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SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone thanked priests of the archdiocese in a July 30 letter for their "continued pastoral care" to their people and reminded them to continue their care "always keeping with the local health orders of your county."
He also asked his priests "to do everything possible to make Mass available to your people."
"Given the limits on numbers that have been imposed on us, I am asking each priest -- except for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions -- to be willing to celebrate up to three Masses on a Sunday, as necessary to respond to the demand," the archbishops said.
Currently 37 of California's state's 58 counties are on the state's coronavirus monitoring list, including the city and county of San Francisco and Marin and San Mateo counties -- the jurisdictions that make up the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
In San Francisco, outside religious services and funerals are allowed with a 12-person limit but indoor gatherings are not currently permitted. Indoor Sunday religious services also are banned at all San Mateo County churches.
In Marin County all houses of worship are closed for indoor services. Small outdoor "social" gatherings of up to 12 people are allowed, but news reports said local officials are allowing protests of up to 100 people.
Like Catholic dioceses across the country, many parishes in the San Francisco Archdiocese continue to livestream Masses, since public celebration of the Mass remains generally unavailable.
"For over four months now we have been deprived of the usual way in which we Catholics keep holy the Sabbath," the archbishop said. "As a sacramental church, it is in our nature, indeed it is our very identity, to physically gather together to worship and share in the Eucharist. I'm sure that you, just as I, are very concerned about the long-term effects this will have on our people's spiritual health."
He also said in recent weeks he has been given all kinds of advice as to what to do to fight the crowd limits, and he said "rapidly changing" orders also have led to confusion.
"All throughout these conversations," Archbishop Cordileone said, "I have spoken of how we want to be partners with the city in caring for our people -- not just for their physical and financial health, but mental and spiritual health as well -- emphasizing, too, the many different ways in which we have been supporting our local government in the effort to stem the spread of the virus and come to the aid of those in need."
He said confusion over state and local dictates about COVID-19 prevention led to a June 29 "cease and desist order" from City Attorney Dennis Herrera. He threatened the archdiocese with big fines after hearing reports that some Catholic churches were apparently operating "in defiance" of the city’s public health protocols including requirements for face coverings and physical distancing.
“The archdiocese remains steadfast in protecting the health of its congregants and all San Franciscans” by following health and safety protocols, archdiocesan general counsel Paula Carney wrote Herrera.
Archbishop Cordileone said in his July 30 letter to priests that city officials have argued allowing certain capacity in retail outlets -- which was has been as much as 50% -- is safer than allowing indoor worship services because shoppers go into a store, make a purchase and leave, rather than stay in the store for an extended period of time, unlike worshippers who remain inside a church for the length of a service.
But the archbishop said he has argued that "a church can be a much safer place than a retail store, because it is a more controlled environment: The people are stationary; we can ensure social distancing; we can ensure that people are wearing face coverings; we can keep the doors open to allow air flow; we can sanitize high touch areas between services."
"With regard to outdoor services, you are all well aware that pre-planned and scheduled street protests have been allowed to continue unhindered," Archbishop Cordileone said, "while the limit of no more than 12 people still applies to everyone else, including us."
"Yet here again," he added, "an outdoor worship service is a much safer event than a protest, since the people are stationary, social distance is respected and the participants are wearing masks."
"Unfortunately, despite all of these efforts and explanations, and despite hearing words of approval for our archdiocesan safety plan that was submitted to the city's Recovery Task Force, there has been no change in the health order in San Francisco," Archbishop Cordileone said.
On a more positive note, he said, he wanted Catholics to pray for two men he was ordaining Aug. 1, Fathers Ben Rosado and Ian El-Quito, and for the men who will be ordained transitional deacons Aug. 8 and those who being ordained permanent deacons Aug. 15.
He also asked Catholics of the archdiocese "to storm heaven with prayer and fasting for a restoration of public worship unhindered, for a swift end to this pandemic, for health care workers and researchers, and for government officials who must make very complicated decisions for the overall well-being of our communities."
Across the country in Kentucky, as cases of COVID-19 in the state rose, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in a July 25 letter to his priests said parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville would continue holding Masses at reduced capacity and he asked pastors to "double down on issues such as social distancing and mask-wearing."
He also offered a reminder that he has issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
In July, Gov. Andy Beshear urged Kentuckians to avoid large gatherings, and in recent consultation with the Kentucky Council of Churches, the governor suggested churches take a two-Sunday pause in holding in-person worship.
"The Catholic bishops of the commonwealth of Kentucky discussed this request late this week and decided not to ask parishes to suspend worship because of the very good job Catholic parishes have been doing with what has been asked of us, e.g. social distancing, mask-wearing, hygiene, cleaning, etc. and because of possible confusion on the part of the faithful," Archbishop Kurtz told priests.
He said the Catholic bishops sent a letter summarizing their thoughts tothe Rev. Kent Gilbert, president of the board of the Kentucky Council of Churches, and copied Rocky Adkins, senior adviser to Beshear. In it the bishops said they recommit to safety and health protocols "and will especially emphasize mask-wearing as an important factor in being able to safely gather for worship during the pandemic."
"In the vast majority of our parishes," they said, "prudent caution on the part of our people has kept our crowd sizes well within the capacity guidelines. Given the rising number of cases, attendance may decline further."
"At this time, we will not be suspending the public celebration of Mass, but we will continue to monitor the situation," they added. "We look forward to continuing dialogue on this and other measures in the weeks ahead as we navigate the weeks and months to come."