City attorney says Archdiocese of San Francisco is holding illegal gatherings, putting community at risk

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's city attorney is coming down hard on Catholic Churches that he says are gathering illegally indoors, without face coverings.

In a seven-page cease-and-desist letter, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the Archdiocese of San Francisco is "putting its parishioners and the larger community at risk of serious illness and death."

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The letter says despite calls between San Francisco Health Officer, Dr. Aragon, and Archbishop Cordileone, multiple churches have held indoor gatherings that "violate the health order" and fail to "follow common sense safety protocols."

Indoor gatherings are not currently permitted in San Francisco. Outside religious services and funerals are allowed with a 12-person limit.

Herrera's letter lists a number of complaints that were filed against churches, including St. Francis of Assisi and Saints Peter and Paul churches in North Beach, which reportedly held public masses in June.

An investigator from the City Attorney's Office says a priest without a mask held indoor masses at St. Mary of the Assumption in June.

The City Attorney's letter also points out a YouTube link of a mask-less Star of the Sea priest giving a sermon inside, and Father Jospeh Illo's blog post about a large outdoor gathering.

The letter says "most concerning is a photograph in the blog that shows a priest without a face covering and most parishioners without face coverings."

"Anything involving the holy mass, the priests and servers will not wear a mask," said Jerick Rea, who is training to be priest. ABC7 News met him after an indoor prayer service at Star of the Sea on Tuesday evening. He shared his thoughts on why many church leaders are not wearing masks.

"We consider the holy mass to be something special and sacred which shouldn't be tarnished by something that has a human concern, and part of it as well is that we're just being rational about it. None of us have experienced any symptoms," said Rea, who added, "I understand if people are dying left and right, but they're not."

As for the illegal gatherings, Rea said, "Tons of people can go to grocery stores, the mall, weed shops, and be over 12 people indoors. It's really insulting for practicing faithful people."

The city attorney gave the Archdiocese one day to comply or risk a temporary restraining order.

On Tuesday, an attorney for the Archdiocese of San Francisco sent a letter to the City Attorney's Office, saying they will comply with the health orders currently in effect.

The letter says in part, "The Archbishop has now notified his priests that the order limiting religious services to outdoors with no more than 12 people remains in force with appropriate social distancing and face coverings."


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