them, if they will dare do that.

    • Jerry September 19, 2020 at 7:44 pm - Reply

      Isn’t what you’re suggesting a show? But yeah, let the state arrest an archbishop for conducting religious services, it won’t win votes in blue CA but will in red swing states even with non Catholics.

  3. Anonymous September 19, 2020 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Apparently Archbishop Cordelione doesn’t realize he’s living in a secular totalitarian state. California Democrats don’t care about the Constitution, nor do they care about Christian faith. If the past six months haven’t made that clear by now, there’s probably no hope for anyone who doesn’t already see it. California Democrats consider Christians to be backwards-thinking nuisances who don’t deserve rights.

  4. Deacon Craig Anderson September 19, 2020 at 11:23 am - Reply

    May God bless and continue to guide and protect this good archbishop.

  5. James September 19, 2020 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Agreed, California Democrats don’t care about The Constitution and religious freedom. We need more bishops with a backbone like Archbishop Cordileone..

  6. Tom Byrne September 19, 2020 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Churches should have no more restrictions than any other interior space with comparable ventilation. If I can shop at Target, I can go to Mass!

  7. bohemond September 19, 2020 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Open the Church’s close the bath houses.

  8. Anonymous September 19, 2020 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    it’s time for a lawsuit…asking for our Churches to be
    allowed to open.
    And the Church should ask not only for a restraining order,
    but also for punitive damages.

  9. Bob One September 20, 2020 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Fair is fair. if the churches can’t have more than 12 people in the parking lot, that should be true of all other parking lots. If the churches can only have 25 people in the building at one time, Walmart should have the same restriction. You get my point. We decided not to go into the local farmers market last week because there was too many people shoulder to shoulder, bumping into each other, etc. Fair is fair, so the market should only be allowed 12 people at one time, etc. Churches should not be singled out. Restaurants with outdoor seating should only be allowed 12 people at one time. On the other hand, I don’t think that it is safe to open the churches to full congregations either. If everyone would look at this as a public health issue we might come up with different answers. Locking down the churches but opening all the other gathering spots begins to smack of religious discrimination.

    • Your Fellow Catholic September 20, 2020 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      Bob One, there is a difference between being in a Walmart and being in a Church. The amount and length of time you spend near an infected person makes the difference between being infected and not being infected, and in addition, singing is one of the things that generates aerosols and droplets, much much more so than breathing as one walks through a store.. Also, very few people spend an hour next to the same person at Walgreens, and they usually don’t sing. The two things are really very different from a public health standpoint.

      The better comparison is a bar -where people might be loud and boisterous and trying to talk over one another, or cheering on your sports team, and you might be next to someone for an hour or two. As far as I know, no indoor bars are open in the Diocese of San Francisco. And they both serve wine :)

  10. Xavier September 20, 2020 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    OK Archbishop, it took you 6 months before you said something. Well, better late than never. Now, what about every other Bishop and the other Archbishop in California. When will they come out of their closets and stand up for the Catholic Faith of which they are custodians?

  11. RALPH September 20, 2020 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Glory Be to God…the Washington Post published a letter from Archbishop Cordelione? Well, well, well…will First Things publish an opinion piece by Bishop McElroy next?

  12. Your Fellow Catholic September 21, 2020 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Those going to Church services indoors are 16 times more likely to contract the coronavirus:

    “The study, available to peruse here, found that people who’d visited a place of worship at least three times in the two weeks before the study were 16 times likelier to be infected by coronavirus than those who had not.”

    The study, available to peruse here, found that people who’d visited a place of worship at least three times in the two weeks before the study were 16 times likelier to be infected by coronavirus than those who had not.

    Pro-life? or not?

    • Ronnie September 22, 2020 at 9:38 am - Reply

      That study seems flawed to me. In NY the Churches have been opened since the end of June (weekday Masses) and beginning on Sundays in July and I haven’t heard of one case of anyone catching the virus. And let’s not forget there is some questionable closings like the Nashville Mayor hiding the coronavirus numbers to keep the bars closed. I applaud Archbishop Cordileone, for his courage in speaking out. There is risk in everything. If mass riots and demonstrations, events and funerals can take place why the discrimination against Churches? I’ll tell you why. Because in my view, the Left hates anything to do with God.

      • Your Fellow Catholic September 22, 2020 at 12:22 pm - Reply

        I’m sure Ronnie you will show data, istead of some random notion about what you have “heard”. The “Left” is no more monolithic in its vews of God than the “Right”. And when you make statements like that you are simply politicizing a public health issue and causing greater division and distrust among us.

        I guarantee you: Biden, Pelosi, and Harris have each gone to Church more in the last 10 years than Donald Trump. Why would the three top leaders of the “Left” go to Church if they hate God?

        • Ronnie September 23, 2020 at 10:10 am - Reply

          Any division and distrust and politicizing of the issue is on the Left! Why would you bring up a study if not to push the narrative that Churches are not as secure as say bars, riots, funerals, abortion clinics, etc. My data is myself as a resident of NY. As for Biden, Pelosi and Harris going to Church (Satan is very good at quoting the Scriptures!) more than Trump oh, yes, it doesn’t matter that they support child murder and sodomy. Maybe the go to ease their conscience and rationalize their support for evil.

  13. Your Fellow Catholic September 21, 2020 at 1:57 pm - Reply
    • Ronnie September 22, 2020 at 9:47 am - Reply

      For some balance on this issue read The Battle Against Big Brother:

      • Anonymous September 22, 2020 at 12:15 pm - Reply

        FRC never brings balance to anything. They are not interested in balance.

        • Ronnie September 23, 2020 at 10:13 am - Reply

          Oh, yes, just look at all the “fake news” and networks how they are really are interested in balance…not!

  14. Anonymous September 22, 2020 at 8:32 am - Reply

    I feel that we must come together with all cities Bishops in front of all faithful and stand together in faith and not let this political Democrats limit our worship gatherings. If you can go to gyms, restaurants, and farmer markets we can come together respecting the protocols which we have for the safety of everyone.

  15. Hymie September 22, 2020 at 9:46 am - Reply

    That’s a PICO banner and a LiUNA! banner ‘beneath Agudo’ – which they most certainly are or at least ought to be.

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