It’s a story that’s been making its way around Facebook, Twitter and other social media: the story of the San Francisco Cathedral folks deliberately dousing homeless folks with water as a kind of anti-baptism – with the corresponding horror that you might imagine from a range of people – including those of us on this blog. Indeed, more than one of us quickly noted exactly the opposite kind of activity going on at no less than the Vatican, which is giving out free showers to the homeless on its square. And one of us asked, “Isn’t this worthy of commentary, or is it just too low-hanging a fruit?”


To its credit, the San Francisco diocese quickly offered the following response and action:

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. We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived. It actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for this we are very sorry. We have also now learned that the system in the first place required a permit and may violate San Francisco water-use laws, and the work to remove this system has already started, and will be completed by the end of the day.

Good deal – the guilty party admits its guilt, takes immediate steps to rectify this. Still has a ways to go toward restoring relationships – but then, Christianity is supposed to enable restoration of relationships, even if it takes a long time. That’s not to let anyone off the hook but it is to say there’s much more going on here than the Clickability factor of social media might allow.

Most of us probably clicked on, or merely read the headlines, without going back to check on updates.

That should be our OWN mea culpa.

This situation raises, again, the question we all need to face in our internet age: to what extent does our participation in social media allow for options in forgiveness, mercy, penance, and the like?

The Vatican's shower stalls...

The Vatican’s shower stalls…