An “Oh my people!” moment

An “Oh my people!” moment March 20, 2015

An African-American colleague of mine will occasionally recount a story of another black person doing or saying something particularly stupid and then shake his head and sigh, “Oh my people!”  This seems to be a common expression among at least some segments of the African-American community:  a good example can be found here.  I find it an interesting expression, since it combines both disappointment and solidarity in equal measure:  one can be critical without disowning your fellows.

Right now I am having a Catholic version of an “Oh my people!” moment. It’s not my first and I am sure it won’t be my last, but it is still pretty painful.   News reports appeared this week that the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of San Francisco was having a problem with homeless people sleeping in their doorway alcoves.  Their solution, implemented about two years ago, was to install a sprinkler system in each alcove that sends down a jet of water every thirty to sixty minutes through the night.   Homeless people who are unaware of the system find themselves and their belongings drenched.  A spokesman for the archdiocese initially defended the system, say, “We do the best we can, and supporting the dignity of each person. But there is only so much you can do.

However, after a fair bit of hue and outcry the Archdiocese backtracked and announced that it was turning off the sprinklers.  In a defensive statement to the media they explained that the system was installed as a safety and sanitation feature to keep the alcoves clean, and was not intended to drive the homeless away.  They conceded that in hindsight it was “ill-conceived.”  They gave no indication as to what they were going to do now to deal with homeless men and women who attempt to sleep in their doorways.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the frustration that the staff at the Cathedral felt:  cleaning up cigarette butts, needles, condoms and human excrement on a regular basis must be a miserable experience.  And, as the original article notes, they did not think of this idea themselves:  apparently many buildings in the San Francisco financial district use the same system.  So it is fair to ask why no one is criticizing these people as well.    Further, my experience in the Bay Area twenty years ago made me cynical about expressions of concern for the poor and homeless:  the degree of sympathy evinced was inversely proportional to how closely involved the person was with the problem.   (Also, note in the press report that some people seemed as concerned by the fact that the sprinkler system was wasting water during a drought as they were by its affect on the homeless.)

Nevertheless, in the end all I can do is shake my head and ask, “what were you thinking?”   Or rather, not thinking:  it is pretty clear that no one thought this one through in terms of Catholic teaching on human dignity and care for the poor.  Indeed, one thing that makes the archdiocesan statement so painful to me  is that it starts out by carefully explaining how much good the Archdiocese does for the homeless in San Francisco.   This is true, but really beside the point:  was matters at this point is not how you cared for the homeless in aggregate, but how you treated these particular individuals.   Also, as I was wont to say when my own archbishop used to boast that the Catholic Church in Connecticut “was the second largest provider of social services in the state”:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)

The situation is made worse by the fact that it is in marked contrast to the example set by Pope Francis, who has dealt with the homeless around the Vatican by sending out his almoner nightly, installing showers in Bernini’s Colonnade outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, and recruiting Roman barbers to provide free haircuts every Monday (their traditional day off).   And as he said in Evangelii Gaudium,

If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.  (EG 48, emphasis added.)

As the old cliche goes, it seems that no one in San Francisco got the memo.

The media coverage is made worse because Archbishop Cordileone is currently battling with the teachers in his parochial schools about revisions to their contract that spell out, in detail, the morality clauses which are grounds for termination.    Since most of these clauses involve Church teaching on sexuality, and San Francisco is one of the more sex obsessed cities in the US, there has been a great deal public opposition and outrage.  Indeed, some sources are arguing that the sprinkler story is part of a concerted attack against the archbishop:  see here and here.  But the fact remains that this happened in his Archdiocese, in his own Cathedral.  As blogger Elizabeth Scalia very trenchantly put it:  “Here’s the thing, though. The story would not exist to be used against the diocese, if the sprinkler system didn’t exist, either.”   In fairness, the Archbishop was probably not responsible for the sprinkler system, and indeed he may not have known about it—responsibility probably lies with the Cathedral rector, auxiliary Bishop Justice. But as my father used to say: this makes no difference. Cordileone has to take ownership of the bad and the good that happens under him.

For what it is worth:  I am of mixed minds about what Cordileone is doing with regards to these morality clauses. On the one hand, Catholic teaching on these matters is important, and one would hope that teachers in Catholic schools either support it or are muted in their dissent.  (“Don’t ask, don’t tell,”  or good old-fashioned discretion by all involved seems to be one solution to many of these problems.)  On the other hand, I am not sure that this is the best way to uphold Church teaching or to proclaim it effectively.  In the past I have blogged critically here and here about terminating Catholic school employees who violated morality clauses.   And there does seem to be an element of legal maneuvering here:  I suspect that Archdiocesan lawyers have told him that the “best” approach to this matter is to lay out detailed guidelines in the contracts and policy guidelines for parochial school teachers.   (As Scalia notes in the post linked to above, the Church should always be cautious in taking “worldly” advice—look at the mess this got us into in the sex abuse scandal.)

Let me close on a more positive note with a suggestion for what the Cathedral should do now.  Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. faced a similar problem.  Their solution was both similar and different to what was done in San Francisco.

It took us hours to arrive at a decision, but we did… no one would be allowed to stay on the porches [of the church] or use the grounds for storage. We would hire security to help us enforce this decision. And here is what made our decision different: We would meet weekly with anyone who had lived on the porches to help them make the transition.

The good news was that the church has resources to support the changes we were imagining. If anyone wanted to go home, we had the money to buy a bus ticket. If folks needed something, we would do what we could to provide them with it.

So every Tuesday at 7 a.m., a small group of us met with our homeless neighbors for breakfast and discussion. We talked about what it would take to find permanent housing and kept track of commitments.

Let us pray that our brothers and sisters in San Francisco will find a way to keep their Cathedral, all all their churches, clean and safe, while still being welcoming and reaching out to the poor among them.

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  • Scalia is absolutely right that without the problem, the pr firm would have nothing to work with. At the same time, as someone who works for a diocese, I know something about how dioceses run. They are very loose organizations, and bishops actually have very little control over the vast majority of decisions (though presumably a bit more where the cathedral is involved). We depend on variously qualified volunteers of good will to do the vast majority of things that get done day to day. I guess my basic point is that any diocese in America would have all kinds of fodder for a pr hitman, it someone felt the need to hire one.

    I don’t think the sprinkler system was a good idea. And the apologies were certainly awkward (but I know a bit about how communications can work in a crisis in a diocese too!). And maybe there is a small blessing in having the spotlight shone even by a pr firm whose first goal has nothing to do with advocating for the poor. All who love truth come to the light . . .

    In the end, I expect more and more news like this to come out of San Francisco. And in the end we’ll see what Cordileone is made of. For the moment, he has my sympathy and my prayers. I have a feeling this is going to get uglier.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Brett, thanks for sharing your perspective from within a Chancery. Your points are well taken: I have watched my own institution (a small liberal arts college) fumble around in very similar ways when confronted with like situations. And I agree completely that in this case Archbishop Cordileone probably had very little to do with the actual decision: as I noted, it was probably his rector, or perhaps the previous one, who approved the installation of the sprinkler system.

    But one of the burdens of leadership in a hierarchical institution is that you have to take responsibility for the actions of your subordinates. I think the point Pope Francis has been trying to drive home by word and deed is that all of us, from Pope to Bishops to priests to the folks in the pews, have a positive responsibility to ask if what we are doing is in conformity with the Gospel. And his particular message for his brother bishops is that they need to get out into the trenches and make sure that this happens among their own flocks.

    I don’t think Cordileone should punish anyone for this. Rather, I think he needs to sit down with his senior staff and have them critically examine their ways of doing business to see if there are other, overlooked ways in which they are falling short with respect to their duties to the poor, the marginalized and the outcast. This is both the right thing to do and something that will deprive his enemies of further ammunition for tarring him and the Church.

    • Agreed. Which I why I think that this pressure is going to really show us what he’s made of. And why he needs our prayers.

  • I had a bad day at our local soup kitchen today and this post really resonates with me. Truly this is a ‘wishy washy’ Cathedral when it comes to gospel testimony. Where is the love of the poor? There really is this prejudice of classifying the poor into good and bad. The ‘good poor’ are supposedly suffering through no fault of their own…the romanticized poor…someone who caught a bad break. The ‘bad poor’ are the misfits, the dysfunctional crowd, the lazy, the drug using moral failure: the dregs of society.

    It’s becoming more and more clear to me as I continue this ‘soup kitchen ministry’ that there is a lot of conversion and ‘faith formation’ that is needed among some staff and volunteers. Pope Francis is entirely correct when he admonishes us as a Church, that it’s not only the poor who need us…but that we very much need them. This is the perfect post for Lent. Pray that ‘the bitter becomes the sweet’ as St. Francis discovered.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Amen! Thank you for sharing this observation Tausign. I would not call the Cathedral wishy-washy, however. They really do do good things and the Bay Area would be a lot worse off without them. But they have blind spots, as do we all. It is much easier to love the virtuous poor than the reality of the poor. I think it was Dostoyevsky who wrote about revolutionaries who loved mankind, but in the end hated people as individuals.

  • Agellius

    Are you saying that the archdiocese has a duty to the poor to let them sleep in cathedral doorways?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      No, the Church does not have to let them sleep in their doorways. In fact, ignoring them while they sleep in the Church doorways would seem to put them in the same boat as the Rich man in the story of Dives and Lazarus. The church has a moral obligation to respond to the suffering face of Christ presented to them in the poor men and women who are sleeping in their doorways. This is not charity, but justice.

      • “Depart from me, you evil doers, for I was sleeping in a doorway, and turned the sprinkler system on me.”

      • This decision seems very similar to the kind of decision that a secular organization would make. That is what makes me shake my head a bit.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          We are supposed to be in but not of the world. Unfortunately, we all too often get caught up in the ways of the world. I do it myself all too often.

      • Agellius

        “No, the Church does not have to let them sleep in their doorways.”

        Then how should the Cathedral prevent them from sleeping in doorways, which would not meet with the same criticism as that of the sprinklers? Having them rousted out by security guards?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Well, it could talk to them and ask them to move on or to relocate to a more appropriate place on their property or direct them to a shelter down the street. It could work with them to eliminate the need to sleep in their doorways. (See the link at the end of the original post.) And, in the end, it could use security guards to roust them out, but I would make damn sure that the guards treated them with restraint and respect.

          Thinking about this I recall a story from 30 years ago, when the corner next to the rectory of the Dominican Church in Portland became a gathering spot or prostitutes. The friars nights were being disturbed by the late night business. The prior solved the problem not by calling the cops, but by going out at midnight in his habit to talk to the women. He explained his complaint and they worked out a solution where they moved their business to another corner. It also opened up some lines of communication—I moved before I heard more, but one can hope that this led to some of these women getting the support they need to get out of prostitution.

          At the end of the day, using sprinklers is dehumanizing and I do not think it can be justified.

  • Ronald King

    This life on this planet seems to be purgatory in the sense that anything we do or think which is not motivated by love will be exposed and hopefully purged from thoughts and behaviors.

  • trellis smith

    A little water never hurt anyone.There is an aspect of poverty that defies the romanticism of Christian charity. The poverty encountered near the cathedral descending down to the tenderloin is ugly. The expressions of mental illnesses are fearsome, the loitering is menacing, and immigrant children traverse streets with addicts constantly shooting up and where petty crime abounds. You only find the church here,( you’ll be happy to know David , the Franciscans predominate) the police are pretty much absent. The practical measures such as sprinklers used to keep doorways accessible to wash away the urine, feces and litter is common and for a place derisively called the Maytag cathedral almost expected. In San Francisco this news item was laughable, just a half ass attempt to ridicule the cathedral whose sheltering eaves encircle it and offer dry spaces for those requiring its protection.

    While the church in San Francisco is far from perfect and whose existence seems at times to be but for the salvation of its pitiable bishop, in conjunction with the Christian churches good things are accomplished as Catholics in solidarity with the poor, the criminal and the insane, recognize that before God we are all beggars.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “A little water never hurt anyone.There is an aspect of poverty that defies the romanticism of Christian charity.”

      Actually meeting and working with poor people cured me of romantic notions about the poor 20+ years ago. They often smell bad, are cranky and resolutely refuse to be “grateful” to the middle class who deign to help them. As for your assertion that a little water never hurt anyone: I can only hope that you are trying to be funny.

      • trellis smith

        It wasn’t exactly water cannons. one would probably get wetter from the miserable fog here. The news article is seen by most San Franciscans as it is – a veiled attack on the church, as well as the overblown, hypocritical overreaction that followed. Matier &Ross and former Mayor Brown were admirable in their defense of the cathedral who each pointed out the complexity of homelessness that the city faces on a daily basis. Only 2 police officers to handle 600 daily complaints regarding the homeless, so nothing gets done and will ever be resolved.
        If one thinks a security officer would fare better in convincing someone to move with more compassion than confrontation than a gentle rain, I’d encourage one to think again.
        I have never doubted that Franciscans have anything but realism and hope in their service to the poor and homeless but one should never doubt that San Franciscans as a whole are in my experience more tolerant, supportive of the homeless and cognizant of the problems engendered than folks of any other American city.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          “San Franciscans as a whole are in my experience more tolerant, supportive of the homeless and cognizant of the problems engendered than folks of any other American city”

          I won’t gainsay you, but I will add that if this is the case, then things have changed considerably in the two decades since I left the Bay Area.

    • Commoner

      Have you ever cleaned up a lot of human poop? I have. That stuff sticks (unless it is very watery diarrhea). Any sprinklers designed to actually wash it away will need to have some serious pressure behind them. Otherwise, they are just going to make the poop problem even nastier, as it will loosen it up a bit and cause nastiness and bacteria to form into puddles and a nice slimy surface. Not something I want to go anywhere near, thanks.

      For washing human poop away, you really need a hose with pressure, not a gentle shower or a foggy mist. Yuck.

  • Alexandra

    We have a systemic problem in our country. We have people who need to sleep in doorways, here, in a country where there is so much wealth and where many are fighting to enable the wealthy to hold tight to as much of that wealth as possible.
    It seems to me that installing sprinkler systems like that not only ignores the needs of those who are homeless and harms them, but it also punishes them for being homeless. It’s bad enough when this is done by entities in the financial district, but absolutely terrible when done by the Church.

  • The context and local reaction that Trellis Smith provides above is helpful and insightful. But this attention reveals a ‘gospel blind spot’ in the Church’s approach to this matter (which they have gracefully repented).

    If they allowed the matter to remain and ‘stink to high heaven’ that surely would have caused consternation and perhaps more alienation of the poor. Should they truck it to the steps of city hall?…perhaps. But all of this is doomed because the ‘problem of the poor’ is misdiagnosed.

    The city (all communities) is looking to present itself as clean, appealing and successful. These technical solutions of automated wash downs are at best, insensitive and sometimes dehumanizing. It’s also an anesthetic for the larger community which can’t come to terms with this ‘problem’. Surely, we must all sense on some level that ‘the poor will always be with us’ as Christ noted. This is not a license to absent ourselves from this issue. But it is a recognition that Christ is imaged in these brothers and sisters and that they play a role in our salvation.

    This is why David is right to point out Pope Francis’ approach to the homeless by providing a facility that is useful to them even though it might subtract from the Vatican GDP. It is both highly practical and highly symbolic. Papa Francis has made it clear that ‘the poor’ are here to stay and they are not ‘our problem’, they are our salvation.

  • Agellius

    “Well, it could talk to them and ask them to move on or to relocate to a more appropriate place on their property or direct them to a shelter down the street. It could work with them to eliminate the need to sleep in their doorways. (See the link at the end of the original post.) And, in the end, it could use security guards to roust them out, but I would make damn sure that the guards treated them with restraint and respect.”

    Yes, it can “direct them to shelters down the street”, but if they prefer sleeping in the doorway, what then? Of course guards should treat people with restraint and respect, but what if the people simply refused to move? Could brute force ever be justified? Could it reach a point where it’s better to just turn on the sprinklers?

    According to the diocese’s statement, it already is “the largest supporter of services for the homeless in San Francisco”, so unless they’re lying, they’re already working with people “to eliminate the need to sleep in their doorway”.

    • trellis smith

      Thank you Agellius, this has been my point all along, it is indeed a compassionate response and gentlest use of policing force. The gentle rain keeps the doorways cleared and as a prophylactic to ward off greater hygiene problems. Already the cathedral is being encouraged to turn the sprinklers back on for these very reasons.
      Even 2 decades ago, if San Francisco wanted to cure its homeless problems it could have torn down the Tenderloin. The poorest San Franciscans live on some of the most expensive property in the world, and the city protects them and the single room occupancy hotels and shelters they inhabit. And Sara Miles( “Take this Bread” ) has institutionalized the food pantries throughout the city, and St. Boniface and Glide memorial are world renown in their services to the poor and the integration of the poor with more fortunate San Franciscans.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        “Even 2 decades ago, if San Francisco wanted to cure its homeless problems it could have torn down the Tenderloin.”

        Tearing down and gentrifying the neighborhood where the poor live does not solve homelessness. It merely shuffles them off to the side and lets everyone try to pretend they do not exist. More than shelters and food pantries are needed to deal with the homeless, particularly since the traditional image of the homeless—men, usually with drug, alcohol or mental health problems who live permanently on the streets—are only one part of the homeless population. But shelters and food pantries are an essential part of the solution.

        • trellis smith

          “Tearing down and gentrifying the neighborhood where the poor live does not solve homelessness. It merely shuffles them off to the side and lets everyone try to pretend they do not exist” Well that was my point and San Francisco has resisted that solution over 2 decades. But it does beg the question whether the concentration of poverty, addiction and mental illness in the ghetto of the Tenderloin accomplishes that same goal of pretense.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Agellius I am sure that the Diocese already does a great deal for the homeless. My point is that this cannot be used as an excuse for mistreating or neglecting the homeless in other situations.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Okay, let’s be clear on what is happening. This is not a “sprinkler” in the sense of a garden sprinkler, shower head or “gentle rain”. It is a single jet of water that lasts for about a minute and falls a distance of 20+ feet. It’s cleaning abilities are limited (see Commoner’s comment above) and anyone under it will get drenched. Comparing it to being out in the fog (even SF’s dense fog) is not an apt comparison. To see it in action, go to

    there is a short video is at the end of the article.

    It does boggle me, Trellis, that you regard this as this as a “compassionate response.” And Agellius, this seems to be your point as well: is it? Let me be perfectly clear about my position: homelessness is a complicated problem and often there are few or no good solutions. But turning a hose (even an automatic one) on homeless people is an unacceptable solution, particularly on a Church that must be “a poor church for the poor” if it is to be faithful to the Gospel.

    • Alexandra

      You’re absolutely right, David, when you say that homelessness is a complicated problem. For some reason, we, Americans (and maybe we, humans — I don’t know) like social problems to be resolved quickly and easily — a bit like in sitcoms. When our simplistic solutions don’t work, we blame the homeless, or the poor, or the addicts, or the ….. — just not ourselves for refusing to take the time and effort and money to find the complex solutions to complex problems.

    • trellis smith

      “A poor church for the poor” is the socialist calamity, as much as a rich church for the rich. would be a capitalistic disaster. I would much prefer a rich church for the poor as that might actually have the means to accomplish something.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        I disagree, strongly. A rich church is almost always a church that cares more for its riches than for the people it is called to serve. Here I stand with Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. As Peter wrote in one of his Easy Essays:

        The world would be better off
        if people tried
        to become better,

        And people would
        become better
        if they stopped trying
        to be better off.

        For when everyone tries
        to become better off
        nobody is better off.

        But when everyone tries
        to become better
        everyone is better off.

        Everybody would be rich
        if nobody tried
        to become richer.

        And nobody would be poor
        if everybody tried
        to be the poorest

        And everybody would be
        what he ought to be
        if everybody tried to be
        what he wants
        the other fellow to be.

        • trellis smith

          Thank you for your responses David I depend on you to strongly disagree however you actually agree with me that you don’t want a rich church for the rich. Switching places may make for great insight between prince and pauper but doesn’t change the world except in that it changes poles. I have always admired this insight of Mr. Maurin. I believe he said that he always knew he would be in the soup line either serving or being served.

  • Ronald King

    The bishop needs to go to the church and spend a night with the people asking them what the church can do for them since they have been showing up at the doorstep for shelter. The criticism the church has received is warranted because in the light of day the church has not loved as Christ wants us to love one another. The bishop sets the expectations for how to express the faith for the entire diocese, he needs to go into the trenches and relate directly to those who come to his doorstep.

  • What are some of the distracting elements in this story? Public relations attacks by Oil enriched lawyers, on the Church and Bishop, for ‘morality clauses’ in teachers contracts. A side story of LGBT rights and resistance. A Cathedral thwarting zoning issues and wasting precious water. Media optics and sound bites that are conniving and devastating. A never ending debate on how to handle ‘the homeless problem’.

    Is this a soap opera? I can easily imagine Pope Francis lamenting…’Who hears the cry of the poor’?. David, I would beg you to offer a post containing 5 simple paragraphs from Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel) and set it up for reflection. Paragraphs 197-201: ‘The Special Place of the Poor in God’s People.’

  • Agellius


    You write, “It does boggle me, Trellis, that you regard this as this as a ‘compassionate response.’ And Agellius, this seems to be your point as well: is it?”

    I’m not sure what you mean by a “compassionate response”. Response to what?

    My point is this:

    That there is no necessary incompatibility between wanting to prevent people from sleeping in cathedral doorways, and helping the poor who need and want help. And if we grant that the Cathedral has the right to prevent people from sleeping in doorways, then I’m not convinced that spraying the doorways with sprinklers is the worst way of accomplishing that.

    Apparently the sprinklers come on every 30-60 minutes throughout the day. Also “There is no drainage system. The water pools on the steps and sidewalks.” [ ] This is what is known in legal parlance as an open and obvious hazard []. Anyone of minimal intelligence should be able to figure out, even without signs, that a puddle-soaked doorway is not going to be a comfortable place to lay down his belongings and go to sleep.

    The only alternatives that I can think of are fencing off the entire building, or at least the doorway alcoves; or having security guards patrol the area day and night, poking and prodding people to move on. It’s hard to believe that either solution would meet with less criticism than the sprinkler system. Which leads me to believe that either (a) people (but not you) just want to criticize the cathedral or anything associated with the Archbishop; or (b) people think the homeless DO have a right to sleep in the cathedral doorways, and the cathedral has no right to prevent it. Since you and I agree that (b) is false, I’m inclined to believe (a).

    If the sprinkler system has been in place for two years [], why has there been no criticism of it until recently? And if this is a common practice in the Financial District, and already was, well before it was adopted by the cathedral, why is the media criticism directed solely at the cathedral? To me this smacks of hypocrisy. (I don’t mean that you’re a hypocrite, I take your words at face value; I’m referring to the recent media “outrage”.)

    As for you personally, I feel that you and some of the other commenters might be exhibiting the liberal/progressive tendency to make a god of compassion, and sacrifice all other considerations at its altar. Thus, anything causing discomfort or embarrassment to the homeless must be intrinsically evil, and inexcusable on any grounds. Whatever happened to taking a nuanced approach, one allowing for grey areas?

    • Ronald King

      Agellius, Are you angry?

      • trellis smith

        I find Agellius’ argumentation rather dispassionate, are you sure you aren’t projecting in your condescension?

        • Ronald King

          “As for you personally, I feel that you and some of the other commenters might be exhibiting the liberal/progressive tendency to make a god of compassion, and sacrifice all other considerations at its altar. Thus, anything causing discomfort or embarrassment to the homeless must be intrinsically evil, and inexcusable on any grounds.”
          Trellis, I do not know what you understand about emotions and the influence they have on thinking and acting so your statement about his comment being “rather dispassionate” is confusing. How is a person “rather dispassionate”? And how am I condescending? At this point I am irritated with you because I cannot look you in the eye to speak with you. I do much better speaking than I do writing.

      • Agellius


        No. You?

        • Ronald King

          Agellius, I asked the question because of the comment I quoted above. I am angry with the insensitivity and lack of responsible leadership in this case. Rather than being defensive and attacking the secular authorities for their failures, the Church needs to admit its mistake and be an example of humility and emotional maturity when confronted with the shame of its mistakes.

    • trellis smith

      Right you are Agellius, The actual good that has come from the maligning of the cathedral is that the blowback is now on the “progressive” elements of the city government who are proving not too adept in solving homelessness and its adverse effects. One can hardly fault the idealism of the progressive agenda who see a world as it should be but the practical implementation of difficult decisions lies with the adults dealing with a world that is.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Agellius, as for making a God of compassion, I am just trying to live out what Jesus said: “love one another, as I have loved you.” My model in doing so is St. Francis of Assisi, who was not big into grey areas, nuance, or quoting legal definitions. Yes, we can forbid the poor to sleep in the doorways of the Church, but we do not have the right to hose them down to get rid of them. And if they continue to try to sleep there, then I would take this as a sign (perhaps even “A SIGN”) that more needs to be done.

      So yes, maybe this story is being broken by hypocrites who are more interested in scoring points on the Archbishop than in dealing with the homeless. But that does not change the fact that we, as Catholics, have to take ownership of what was being done, and it is not something I think our Church should be doing.

  • I’ve decided to look more into the circumstances surrounding this story. As I suspected this really is a story of displacement of people and the rapid influx of massive tech wealth that is causing so much disruption in real estate and housing. Here’s a snippet from a follow-up story to last week’s Cathedral drama…which apparently brought this to a issue to a head.

    The homeless have said they get harassed constantly waking them up to a ticket in the morning for the sit/lie violation. Matier says part of the problem is that the city is exploding and places where the homeless could more or less hide, are becoming populated. “Take a look around San Francisco, there used to be Mission Bay; those were all tracks down there. There was an empty rail yard. If the homeless wanted to set up a camp down there, nobody paid them any mind. Now that’s some of the hottest real estate; high rises, hospitals, ballparks. South of Market…same thing, the warehouse district now high rises. What’s happening is more and more homeless are out on your streets, out on your doorstep and they’re a heck of a lot more visible than they were before.”


    Now I ask you, is it more shameful or laughable to give a homeless person a ticket for sitting or lying down?

    Oh, and for a slightly different perspective try this link:

    • Agellius

      I give credit to the San Francisco Chronicle for this:

      “But once you start noticing anti-homeless design, you can’t stop seeing it. It’s everywhere, and for the most part San Francisco has accepted it with open arms. San Franciscans don’t want the homeless — with their smells and their ranting and their terrifying poverty — anywhere near their jobs or homes or coffee shops.

      * * *

      “No one has any problem with any of this, judging by their silence. Of course, that’s my point: San Franciscans don’t have any business condemning the archdiocese for its antisocial action against the homeless until we get a grip on our own.”

      Caille Miller, “S.F. loves anti-homeless design; just look around”, San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2015

      • Alexandra

        But the financial district is at lest clear in its lack of caring for anyone who is not making tons of money (yes, I know, I am exaggerating). The institutional Church, on the other hand, holds itself out as a moral beacon. When it’s behavior is at odds with the image, people are certainly right to point out the lack of clothing on the emperor.

  • Agellius


    “The institutional Church, on the other hand, holds itself out as a moral beacon. When it’s behavior is at odds with the image, people are certainly right to point out the lack of clothing on the emperor.”

    If people are genuinely appalled by the idea of installing sprinklers to deter the homeless from sleeping on your property, then they should be appalled no matter who does it. The fact that they only acted appalled when the Church did it, shows that they’re more concerned with calling “gotcha!” on the Church then they are about homeless people getting wet.

    I would agree that Catholics have every right and duty to call out the Church on its hypocrisy, even if they don’t call out secular businesses, which is why I don’t accuse David or anyone else here of hypocrisy in that regard. It’s only the secular media who are acting hypocritical in my view, and the S.F. Chronicle article quote above, to its credit agrees with me.

    • Alexandra

      Catholics are not in sole possession of the Truth. Anyone has a right to to call out the Church on its hypocrisy.
      The institutional Church may do a lot of good in many situations, but that does not give it a free pass to do harm.

  • trellis smith

    Once again from the peanut gallery Ageillus, I applaud your discernment of what is actually going on. I would defend San Franciscans a lot more than the Chronicle does but I certainly know of no other American city dweller faced with the same level and intensity of homelessness (other then New Yorkers) that can cast any stones, most certainly not at the cathedral who is at the forefront in aiding the poor.

    There is not really a homelessness problem in San Francisco as properly defined, a true shortage of shelters for the down and out is non existent. Those sleeping in the cathedral doorways more often than not, refuse all shelter assistance. Instead of shelters perhaps the city needs asylums as the problem is one of intractable addictions and mental illnesses but that has not proved an enduring solution. Whatever is done there is a profound realization if not despair that we are either hopelessly enabling or needlessly punishing what is essentially rooted in illness.

    • Agellius


      Thanks for your kind words and I agree with you completely. If only you were so enlightened when it comes to the death penalty. ; )

      • What is this, a mutual admiration society? 😉

        The two of you should get in on the free tour and dinner at the Vatican:

        When you get back let us know whether the Pope offers you a handshake or a ‘gentle’ unsolicited hosing down.

        • Agellius


          When I meet homeless people, I don’t generally hose them down either. But I confess that I also don’t let them to sleep in my doorway. How about you?

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            I can’t speak for Tausign, but there was a time, many years ago, when I a homeless guy broke into my van and was sleeping in it. Not seeing a reasonable solution–I certainly did not want to call the cops on him–I let the matter continue for a couple weeks. I either sold the van or he moved on: I can’t remember which.

        • Agellius, I hope you and Trellis took my remark as ‘tongue in cheek’.

          When I meet homeless people, I don’t generally hose them down either. But I confess that I also don’t let them to sleep in my doorway. How about you?

          Isn’t this a false dichotomy? (Where’s the Queen of FD when you need her?). But this does show how ‘kneejerk’ your reaction is. There is most likely a consensus view in San Francisco (and in all of America for that matter) that sleeping on the threshold of a private residence is different than sleeping on the threshold of a church or other common area. In fact, I am certain from my experience of working as volunteer, that the poor themselves understand the difference very clearly. Indeed, they work hard to locate themselves (and often hide themselves) in the most safe places they can imagine, which I can assure you is not on your patio.

          • Agellius


            My comment was tongue-in-cheek also.

  • Agellius


    Well, I hope he had moved on before you sold the van. I’d hate to think you sold it with him in it. : )

    • trellis smith

      Tausign: I’ve been to the Vatican and I assure you much of the place was off limits for people of my ilk and should I have tried to trespass I imagine I’d encounter some unpleasantness.