The Arlington Diocese's new Roman Catholic bishop, Paul Stephen Loverde, has ordered a Falls Church pastor to stop allowing girls to serve at Mass because he failed to get permission first, a move regarded by the bishop as priestly disobedience.
The Rev. Horace H. "Tuck" Grinnell, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, complied. But in an unusual display of public dissent, he made clear in his sermon and church bulletin Sunday that he disagreed with the ban on altar girls, calling its supporters "out to sea" and "living in another world."
"Why is it normal that men and women should serve together as lectors, Eucharistic Ministers and choir members, yet not serve together as altar servers?" Grinnell asked in his bulletin. "Both male and female altar servers are the norm in the rest of the United States and most of the world (including Rome)."
In his sermon, Grinnell told congregation members that Loverde's address was in the bulletin, and he urged them to write to the bishop, according to some who attended the service.
Loverde, who replaced the late Bishop John R. Keating in March as head of the 336,000-member diocese, is on vacation. But one of his senior staff members said the issue is obedience, not altar girls.
"It's standard operating procedure that once a bishop has died, the policies he created do not end with his death," said the Rev. Robert J. Rippy, diocesan chancellor. "Therefore, the policy he made on female altar servers remains in force."
Pope John Paul II ruled in 1994 that girls can be altar servers, but he left the decision to each diocese. Keating barred girls because he viewed serving at Mass as a way to encourage boys to become priests. Arlington is one of two U.S. dioceses that do not permit altar girls.
Rippy said Loverde, who allowed altar girls in his former diocese of Ogdensburg, N.Y., will not make any changes during his first year as Arlington bishop.
"Father Grinnell took it upon his own authority to change that policy, which he had no right to do, and in fact it's seen as a matter of being disobedient," Rippy said. "I think it's important to stress that when a man is ordained a priest, he promises respect and obedience to the bishop and to his successors in office."
Loverde's move illustrates the tension between U.S. Catholic bishops and some priests who find it hard to reconcile some church teachings with the personal and pastoral needs of their congregations. It came just days before the Vatican on Tuesday banned an American nun and priest from ministering to gay men and lesbians because the priest and nun did not fully reflect church teachings on the "intrinsic evil of homosexual acts."
"As far as our household, we're disappointed" by the return to a ban on altar girls, said St. Anthony parishioner Regina Gilbertson, of Alexandria. "Participating in the liturgy is one of the most exciting things for Catholics and for Catholic women."
Grinnell, who has been St. Anthony's pastor since 1994, began accepting girl servers about a year ago. He did not return phone calls seeking comment. The priest, who is in his late forties, appeared most angry with a group of conservative Catholics who wrote Loverde complaining about altar girls.
"Bishop Loverde told me he had received some letters from people who did not want to have young women serve with young men on the altar," Grinnell wrote in the church bulletin. "I assumed that these letters could only have come from some of the retrograde clergy of the Arlington diocese (who seem to be permanently 'out to sea' on this issue).
"I was quite surprised, therefore, when the Bishop told me that he had also received some letters from lay people," Grinnell added. "I understand that some of my brothers are living in another world."
Rippy said the diocese has received "upward of 20 or 30" letters.
Loverde also asked Grinnell to stop using both bread and wine at Holy Communion on Sundays. Keating had banned this as a "practicality," Rippy said, because it takes too long to distribute to large crowds.