SAN FRANCISCO — Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco described as “blatant discrimination” a return by California to more severe COVID-19 restrictions that closed churches in two of the three counties that comprise the San Francisco Archdiocese.
On Nov. 29, the First Sunday of Advent, Catholic churches in San Francisco and San Mateo counties had to be closed by noon.
The two counties are among the 41 counties deemed to be in a “purple tier” by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in response to an “alarming surge” in COVID-19 cases. These counties account for 94% of the state’s population.
Every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its positive test rate. The purple tier is the most restrictive. With a curfew in place — and set to last until Dec. 21 — all nonessential activity is limited between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., including in-person dining.
On Nov. 28, San Francisco and San Mateo counties were added to the purple tier.
“After weeks of demonstrating we can celebrate the Mass safely, the state of California has put San Francisco and San Mateo counties into the purple tier, which bans indoor worship altogether,” Archbishop Cordileone said in a Nov. 28 statement.
“The order lumps religious worship with nonessential indoor activities such as gyms, movie theaters and museums,” he said. “At the same time, the health order allows for indoor retail at 25% capacity and permits massage parlors, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors to operate indoors.”
He added: “This is precisely the kind of blatant discrimination to which the Supreme Court gave injunctive relief in New York. The government is demoting worship to the same status as watching a movie: ‘nonessential.’ But worship is both a natural and a constitutional right. My people want to receive the body and blood of Christ; they need it, and have every right to be free to do so.”
Archbishop Cordileone was referring to the 5-4 ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court late Nov. 25 that lifted pandemic restrictions on congregation sizes at houses of worship imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues in separate filings appealed to the nation’s high court, claiming the governor’s executive order violated their free exercise of religion and was particularly unwarranted during a time when area businesses were open.
He added: “While the safety protocols of the archdiocese have served us well and we know of no cases of transmission of the virus as a result of in-person worship inside of our churches, I am also deeply sympathetic to public health concerns about a surge in COVID hospitalizations.”
Catholics in other parts of California and Oregon also protested capacity restrictions on Masses.
More than 400 demonstrators huddled outside the Oregon Capitol Nov. 28 to press against state coronavirus limits on church attendance and declare a deeper message: Stop marginalizing faith from public life.
“We will not surrender one more centimeter of religious freedom to any government,” said Father Theodore Lange, chaplain of the Oregon Knights of Columbus.
The Knights organized the rally after Gov. Kate Brown announced a 25-person limit in churches statewide. After protests from Archbishop Alexander K. Sample and other leaders, Brown on Nov. 25 expanded church attendance to 25% of capacity, or 100 people, whichever is less.