For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food, I Was Thirsty and You Gave Me Drink, I Was Homeless and WTF You Drenched Me With Sprinklers To Drive Me Away

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Evidently setting aside their stated goal of "advancing human dignity" to ponder the abstruse question, "Who would Jesus soak?" San Francisco's stately Saint Mary’s Cathedral, home to the Archdiocese and Archbishop, has been dousing homeless people who sleep in its doorways with a sprinkler system as "a safety, security and cleanliness measure" to "encourage them to relocate to other areas" - with, obviously, God's blessing. They stopped the practice this week after critics ripped the practice as "inhumane," city officials said it's illegal, and church officials conceded "it actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do (maybe kinda like opposing birth control and other so-called right-to-life stances?) and for this we are very sorry."

Saint Mary’s has long attracted homeless campers in the alcoves of its four soaring doorways, despite clear signs posted on the church - umm, what? - declaring "No Trespassing." The sprinkler system, reportedly installed almost two years ago, pours water all night from holes in the high ceilings for about 75 seconds every 30 to 60 minutes. People trying to sleep there have taken to wearing rain gear and holding umbrellas, but the deluge often leaves them and their belongings soaked anyway: A lack of drainage means the area quickly becomes a large, cold, grimy pool of water dotted with soggy clothes, cardboard, syringes and cigarette butts. Church officials describe the system, modelled on those used in the city's 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 use of enforced showers was revealed this week in a radio story that quickly sparked outrage. Homeless advocates in particular charged it defies both "common decency" and Church teachings in a city where the poor are already struggling with soaring rents and a rapidly gentrifying economy. San Francisco officials also chimed in, saying the sprinklers may have been illegally installed and in any case violate water-use laws in the city, which has called for rationing to help deal with a historic drought. On the defensive, Archdiocese officials have announced they will remove the sprinkler system. They added they were "sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived....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." They also defended their Christian generosity, noting they often refer the homeless to programs offering shelter, clothes and food "if they want food on that day" - as opposed to those days when, say, they're stuffed thanks - even if some of them are, you know, icky. Said a spokesman, “We do the best we can (in) supporting the dignity of each person. But there is only so much you can do.”


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 Many found the unholy news of Saint Mary especially troubling because it offers such a stark contrast to the actions of Pope Francis, who has worked to welcome the poor into his flock as guests worthy of the protection of God. By invitation of Francis, several thousand of the homeless now camp out each night in St. Peter’s Square, many in Vatican-issued sleeping bags. Francis has also provided free (elective) showers, haircuts, laundry service and other amenities. "We are all moving here," says one grateful recipient. “Everyone else spits on the homeless. But not here.” So wait: The dogma-and-bureaucracy-bound believers in the Vatican, more than the presumably hipper types in San Francisco, are actually closer to believing in and acting on that vital arcane notion that, "If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you." Weird.

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