Archbishop Cordileone on worship restrictions: ‘We’re suffering under this unequal treatment’

There is a lot to pay attention to in California right now. Not only are Californians fighting wildfires and COVID-19, but they are also fighting for their right to worship. Public health orders in the state restrict a variety of public activities, but many are pointing out that worship services (including the celebration of Holy Mass) are being restricted more than other activities like retail shopping.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco stopped by Morning Air® today to discuss these restrictions, and how Catholics in San Francisco will be speaking out against them this weekend.

Archbishop Cordileone explained, “San Francisco is the most restrictive county of any in the United States when it comes to rules for worship. I think the government has a responsibility to ensure public safety, but they can’t restrict the right to worship. So we want to demonstrate our faith, and the importance of our First Amendment right to worship, and the primacy of God.”

To demonstrate that, Archbishop Cordileone and the people in the Archdiocese are organizing Eucharistic processions across San Francisco on Sunday, September 20. Three separate processions will begin at St. Anthony, St. Patrick, and Star of the Sea parishes, and will converge at United Nations Plaza near San Francisco City Hall.

The combined processions will then proceed past city hall to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption for multiple outdoor, socially-distanced Masses in both English and Spanish.

“Masses will be in different groups,” Archbishop Cordileone explained. “The limit is 50 people outdoors for a religious service, so we will have groups of 50, and each one will be at their own Mass. But we will be gathered at the cathedral property, and I will be able to preach to everyone gathered there.”

“This is a way of demonstrating our faith, giving a public witness to the primacy of faith and the primacy of God,” he said. The archbishop shared that the slogan for the event is: “We are essential. Free the Mass.” The message will communicate that the right to worship is essential, and severe restrictions on the Mass are restricting religious freedom.

“It has been very frustrating,” Archbishop Cordileone acknowledged. He pointed out that the public health orders regarding worship seem to be arbitrary and inconsistent, and the government will not agree to arguments for a safe, socially-distanced reopening of indoor Mass.

“The new health order that was issued recently still prohibits religious services indoors,” he said. “Although, they continue to allow indoors for the purpose of live streaming a religious service. They allow the people necessary to serve it and live stream it, up to 12. But if it’s not being live streamed it can’t be held indoors.”

Pointing out the double-standard many religious people in San Francisco are noticing, Archbishop Cordileone said, “Now the new health order allows one person inside a church to pray at a time, while at the same time they are allowing these extended one-on-one services to operate indoors such as barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, and massage parlors. And yet, only one person at a time inside of a church? It’s been very frustrating and we’re suffering under this unequal treatment and being deprived of our First Amendment right.”

Several times during the conversation with Morning Air co-host Glen Lewerenz, Archbishop Cordileone made it clear that he recognizes the government’s authority to impose orders to safeguard the public health, and the Catholic Church in San Francisco has observed them. But he also expressed his concern that the state is using public health as a means of controlling the Church and how it functions. And that could set a troubling precedent for the future.

“We submitted a safety plan back in May, along with other faith communities,” he said. “We followed the guidelines of The Thomistic Institute like everyone else in the country did. They are very thorough and very detailed. But we never got approval of the plan so we could go back to operating. Stores submitted a safety plan to the city, they got them approved and went back into operation. So I’m fearing it’s the sense of control that they have over our lives, and particularly over the Church, that they’re going to have a hard time letting go of that.”

More information on this weekend’s Eucharistic processions and the “Free the Mass” petition can be found on the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s web site.

Listen to the full conversation with Archbishop Cordileone below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.