O c'mon, do you realy think the
gates of hell are going to prevail if
girls are allowed to serve at the
Much of the Arlington quagmire dates back to the episcopacy of John Keating (1983-1998). Well actually the problem is rooted in the fact that the Arlington diocese, like all of us except the Blessed Virgin, was conceived in sin and born in iniquity, but we won’t go there in this entry. John Richard Keating was a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and had been, I believe, administrator of the Archdiocese between the death of Cardinal Cody and the appointment of Joseph Bernardin as Archbishop. Bernardin knew he was on a very different page than Keating and so to remove him from power (he had been Vicar General prior to Cody’s death) without humiliating him, Keating was named the second Bishop of Arlington. He reminds me of an eleventh century bishop of Reims in France, Manasses II (1096-1106), whose famous quote, describing the office to which he was called, was “This wouldn’t be a bad job if you didn’t have to sing Mass.” Bishop Keating was an administrator, a bureaucrat’s bureaucrat. He was a superb canon lawyer and responsible for introducing the “psychological maturity” argument into the annulment process. He wasn’t a bad man, at least as far as anything I have heard. He just wasn’t very religious. Nine o’clock Sunday Morning would find him, most weeks, not in his cathedral but out on the links at the Washington Country Club. After his death, a crypt was constructed in the cathedral to hold the remains of the Bishops of Arlington and Keating’s body was removed from the mausoleum at Fairfax Memorial Park where it had been temporarily entombed and properly put in the episcopal crypt. The joke was circulated among the clergy of the diocese the following Easter that this had been the first Holy Week the Bishop had spent in his Cathedral. While he would show up at the Cathedral for the Mass of the Chrism and the Easter Vigil, he would not permit baptisms and confirmations at the Vigil and would only allow the minimum number of Old Testament lessons so that the liturgy would not go over an hour and a half. “This would not be such a bad job if you didn’t have to sing Mass.”
Bishop Keating was a great delegator of responsibility which is to his credit, but he seems not always to have followed up. He really didn’t care much if individual priests or parishes were conforming to Church practice as long as they weren’t actually breaking any canons. This led to a lot of idiosyncrasies in Arlington. Some places had “Solemn High Masses” which were the (at the time required) Novus Ordo Rite but which were counterfeited with Deacons and “Subdeacons” and an ad apsidem posture to masquerade as the old Tridentine Solemn High Mass. Birettas and cottas and even maniples were salvaged from closets and drawers, altar-rails were installed and kneeling for communion restored, and old time religion, Catholic style, became somewhat normative in the Arlington Diocese. And when the clergy informed the bishop that should he permit girls to serve Mass as was being done in other dioceses, they were “outta here”—well, Keating was not one for confrontation and so “altar girls” were on the verboten list.
This preconciliar Shangri-la was bound to attract vocations from other dioceses where seminarians were afraid that they might not be permitted as priests to do the grocery shopping in their soutanes or required to take a Latin exam before being permitted to say Mass in the language. There was a very enterprising vocation director, Father Jay Gould, who scoured seminaries around the country for men who would be thrilled to be part of this ‘50’s revival and for years Arlington had an abundance of vocations. Conservatives in the diocese, clergy and laity alike, look back on the “Golden Days of Gould” when vocations abounded and cassocks were de rigueur. A prominent Washington Archdiocesan Monsignor who had served as driver/Master of Ceremonies to the late Cardinal Hickey (Archbishop of Washington 1980-2000) told me that he had once ribbed the Cardinal saying: “What’s wrong with our Archdiocese? Keating is ordaining twelve priests this year, you’re ordaining two.” Hickey’s response to the disparity of vocations was “We don’t want the lawsuits.” So much for screening.
All this is background to the issue of female altar boys in Arlington. About five years ago, Bishop Loverde, the current bishop, lifted Bishop Keating’s ban, allowing pastors—with the advice of the Parish Pastoral Councils—to permit girls and women to serve Mass. Rome had no problem with it; the Bishop had no problem with it. But there are always those like Father Taylor, who know better. I am not saying that sometimes priests and even lay folk don’t know better than bishops—or even the Pope. History bears out the facts. I am only saying that a smart priest doesn’t come into a parish and stir up a hornet’s nest over an issue as inconsequential as this one. But then, as I began, while Father Taylor may be no less intelligent than many of his colleagues, he sure didn’t demonstrate street smarts, much less pastoral sagacity, here.