You saw that gathering of worshippers that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone called to a rosary prayer and exorcism on Saturday to mourn the toppling of a Junipero Serra statue? Well, that gathering wasn't technically permissible under San Francisco health orders, and neither are multiple masses that the city attorney says have been held at multiple Catholic churches around the city in recent weeks.
In a seven-page cease-and-desist letter dated June 29, City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the archdiocese that all such gatherings must end within one day, because the church was "putting its parishioners and the larger community at risk of serious illness and death."
Under current health orders, outdoor religious services and funerals are allowed with a 12-person limit, which means that Cordileone's bit of religious theater on Saturday — despite the attendees being masked — was a violation. Also, the letter points to the St. Francis of Assisi and Saints Peter and Paul churches in North Beach, which allegedly have held illegal church services in recent weeks, and a YouTube video of a mask-less priest at Star of Sea Church giving a sermon indoors.
ABC 7 spoke to a priest in training, Jerick Rea, who explained that Catholic priests don't believe that a "human concern" like the pandemic should come between them and the holy mass.
"We consider the holy mass to be something special and sacred which shouldn't be tarnished by something that has a human concern, and part of it as well is that we're just being rational about it. None of us have experienced any symptoms," Rea tells the station. "I understand if people are dying left and right, but they're not."
Religious services in South Korea and across the U.S. have been the sources COVID infections and super-spreading events, and experts warn against being in any enclosed space with groups of people singing, talking, or even just exhaling.
One choir practice in Washington State in early March led to at least 45 infections and several deaths.
The Archdiocese relented on Tuesday and sent a letter back to Herrera saying it would get in compliance.
"The Archbishop has now notified his priests that the order limiting religious services to outdoors with no more than 12 people remains in force with appropriate social distancing and face coverings," the letter says. It also says the Archdiocese "looks forward to continuing to work with the City to facilitate the reopening of worship in a safe manner."