Today I received a response from the Diocese of Arlington. With a letter dated March 13, Diocese Chancellor Mark Herrmann responded on behalf of Bishop Loverde. Bracketed by generic opening and closing paragraphs was this main paragraph of his letter:
There does appear to have been a misunderstanding at some level, because there is not a blanket exclusion of Catholics with criminal records from attending the Papal Mass. We are, however, requiring parishes to limit their ticket distributions to registered parishioners, and to submit a list of the names and addresses of those who are to receive tickets. Also, those attending the Mass will be required to have a government-issued ID and to enter the stadium through a magnetometer. Both individuals and their bags may be subject to search.
Consider the first sentence of the above paragraph. There was never any question about there being "a blanket exclusion of Catholics with criminal records." According to the announcement at the Cathedral on March 2, Catholics with criminal records consisting of minor traffic offenses were permitted to attend the Papal Mass. So, the Diocese's response is literally consistent with the announcement made at the Cathedral. Perhaps this is only a small matter of exact language. In the light of Christian spirit and charity, perhaps the Diocese's response should be interpreted to mean that all Catholics with criminal records (other than minor traffic offenses) are not categorically excluded from attending the Papal Mass.
But, as a matter of Christian spirit, what says the first clause, "There does appear to have been a misunderstanding at some level"? I don't expect the Bishop to tell me whether Fr. Rippy misunderstood the policy, or whether there was a misunderstanding between Fr. Rippy and some other Church official. Confessing to me who is at fault is unimportant. Much more important is that an incorrect and hurtful announcement was made after mass in the Cathedral on March 2. Do church officials recognize their mistake? Will the incorrect public announcement be corrected? Is the Church concerned about statements that could make Catholics with criminal records feel unwelcomed at the Papal Mass? Sadly, the Arlington Diocese's response doesn't answer these questions.
The rest of the main paragraph of the Diocese's response is not relevant to the specific concerns that I raised. All except the first sentence of the main paragraph have nothing to do with the announcement at the Cathedral that parishioners with criminal records (other than minor traffic offenses) will not be permitted to attend the Papal Mass. Suffering from weak faith, I can't help suspect some element of bad faith in ignoring the specific issues I raised while providing details about other aspects of tickets and admission. For my weak faith, pray for me! For priests and bishops to act Christian, especially towards the lowly and the shunned, pray for them!
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