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San Francisco Cathedral to Stop Turning Sprinklers on Homeless in Its Doorways

St. Mary’s Cathedral SF

Beanbag Amerika-CC

Mark Stricherz - published on 03/19/15

Policy simply not Christian, critics say

The archdiocese of San Francisco is under fire for installing an outside sprinkler system at its new cathedral that doused homeless people lying and sleeping on doorways. In a statement, Auxiliary Bishop William Justice defended the archdiocese’s commitment to the homeless but apologized for implementing a system designed to discourage them from loitering and producing human waste:

St. Mary’s Cathedral is a huge part of that program, and does more than any other Catholic church. The Cathedral itself serves hundreds of homeless people giving them food and shelter, as an integral part of the San Francisco Interfaith Council’s efforts in that regard, for example, opening its doors for shelter and food for five weeks over the holidays.

This sprinkler system in alcoves near our back doorways was installed approximately two years ago, after learning from city resources that this kind of system was being commonly used in the Financial District, as a safety, security and cleanliness measure to avoid the situation where needles, feces and other dangerous items were regularly being left in these hidden doorways. The problem was particularly dangerous because students and elderly people regularly pass these locations on their way to school and mass every day.

When the system was installed, after other ideas were tried and failed, the people who were regularly sleeping in those doorways were informed in advance that the sprinklers were being installed. The idea was not to remove those persons, but to encourage them to relocate to other areas of the Cathedral, which are protected and safer.  The purpose was to make the Cathedral grounds as well as the homeless people who happen to be on those grounds safer.

The cathedral’s sprinkler system will start to be dismantled Wednesday, the auxiliary bishop said.

The controversy has been a skirmish in a larger battle between the archdiocese and the city’s progressives. Archbishop Cordileone has proposed three changes to the handbook for staff and teachers at the archdiocese’s four high schools that affirm Church teaching on sex and the sanctity of life. Cultural liberals oppose the changes and have hired a public-relations expert to criticize Cordileone or remove him from his post.

Did the archdiocese do the right thing by removing the sprinkler system? Yes, blogger Elizabeth Scalia said, but the rationale for the sprinklers recalled the sex-abuse scandal.

Among the many lessons that should have come from these dark revelations, one should have been: for the sake of the sheep with whom you’ve been entrusted, do not seek out pragmatic advice from the world, because everything that is worldly is also transient, and unsettled and variable. For the sake of the sheep, seek out wisdom from the gospels, first and foremost.

Or, to put it more succinctly, “For crying out loud, what would Jesus do? How would he address the problem without treating people like pesty rodents?”

I’m glad the Archdiocese recognizes that their efforts were “ill-conceived”, but if they would stop putting their trust in the princes of the world, and all of their dubious expertise and pragmatic-but-inhumane solutions, this unforced error would not now exist to be used against Cordileone.

The sprinklers “worked” in the financial district because they are precisely what we would expect of the financial district. They cannot “work” at a Cathedral, where we worship God, no mammon, and serve those created in his image.

The gospel should be our primary, not our secondary source of consideration when we deal with a problem, not the thing we think about sometime after we’ve been burned by relying on the “experts” of this world.

CatholicismPope FrancisPoverty
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