The Pastor of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, VA, last Sunday announced after mass that persons with a criminal record (other than minor traffic offenses) should not apply for tickets to the Papal Mass in DC, because they will not be allowed to attend. That seems to me to be profoundly un-Christian.
Outside the church after mass, I told the Pastor that categorically excluding persons with a criminal record was wrong. But he didn't recognize any responsibility for what he said. He said that the decision wasn't his decision, that the Secret Service required this, and that there are 400 bishops who lead the church, not him. That evening I wrote to Bishop Loverde, of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, and Archbishop Wuerl, of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, asking for their attention to this matter. At this Sunday's mass at the Cathedral there was no correction of last Sunday's announcement.
Most Christians probably would not want to attend a mass that categorically excluded Christians with criminal records. I don't believe that Pope Benedict XVI would celebrate the Papal Mass in DC if he knew that it categorically excluded Catholics with criminal records. Catholics with criminal records are just as worthy as any other Catholics to participate in the sacraments of the Church. Please help to proclaim this truth.
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Text of my letter to Bishop Loverde, with copy sent to Father Rippy:
March 2, 2008
Bishop Paul S. Loverde
The Catholic Diocese of Arlington
200 North Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22203
Dear Bishop Loverde:
The Mass that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate in Washington on April 17 will give a few lucky members of our Diocese a special opportunity to participate in the Church universal that Pope Benedict visibly represents. Scripture makes clear that Christ came for sinners and that prisoners are particular important persons in this universal Church. I do not believe that Pope Benedict would agree to celebrate this Mass if it categorically excluded persons with a criminal record other than minor traffic offenses.
At the 5 pm mass today at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More, Father Rippy announced the procedure for parishioners seeking Papal Mass tickets from among the 27 tickets allocated to Cathedral parishioners. He added that because people are dumb, or seem to be getting dumber, that persons with a criminal record should not apply for tickets. He explained that the Secret Service would receive the names of persons allocated tickets and that the Secret Service would check those names against names in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. He said that persons with a criminal record, other than minor traffic offenses, would not be allowed to attend.
Please take the following actions:
1. Clarify throughout the Diocese that persons with criminal records are welcomed and valued members of the Diocese.
2. Establish whether the Papal Mass is being celebrated under security rules that categorically exclude Catholics with a criminal record other than minor traffic offenses.
3. If such an exclusion exists, work as an urgent matter to replace that exclusion with a policy that excludes from the Mass a person only if that person presents specific, relevant security concerns that cannot be feasibly and adequately addressed without excluding the person. Thus, for example, persons who were convicted of drug offense and served their judicially established penalty would not be excluded from participating in the Papal Mass.
4. If such an exclusion does not exist, ensure that parishioners who received incorrect information are informed that having a criminal record is not a categorical bar to participating in the Papal Mass.
Please let me know promptly of your intention to take these actions.
“Lord, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and cloth you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Cc: Father Rippy
Update: The Arlington's Diocese's response.