‘The Evil One Is at Work Here’: An Interview with Archbishop Cordileone

Editor’s note: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, in partnership with the Benedict XVI Institute, has launched a petition calling on lawmakers to lift “extreme restrictions on public worship.” His Excellency kindly granted Crisis Magazine an interview to discuss his efforts.

Do you see any connection between the Mass restrictions and the attacks on Catholic saints, particularly Junipero Serra and the Virgin Mary?

I don’t see any direct connection on the earthly plane. But the spiritual battle is always the real battle. I performed a minor exorcism at the site of the statue of St. Junípero Serra in Golden Gate Park because statues of holy saints are sacramentals; their destruction is a sacrilege. The Evil One is at work here.

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To take something as beautiful and holy as the face of Our Mother and desecrate it? What demons those poor, battered souls must be fighting. In the midst of all our troubles, to be deprived of the Eucharist is both a serious imposition on our rights as Americans and a serious spiritual deprivation.

Despite their acknowledgments to the contrary, I’m not sure the governing authorities here in San Francisco really realize the pain they are imposing on people. As Father Moises Agudo, pastor of the mostly-Latino Mission churches, told the National Catholic Register: “The Coronavirus has taken many things from my parishioners. The consolation of the Mass should not be one of these things.”

The civil authorities do have a legitimate interest in protecting the public health. I’ve made it very clear we are willing to partner with the city on ways to hold the Mass safely. The protocols we’ve developed to protect our own and our neighbors’ health work.

Will the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops be as proactive in opposing Mass restrictions as the Archdiocese of San Francisco has been? 

San Francisco has been an extreme outlier. California is one of only six states flagged by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty as imposing greater restrictions on worship than other similar activities. And San Francisco is the strictest county in the state, far more restrictive even than the state-wide regulations issued by Sacramento. San Francisco has limited outdoor Mass to only 12 people (including the priest), regardless of the available space, for months (although the mayor now says she may allow up to 50 people for outdoor gatherings by mid-September, but even that is an arbitrary number, and too small to accommodate the need in most of our parishes). We have parishes in San Francisco that occupy whole city blocks. The Cathedral of St. Mary’s could accommodate a thousand people, inside or outside, with proper social distancing and masks. Each bishop in each city and state is dealing with a different situation, health-wise and government-wise. This seems to me to be the proper job for the bishop, not for the USCCB.

In addition to signing the Benedict XVI Institute’s petition, what can lay Catholics do to help remove needless restrictions on Mass attendance? 

Pray. Fast. Say the rosary. One thing that heartened me: the idea of doing multiple Masses outdoors simultaneously was the brainchild of a priest from Kenya now working in San Francisco. He said they do all their Masses out of doors, because they are too poor to own buildings. If your bishop or local civil authorities are not allowing indoor Masses, you might take it to your priest and see if outdoor Masses could be permitted. People need the Body and Blood of Christ.

What should lay Catholics do to maintain good spiritual health while they are unable to assist at the Holy Sacrifice and receive the Eucharist?

This is challenging and troubling for me as the spiritual father for hundreds of thousands of Catholics. Again: pray, fast, say the rosary. Focus on living your Catholic faith in the home, with your family, praying the rosary as a family, reflecting together on the Scripture readings for Sunday Mass, watching good Catholic programming together. Reach out to help your neighbors. Let your priests know you care about them. And if you must attend Mass via livestream, don’t just “watch” the Mass: worship.

To support Archbishop Cordileone and sign the Benedict XVI Institute’s petition, click here.


  • Michael Warren Davis

    Michael Warren Davis is a contributing editor of The American Conservative and the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021). He previously served as editor of Crisis Magazine and U.S. editor of the Catholic Herald of London. His next book, After Christendom, will be published by Sophia Institute Press. Follow his Substack newsletter, The Common Man.

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