On Jan. 3, at 8:04 p.m., Theodore E. McCarrick was installed as the fifth archbishop of Washington in a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. McCarrick, 70, succeeded Cardinal James A. Hickey, becoming the archdiocese's first new leader in 20 years. At the time of his appointment, McCarrick was archbishop of Newark and a surprise choice to some observers because of his age. In an interview last week with staff writer Bill Broadway, the prelate talked about his health, his greatest strength -- a powerful work ethic -- and the spiritual foundations of his ministry. An edited version of that conversation follows. Q What's your favorite Bible story?

A That's hard because I have a lot of them. Off the top of my head, I would say the prodigal son. The enormous love of the father, that he's up there on the tower, he's always watching for his son to come in. And that's how God is with us. It's not just that He is a forgiving God, but that He is a God anxious to reconcile, anxious to reconcile us to Himself. It's a wonderful story, and I love the way the Lord tells it.

What is the foundation of your

personal theology and your

public, practical theology?

I think it is the good news. And to me the good news is that God so loved the world that He sent his only Son to be our salvation. That's the foundation of my theology. Hopefully, it's the foundation of my whole spiritual life.

How is that borne in your own ministry, your leadership?

That's what we all preach about. We let people know that God loves the world so much. If God did not love the world so much, He would not have sent his Son. His Son would not have taught us. He would not have established the church, which is his family. He would not have given us the sacraments. All those things are the outpourings of his love. So theologically that's where it all begins.

What do you see as the major differences between the Archdiocese of Newark and the Archdiocese of Washington?

It's too early to say. I would be talking off the top of my head if I presumed that I knew the church of Washington. That's my first job, to get to know the church of Washington, to get to know our priests, our people, our deacons, our leaders, to get to know their dreams, get to know their hopes, their concerns.

Newark has about three times as many Catholics [1.4 million to 500,000], and a lot more parishes [235 to 140]. Does that mean you will have to look at things differently in administering this archdiocese?

Oh, I'm sure one has to take into account the reality of the situation. In Newark, you have a population which is basically stable, which is really not growing because the population of the whole area is not growing, whereas here you have a growing population. And you have a younger population. That's also going to be a factor in how you organize your resources and personnel.

What is the Catholic Church's biggest challenge in responding to the needs of an immigrant population, particularly when you have a powerful Pentecostal movement in Latin America, and here as well, stealing Hispanic members?

Not stealing our members. They're preaching to our members and calling them to holiness, just as we are. It seems to me, however, that our need is to remind them that this loving God of ours established a family, which is the church, and as a sign of his love gave us some extraordinary gifts, like the Eucharist. And the good news of the Gospel keeps reminding us that we are a sacramental church. It is not just the preaching, but it's the preaching and the making presence of the Lord, which is part of being a member of his family.

Is preaching important?

Absolutely. Didn't the Apostle say that we cannot spend time waiting on tables, that our job is to preach the word of God? Preaching is an essential element of being a priest and being a deacon. So there's no question but that has to be one of the great priorities of the Catholic Church, that we develop great preachers.

What is the role of the archbishop of Washington in relationship to the White House and Congress?

I have not been sent here to be a liaison with the federal government. I've been sent here to be a shepherd of the Catholic population of this archdiocese. It's very important that I set that out right at the start. Now, will that mean that I will have no relationship with the government? I'm sure it won't, because there are many Catholic people in the government to whom I will preach -- well, I preach to everybody. We should all be responsible. We should all work together. We should all try to promote the values that we find in the good news of the Gospel.

Were you pleased to see a Catholic chaplain named in the House of Representatives?

I happen to know Dan [the Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin]. I think he's a very, very fine man. But for me, I would rather see the House and the Senate vote some great pro-life legislation. That would please me more than to have a Catholic in the House, although as I say I have great respect for Father Dan. I think he's going to do a wonderful job.

You bring up an issue I know is very close to you, abortion. As far as your own personal ministry, how does abortion rank?

It is certainly one of the key issues. Because everything starts with life, and if we lose our respect for life, then we end up losing our respect for everything. Abortion is one of the most important issues we face today in the modern world, not just our country.

What are other key issues for you?

The care of the poor, the opportunity of giving great education to poor people so that they are not caught forever in a society of poverty. And the willingness to accept newcomers, the willingness to accept strangers from other countries, even as ourselves were accepted in generations past. I believe, too, that Catholic education is an important justice issue.

What do you mean "justice issue"?

That families who decide to send their children to be educated in religious schools receive from the state the help to do that.

Vouchers?

Whatever. I'm not committed to one specific methodology, but I think there is a need for us to find a way to give justice to the families who desire to have their kids educated according to the values that they profess. It's not fair that the poor should be discriminated against in this way, that they are not able to exercise the extraordinary right that parents have in the education of their youngsters.

Now, let me throw in a note on that: I am not anti-public schools. Most of our Catholic kids in the United States are educated in public schools. I want the public schools to be as strong and as good and as excellent as they possibly can be. I yield to nobody in that desire. I happen to believe that competition might be good and might help them be as good as they should be.

How do you stand on the ordination of female priests?

There is only one place to stand as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. The Holy Father -- and the church officially -- has given us the response that the church does not see itself as able to call women to priesthood. Now, I always add that this doesn't mean that the Holy Father himself might not be pleased to have women priests. But having studied it, having prayed about it, having consulted on it, having looked at the history of the theology of the church, he has announced formally as teacher of the church that we are not able to call women to priesthood.

For me, that closes that part of the question on women's issues. At the same time, it opens up the tremendous need to make sure that we are using the gifts of women in the church in the best possible way. As bishop of Metuchen [N.J.], I was the first bishop in any diocese east of the Mississippi to name a woman chancellor.

In the early 1980s?

Yes. And the chief official officer of the Archdiocese of Newark is a woman. The director of our schools is a woman. The head of our Catholic Charities up until a few years ago had been a woman, so that women are beginning to exercise more roles of authority within the church. And that's as it should be. There is the barrier of ordination, and we have to accept that and move on from there.

Some people in Newark were critical of you for time spent away from the diocese, particularly with your involvement in international human rights issues for the Vatican and the U.S. government. Were those criticisms justified?

If I felt they were justified, I would not have done it. First of all, whenever I was away, it was not without compensatory time. I visit about four or five parishes every weekend, so that I'm always there.

That's something you've always done?

Always. I'm visible to the people and I always have been, so these fellows who say, well, he's not around, that's not true. The second thing is, though maybe more on a more philosophical than theological basis, a bishop is ordained not just for the local church but for the whole church. And if the [National] Conference of [Catholic] Bishops, the Holy See or some institution like Catholic League of Services thought a fellow had special expertise in an area and asked him to go, then it would seem to me that as long as he was not neglecting his flock, he ought to go.

But you know, the same people who would criticize on that would, if that were not the thing, they'd find something else to criticize. That's fine.

What is your greatest strength as a leader?

Ah! I work hard. That's the only strength I have. I'm not the smartest guy around. I'm certainly not the most prayerful. I'm not the holiest. But no one is going to work harder than I work.

Are you in good health?

Yep, for a man my age. Before I accepted, I had a real good physical. And I said to my doctor, who's the head of the Department of Medicine at Cathedral Health Care System in Newark, I said: "Now, if they ever ask me" -- because I knew by that time -- I said: "If they ever ask me to do a job where I may have to move from here, can I say I'm healthy?" He said, "You are one of the healthiest men I know."

Were you surprised, at age 70,

to get this appointment?

Yeah. There had been rumors a number of times in the past that I was going to be changed to one place or another. And you know you listen to them, and you say, "Well, you know, whatever God has in mind." You take them with a grain of salt.

But then when I turned 70, we had just started a big stewardship program in the archdiocese, an attempt to get people to buy into the church with time, talent and treasure, and that was a big initiative in all our parishes. I figured, "Okay, this is my next five years." [Bishops must submit letters of resignation to the Vatican, often rejected, at 75.] I said: "Well, fine, I'm done. This is where I'm going to be." And then -- our God is a God of surprises.

Within the church, do you consider yourself a conservative, moderate or liberal?

Ninety percent of [bishops] consider ourselves moderates, and I consider myself a moderate. I believe I'm in the center, and I think that's where the Holy Father is.

You have been very successful in recruiting priests, ordaining more than 200 people in the last 14 years -- more than any other bishop in the country. What is the reason for your success?

Twofold. Number one, we always get the people to pray for [the priestly] vocations. In Newark, I mandated an intention in the Mass, that in every Mass that's offered we pray for vocations. I think that helps. It raises the consciousness of the people.

And then I don't think I've ever given a homily or a talk in 20 years as ordinary, that I haven't mentioned or talked about vocations. It's not the major theme, but I always talk to people about this need we have. Otherwise, they won't have the servants they need to take care of them. It's important that they have that.

McCarrick talks with seminarians who came from New Jersey to help him move in. At left is Raji Arokiadoss, of India.Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick said that he has been called to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to preach the Gospel and its values to everyone. "I have not been sent here to be a liaison with the federal government," he said.