Why I Love Arlington (and Her Bishop)

Mark Shea, sending a lengthy update during his visit to Sydney, remarked off-hand that “The future looks very bright for the Church in Sydney” from his experience at a Theology on Tap with hundreds of orthodox young Aussie Catholics. This is good news, given some of the more negative signs we’ve seen from down under.

It also reminded me of something I was thinking about yesterday. The Diocese of Arlington is an incredible diocese. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s true. I’ve heard that much of that is thanks to Bishop John Keating, the diocese’s bishop from 1983-1998, but current Bishop Paul Loverde has done a good job keeping the momentum going. And frankly, it’s incredibly surprising. The east coast isn’t exactly a hospitable place for Catholicism, particularly not in the D.C. area, but it’s sprouting like flowers between the pavement.

I was surprised at how many young people are at daily Mass. The Tridentine Latin Mass is celebrated frequently here, but nobody’s forced to choose between being a “Latin Mass Catholic” and a “Novus Ordo Catholic,” and it seems that a fair number of people will do Latin Mass Fridays, with the Ordinary Form the rest of the week.

But maybe nothing speaks to the orthodoxy of the Diocese as much as Theology on Tap. On Monday, I went and saw Bishop Loverde speak. Pat Troy’s Irish pub is a relatively large bar run by an fiesty old Irish Catholic conservative who doesn’t like to shake hands at the Sign of Peace (he lets everyone at Theology on Tap know this, and frequently), and has a corner dedicated to the time Reagan came into the bar. On Monday nights for Theology on Tap, the place is often standing room only by about half an hour before ToT starts at 7:30 (this is more true during the summer). But when it’s the Bishop, the place gets packed even quicker – a friend of mine texted me to see if I was getting there at 6 or 6:30.

The crowd isn’t just large, it’s young, enthusiastic, and incredibly orthodox. The first time I came to see him, a November talk he gave on St. Paul, I heard a couple guys at the bar speaking ill of him. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard Catholic bishops naysayed, but I was pretty surprised when I heard what the guy was kvetching about: that Bishop Loverde wasn’t enforcing Canon 915 against pro-choice politicans. And sure enough, at the end of his talk, someone used the Q & A to raise the canonical question.

When I saw him again on Monday, the talk was on “Hope in Darkness,” and although it took a little while to really get going, I thought it was very much worth my time. In both talks, he mentioned things I hadn’t thought about before, and his ability to answer tough questions is admirable. Despite an explicit request by Kateri, the organizer, to keep the questions on-topic, virtually none of them were. The first one was about the necessity of confession (this was actually sort of related, in that he mentioned confession): Bp. Loverde explained the implictations of John 20:23, and how the sacrament of confession is intended to provide us with hope, in the sure knowledge that our sins are forgiven. That hearing Christ speak through the priest answers any question we might have as to, “Can I be forgiven for this?” The guy across from me mouthed, “James?,” as in, “Is he going to mention James 5:16?” He didn’t, but it was still a good off-the-cuff answer. Next, he was grilled by a guy who couldn’t understand why the Church didn’t consider homosexual orientation a sin. The bishop did an excellent job explaining that (1) everyone’s made in God’s image, (2) that we’re made with imperfections, (3) that homosexual orientation is disordered, but not itself sinful, (4) that acting on those homosexual urges is sinful, and (5) that homosexuals, like bishops, are called by the Lord to chaste celibacy. No luck, though: the questioner was very insistent that homosexuals were evil whether they acted on their urges or not, to which the Bishop finally requested that he humbly pray about the issue before God.

Afterwards, I got a chance to talk to him a bit, since he was at the table next to mine. I told him that I hadn’t agreed with his view on Canon 915, but that I respected his position on it, and thought he defended it well, and then I asked him about whether St. Mary’s could have altar rails. We’ve been renovating the sanctuary, and both Fr. Kleinmann and Fr. DeCelles are excited about the idea of restoring the altar rail. I joked to one of the guys from my Men’s Prayer Group that they probably had one picked out already, and it turned out I was right (they’d talked about it last Wednesday, but I had class). In the parish letter, Fr. Kleinmann said that the Bishop had asked him to wait until the pope weighed in on the issue of altar rails, and I was hoping to find out why he’d seemingly passed the buck.

The Bishop explained to me the issues surrounding altar rails: they’re not part of the Novus Ordo Mass, since particular law for the US Churches has standing as the normal posture for receiving Communion; yet simultaneously, the pope is a clear proponent of kneeling as the normative posture. So here’s an area where the church law for the US doesn’t match up with what the earthly head of the Church would like. Strictly speaking, it’s within Bishop Loverde’s power as bishop to order the construction of altar rails in every parish in the diocese, order the removal of altar rails in every parish, permit priests to do as they will, or (as he’s done) order a moratorium. The first option might be viewed as disrespectful to his brother bishops in America, and violates the spirit of particular law; the second might be viewed as disrespectful to the pope, and certainly to the Traditionalists within the diocese; the third option, he feared would cause disharmony – various people moving in different directions regarding a sacrament designed to bring us together. So he’s opted for the fourth, do nothing until the situation changes. It’s certainly a disappointment, but once again, he did a great job explaining why he’s taking that route. I suspect that he’d personally like to see altar rails, but doesn’t think it’s worth the division it’d cause. In any case, it’s unlikely, but not impossible, that the Vatican will publicly weigh in on the matter, so I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Perhaps half an hour later, Bishop Loverde got up to leave, but he stopped at my table on the way out, shook my hand, and said, “I think we share the same values.”

All in all, I’ve gotta say that felt pretty good.

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