San Francisco Chronicle
1 Religion: Places of worship can reopen with restrictions as long as city hits markers.
Places of worship in San Francisco might be able to hold indoor services for up to 25 people, and 50 people outdoors, starting Oct. 1 if coronavirus cases aren’t surging.
That goal was announced Monday, two days before the head of Archdiocese of San Francisco wrote an opinion piece criticizing the city for “unfairly treating” religious institutions by not allowing indoor services — a move that he argued lacked compassion. He also said the new rules to allow indoor gathering will not accommodate enough people.
He has organized a march on Sunday in San Francisco to “Free the Mass.”
San Francisco is currently in the red tier, based on the state’s new colorcoded blueprint for allowing certain businesses and activities to resume. That tier allows indoor services with modifications, including a maximum 25% capacity or 100 people. But despite that guidance from the state, the city had chosen a more restrictive path and barred all indoor religious gatherings. Outdoor gatherings are allowed for up to 12 people.
Regardless of whether San Francisco moves to a less restrictive phase — the orange tier — places of worship can reopen to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors starting Oct. 1.
“The mayor is sensitive to the needs of the faith community and people’s desires and needs to worship, both personally and as mayor,”
said Jeff Cretan, a spokesman for Mayor London Breed. “We are working with public health to do what we can, knowing we have to be cognizant of the risks with every step we take with reopening, whether that is schools or houses of worship.”
On Wednesday, Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, called San Francisco’s restrictions on church services “profoundly harmful and unequal treatment” in a Washington Post opinion article. He said the city’s announcement that it would allow indoor service for up to 25 people doesn’t go far enough.
“Our fundamental rights do not come from the state. As the authors of our Declaration of Independence put it, they are ‘selfevident,’ that is, they come from God,” Cordileone wrote. “Even this injustice, though, is not as hurtful as the simple lack of compassion. I sometimes wonder whether the increasingly secular elites imposing these restrictions understand the pain they are unnecessarily inflicting.”
Cordileone added that “sacraments as we Catholics understand them cannot be livestreamed.”
In response to the archbishop’s statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said Friday that while she misses attending church regularly, she supports following expert recommendations on reopenings.
“With all due respect to my archbishop, I think we should follow science on this,” Pelosi said. “We have some areas of agreement and some areas of disagreement. So I don’t know if he was speaking as our pastor or as a lobbyist — advocate — but whatever it is, I’m sure that he must have meant if it is scientifically safe, rather than jeopardizing people’s health if they want to go to church.”
She also said she is sometimes asked about faith and science being contradictory.
“I believe that science is an answer to our prayers,” Pelosi said. “It is a creation of God and one that is an answer to our prayers.”
Other Catholic leaders echoed Cordileone and said they have proper safety protocols in place and should be allowed to reopen. Ken Del Ponte, the parish manager at St. Anne of the Sunset, said city officials simply don’t understand how essential religious services are.
“We can probably hold indoor Masses if we put a Walgreens sign on the church because people can go in there,” Del Ponte said. “It’s a little frustrating. San Francisco is a very secular city and it does seem like everything is essential except religion. I’m not saying (political leaders are) mean spirited or are targeting us, but I don’t think they get it.”
Cordileone said Catholic churches have developed “rigorous protocols” to protect public health and questioned why the public can go to parks, dine outdoors and visit malls at a reduced capacity.
Infectious disease experts say the comparison between retail and indoor services is flawed because the transmission of the virus relies on human behavior.
“It turns out that the behaviors that people have in stores and the behaviors that people have in places of worship are very different,” said Robert Siegel, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University. “They shouldn’t necessarily be compared. People in places of worship tend to be vocalizing more and vocalizing louder by singing. They tend to be in contact with each other for longer periods of time.”
Siegel added that the spread of the virus tracks behavior and not intention or beliefs.
John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley, said social distancing and masks can mitigate risks, but singing or speaking loudly can increase the risk.
“That is the danger of bringing people together in terms of any kind of religious gathering right now,” he said.
The city and the archdiocese have clashed during the pandemic.
In early July, the city sent the archdiocese a letter telling it to stop holding “multiple indoor large gatherings at its facilities,” in violation of the city’s health order prohibiting such assemblies.
Just days later, SS Peter and Paul’s Church in North Beach hosted a wedding, after which at least 10 people tested positive for the coronavirus, including the newlywed couple, two guests said. A city official crashed the wedding and ordered it to stop.
In August, city officials again reprimanded the archdiocese for violating coronavirus health orders.
That letter is the last formal correspondence between the archdiocese and the City Attorney’s Office.
Leaders of other religious places of worship said they aren’t as hardpressed to return to inperson activities.
Dan Ain, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco, said it’s been challenging to transfer all services online — especially with the start of Rosh Hashanah on Friday. But Ain said his priority is to keep the community safe because “preservation of life” is a key teaching in Judaism.
“We appreciate being led by the public authority and the administration,” Ain said. “I’m a rabbi, I couldn’t tell you much about the science, so I appreciate the experts.”