San Francisco's Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone will not remain quiet about city and state public-health restrictions inhibiting him and the church from holding in-person services, as he insists upon being on the wrong side of history during a pandemic, for God's sake.
Cordileone has been doing his damndest to get on the local news all year long — first with a bizarre exorcism at the site of a toppled statue of Saint Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park, and soon after with calls to reopen churches for indoor mass and what appeared to be a blind eye he was turning to priests breaking the law around the city and doing whatever they wanted. And on Sunday he was talking to ABC 7 about his unhappiness with the fact that San Francisco, with its new "Purple" tier status, is prohibiting indoor church services once again.
He presided over his last mass for the time being at St. Mary's Cathedral on Sunday morning.
"We're a sacramental church," he tells the station. "You can't live stream holy communion."
Given that a lot of the congregants still wanting to attend services in the pandemic are likely elderly, the callousness with which Cordileone and some of his San Francisco priest colleagues are thinking about the spread of the virus is really astonishing — though not unlike complaints from religious figures around the country as they struggle with the notion that what they do isn't "essential" in the eyes of the state when human lives are at stake.
Cordileone says that legal action is still a possibility, and he adds, "It's hard to have one policy for all churches, I'd like to see a policy that errs on the side of safety but also respects our first amendment rights to worship in a safe way."
Cordileone was obviously feeling emboldened following a Supreme Court decision announced last Wednesday night that put a stop to pandemic restrictions in New York State that barred religious services but still permitted indoor dining. That was a 5-4 decision with Justice Amy Coney Barrett obviously siding with churches, and Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the liberals.
"It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques," wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in a separate opinion concurring with the unsigned majority opinion.
There were also multiple dissents from the justices, with Roberts writing his own saying, "it is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, also signed by Justice Elena Kagan, "Free religious exercise is one of our most treasured and jealously guarded constitutional rights. States may not discriminate against religious institutions, even when faced with a crisis as deadly as this one. But those principles are not at stake today. The Constitution does not forbid states from responding to public health crises through regulations that treat religious institutions equally or more favorably than comparable secular institutions, particularly when those regulations save lives."
A church near San Diego, South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, was previously denied a hearing before the Supreme Court back in May, when they tried to appeal Governor Gavin Newsom's statewide restrictions on indoor worship. That church filed a petition with SCOTUS last Tuesday, knowing that the balance of the court had shifted with Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death and Barrett's hurried confirmation last month. And as the Chronicle reports, they're now hoping for a decision similar to the New York case to come in the favor.
In that filing, lawyers for the church put pandemic "emergency" in scare-quotes, and said that religion was being treated as a "second-class right" by the state. "We cannot afford to let tyranny against religion rise in the guise of well-meaning governmental 'protections,'" wrote attorney Charles LiMandri of the Thomas More Society, representing the church.
Cordileone's latest protests came just days after Pope Francis himself wrote an opinion piece published by the New York Times that supports government restrictions on human activities. "Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals," he writes. "It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate."
Rather than support the freedom to hold indoor religious services, the pope himself wrote of being sick with a terrible case of influenza in his 20s, and he derides governments that "shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences."
Cordileone and his ilk clearly aren't listening to the pope, because as with so many people who seek to preach in the name of God, he's convinced he's important — indispensable even — and beyond reproach, and he's annoyed that houses of faith might not be, in the eyes of society, absolutely necessary right now when you don't need a physical church for prayer, or faith.