|The Arms of the Diocese |
Bishop Paul Stephen Loverde is a Massachusetts native who studied in Rome and received his STL degree there in 1966 before being ordained for service in the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut. He worked in the diocesan tribunal and distinguished himself in a number of positions as vicar for priests, being especially popular and trusted among the priests of the diocese. (The Vicar for Priests is the assistant to the bishop who looks after the pastoral and professional needs of the clergy of a diocese—the “pastor to the pastors” as it were.) After twenty-two years of priestly ministry he was named auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Hartford and then six years later he was given his own diocese in Ogdensburg, NY. Bishop Loverde was highly regarded by clergy, laity, and religious in Ogdensburg where he assiduously implemented the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in a collaborative and collegial manner. One religious sister who worked on his staff remembers him as “a good man, a compassionate man, a listener who truly was interested in you and the challenges you were facing.” Bishop Loverde’s episcopal motto is—To Encouarage and Teach with Patience.
In March 1998 with the death of Bishop John Keating while making his ad liminia visit to the Holy See, the Diocese of Arlington became vacant. The Diocese remained vacant almost a year while the Holy See searched for a successor. Reportedly a number of bishops turned down the See because of the reputation of the clergy for unruliness. There certainly were problems. One retired priest remarked “Back in 1974 when the diocese was split from Richmond we had our conservatives and our liberals. There was Monsignor McClunn and Dickie Burke and that crew on the one side and Tom Quinlin and the young Turks on the other. But we all got along. We would get together on Sunday nights in the summer at one parish or another for supper and have a few drinks. But now these guys don’t even speak to one another and they tear each other down to the people in the pews. It is a different diocese; it has become toxic.”
Paul Loverde seemed a good choice to bring together a divided diocese. Patience was his motto. He had a reputation for working well with his clergy. He had a track record of implementing the counciliar and post-counciliar changes. Those who had been frustrated by the backwards looking policies of the Keating years were hopeful that the diocese would get on track again.
Bishop Loverde did his best. He came in and was not quick to mandate changes but tried to win the trust of his priests in order to build a more cohesive presbyterate. He made few staff changes in the chancery keeping people in place but trusting that they would implement his vision for the diocese. Arlington was one of only two dioceses in the United States that did not permit girls to serve at the altar. Bishop Loverde brought the matter up to his clergy for discussion but decided to maintain Keating’s restrictions until he could win over the resisting priests. Similarly he kept in place Keating’s restriction on giving the laity the chalice at weekend Masses. He also made no effort to restore the permanent diaconate program which had been shut down in the Keating years. The left and center began to grow disillusioned and felt that they were losing out and that all concessions were being made to the neo-traditionalist camp without the moderates gaining.
The problem was that the hard-core conservatives of the clergy never came aboard the Bishop’s program, but resisted the Bishop at every opportunity. What they wanted wasn’t compromise, much less conciliation, but total capitulation on the part of those who disagreed with their reactionary policies. They took what they could wheedle out of the Bishop and gave nothing in return. When the Bishop mandated that each parish have a committee to look at ecumenical cooperation among the churches in their area, few parishes complied. When he would bring up the question at priests’ meetings of allowing girls to serve at mass, his priests actually booed him. When he finally did make some compromise about female altar servers—allowing pastors to install them on a parish-by-parish basis if their parishioners wished them—priests wrote to Rome asking if the individual priest had to abide by the bishop’s decision to permit girls serving. (Rome, incredulously, overturned the theological principles of Christus Dominus and asserted that the individual priest, not the bishop, has the final word over the liturgy!) The bishop was hurt that his priests would appeal to Rome against his decisions; the liberal and moderate clergy were furious that they had to conform to diocesan guidelines but that the neo-traditionalists could spit in the bishop’s eye.
The end result has been that the Diocese of Arlington is a deeply fractured Church—almost three distinct Churches in a unity that is no more than nominal. On the one hand you have parishes such as Nativity in Burke, Saint Francis in Triangle, Christ the Redeemer in Sterling or Good Shepherd in Alexandria that would be mainline in any other diocese but are the “liberal” parishes which are jammed and to which people flock from twenty and thirty miles away. (You also have the “exiles” who cross the river to Holy Trinity in Georgetown and other Washington churches.) Then you have other parishes such as Saint Mary’s in Oldtown Alexandria, Saint John the Baptist in Front Royal, Saint John the Beloved in McLean, or Saint Catherine’s in Great Falls that are throwbacks to the Catholicism of the 1950’s. They too draw from a wide area and are jammed. And then there are the great number of the bland and the boring, the mildly conservative and stalwartly unimaginative parishes where nothing much happens except disillusionment and discouragement. But that is not unique to Arlington—spending as much time on the road as I do, and being present at Mass in so many different churches, I can only wonder what has happened to the excitement of the Vatican II years when the fresh breeze let in by John XXIII’s open window made such a difference. Vatican II is alive in some nooks and crannies of the American Catholic World but in many more places there are shattered dreams of what the Church could be again if only the Council were taken seriously.