A wedding that had been rescheduled from April to the July 4th weekend at the landmark Saints Peter and Paul’s Church in North Beach was crashed by city officials as the bride and groom's families pressed ahead with having 100 people attending indoors. Weeks later, both the bride and groom and at least eight wedding attendees have turned up COVID-positive.
Much like other gatherings in multiple states in which Americans flouted public health orders and hoped for the best during a pandemic, the wedding is serving as a prime example of why large gatherings are dangerous vectors for the spread of this highly contagious virus. And this latest story adds to a list of public-health offenses that have allegedly been committed by the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco and multiple priests during the last several months. The San Francisco City Attorney had already sent a stern warning to the Archdiocese in late June
The couple getting married has not been identified, but as the Chronicle reports they were intent on holding the rescheduled wedding regardless of city health orders that still prohibited such indoor church services and large gatherings. Guests and family members reportedly flew in for the wedding from Tennessee, Arizona, and San Diego, and all of those travelers could potentially have brought the virus back home with them — so far, only ten of the attendees including the newlyweds have tested positive, and it sounds like most or all were symptomatic.
On the wedding day, guests were instructed to use an underground parking garage and enter the church through there, not through the front entrance, in order not to attract attention. As the Chronicle reports, Father Gael Sullivan, the pastoral administrator of the church, had allowed the ceremony to go on, and says that the front doors were kept closed to keep the public out.
Sullivan claimed to the Chronicle that he was upstairs at the time of the ceremony and was "unaware" that it was going on, however Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith — who was sent to check on the event after the City Attorney's Office had been tipped off that it was going forward — said that Fr. Sullivan showed no surprise about the fact that the indoor mass was illegal. He would later tell the Chronicle that because the city's stern warning letter had come so close to the scheduled nuptials, he told the couple they could still have "a service of some kind" — which was presided over by a family member who is a priest.
After Keith broke up the ceremony, it was moved outdoors to a basketball court where about a dozen people were still involved, and the remaining guests had to watch it on Zoom.
The couple reportedly insisted on having their wedding at Saints Peter and Paul Church because the groom's parents and grandparents had both been married there.
One guest apparently even boasted on Instagram about skirting city rules and having a reception in an East Bay backyard after the original reception venue canceled. "Down to the final 30 minutes before ceremony, [the bride] waiting excitedly in the bride room of the church, and the news comes in ... an official from the city is here telling them they can’t get married in the church. (All the while, across the street is a huge park filled with people, not wearing masks and not social distancing, but that was OK.)"
This guest added that it was by the grace of God that all the event could still occur, "God was right there with her and (the groom) … whispering to them to ‘Press on. I’ve got this,’"
NBC Bay Area reports that the Archdiocese claimed ignorance of its parishes' activities, and took no responsibility for the illegal wedding.
The City Attorney's Office had reportedly contacted the church after discovering the wedding website, and when it received no response, it sent Keith in to investigate in person on July 4.
Also implicated in the story is Harborview Restaurant & Bar at Embarcadero Center, where the family reportedly hosted a rehearsal dinner for 40 people the night before the wedding. Guests were reportedly not masked and not practicing distancing, and the restaurant now says it will have its staff tested after learning about the infections at the wedding.
UC Berkeley infectious disease expert John Swartzberg tells the Chronicle that the story "infuriated him" when he heard it, and he says, "This is the perfect example of why public health officials have been trying to convince people of the problems with getting together in crowds. And I would be shocked if we didn’t see this consequence [with multiple infections]. This should be the poster child in why people should take responsibility."
Multiple cautionary tales like this have been going around for the last several weeks as the economy opened, many Americans chose to travel over the holiday weekend, and as cases have skyrocketed in multiple parts of the country during the three weeks since.
It remains to be seen if the city will sanction the church or the Archdiocese in any way.