The following comes from a March 18 posting on First Things.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is in the midst of a bare-knuckle battle over whether Catholic schools can require Catholic teachers to be . . . well . . . Catholic. Recently, anonymous parties hired Sam Singer—a high-billing Better-Call-Saul-style PR man renowned for his apocryphal urinations and his passionate defense of Chevron’s ability to pollute with impunity—to attack the archdiocese. It will be interesting to see if he one day takes credit for the most recent salvo in the war—charges that Cordileone doesn’t care for the homeless.
Opponents have seized on reports that spigots installed at the doors to the San Francisco cathedral that come on at regular intervals and douse anyone trying to sleep there in order to discredit Cordileone’s stand. In doing so, they are ignoring Cordileone’s own personal history of care for
the homeless and distorting his record as head of a church that does much to house and feed them. Nothing can be achieved by pitting one element of the Christian witness against another—except, of course, the destruction of the faith.
As for the water system, Cordileone—who may have had little or no role in its installation—should move now to remove it. In doing so, he will be acting in accord with his own admirable personal witness as archbishop. Multiple reports describe Cordileone visiting homeless shelters to meet with and feed the homeless. In September 2013, he visited a gay parish in the Castro District to feed the homeless: “The Archbishop served a table full of people and everyone was delighted that he took time out of his busy schedule to be with them,” its pastor said. “He promised he would be back.”
Critics who seek to pin blame for this watering system on the archbishop must also be willing to give him credit for the many things done under the banner of the archdiocese to house and help the homeless. He is just as responsible, just as accountable, just as worthy of blame or credit for the one as is he is for the other. Both are done under Cordileone’s authority and so, even if without his immediate involvement and knowledge, both are equally his responsibility. Before rushing to condemn, we should pause to consider—and to ask whether with his personal acts, Cordileone has already shown where his heart lies.
Update: The Archdiocese of San Francisco has issued the following statement:
The Archdiocese of San Francisco is, along with the Catholic St.Vincent de Paul Society, the largest supporter of services for the homeless in San Francisco. Every year, it helps many thousands of people through food, housing, shelter programs for people at risk includinghomeless mothers and families, and in countless other ways.
St. Mary’s Cathedral is a huge part of that program, and does more than any other Catholic church. The Cathedral itself serves hundreds of homeless people giving them food and shelter, as an integral part of the San Francisco Interfaith Council’s efforts in that regard, for example, opening its doors for shelter and food for five weeks over the holidays.
This sprinkler system in alcoves near our back doorways was installed approximately two years ago, after learning from city resources that this kind of system was being commonly used in the Financial District, asa safety, security and cleanliness measure to avoid the situation where needles, feces and other dangerous items were regularly being left in these hidden doorways. The problem was particularly dangerous because students and elderly people regularly pass these locations on their way toschool and mass every day.
When the system was installed, after other ideas were tried and failed, the people who were regularly sleeping in those doorways were informed in advance that the sprinklers were being installed. The idea was not to remove those persons, but to encourage them to relocate to other areas of the Cathedral, which are protected and safer. The purpose was to make the Cathedral grounds as well as the homeless people who happen to be on those grounds safer.
We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived. It actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for this we are very sorry. We have also now learned that the system in the first place required a permit and may violate San Francisco water-use laws, and the work to remove this system has already started, and will be completed by the end of the day.