The Most Rev. Paul Loverde, 76, retired this month as the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. The diocese covers northern and part of central Virginia, including about half of the DC metropolitan region, and contains half a million Catholics. In an exclusive written interview, Loverde reflects on his nearly two-decade tenure.
Ordained a priest in 1965, Loverde has served 52 years as a clergyman. He served 23 of those years as a bishop — six years in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, N.Y. and 17 years in the Diocese of Arlington. The Most Rev. Michael Burbidge succeeds him. During his retirement, Loverde plans to continue assisting in parochial and diocesan pastoral functions.
— Dan Brendel
What have been your chief pastoral interests or themes in Northern Virginia?
When I came to the Diocese in 1999, I pledged to advance four marks of the church, namely evangelization, unity, service and reconciliation. I think these four themes have really set the tone for me, along with my episcopal motto: “encourage and teach with patience.” The reality of evangelizing and proclaiming the good news [gospel] has been central, and as I’ve shared on a number of occasions, “All I’ve ever wanted to do is lead people to Jesus,” and that remains true to this day.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am most proud of how the people of Arlington have responded to God’s call to Catholic education, priestly vocations and respect for life. Since 1999, we’ve opened four elementary schools and one high school; we’ve ordained 74 priests, and 108 men and women in formation to be priests or religious brothers and sisters. Every month we recite the Rosary in front of an abortion clinic in Arlington, and have more than 20 parishes participate in the March for Life.
Regarding societal institutions and patterns, Catholic social doctrine speaks both of “structures of solidarity” and “structures of sin.” What are a few of the most notable of these in Northern Virginia?
As I reflect on the theme of solidarity, I would highlight the work of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, and Catholic Charities in a wide range of areas, including help to the homeless, refugees, and immigrants. Similarly, the parishes of this diocese accomplish so much in service to those in need, to say nothing of the hundreds of teens who annually participate in WorkCamp, a weeklong service project we facilitate in the diocese. Each of these efforts brings members of the human family together in a tangible, lived solidarity.
As for structures of sin, I cannot help but highlight the plague of pornography, which threatens so many individuals, marriages and families. My 2006 pastoral letter, “Bought with a Price,” spoke of the real and present danger which pornography presents in our public square. “The continued toleration of this insidious toxic poison that hides itself under the guise of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience,” I wrote, “is contributing to the debasement of our culture and the victimization of our own children.”
What are some the best ways you have seen local churches serve their communities?
As I reflect on these 17 years in the Diocese of Arlington, I have seen local churches enhance the common good and serve their communities in four ways: supporting families, individuals, organizations, and the needy. Parishes support families at a time when many families are struggling financially, socially, and spiritually. Parishes are centers for families to receive support so they can flourish. Obviously it’s where families go for the sacraments and formation; but also to get support on parenting, friendships, familial support through talks and forums. I see parishes that have forums for men, women, young and elderly parents, children of all ages. The parish is where the family goes to get support, guidance and counsel from baptisms at birth to funerals at death. Parishes support and strengthen families. Pope Francis calls the parish “the family of families” (“The Joy of Love,” paragraph 202).
Secondly, parishes support individuals. There are youth ministries, young adult ministries, senior support services for single, unmarried or widows. There are also activities to introduce parishioners to others such as festivals and picnics, and sporting events. We are seeing a growth in men’s groups and women’s groups as well, to introduce people to others while increasing their faith.
Thirdly, parishes have organizations that work in concert with the pastor to assist the parish, families and communities. These include the Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary, Walking with Purpose, That Man is You, Scouts, and other clubs and organizations.
Finally, the parish helps to support and strengthen the poor in the community. Twenty-six of the parishes in our diocese have food pantries on the parish campus with free food for those in the community in need; fourteen have mental health clinicians right on site—some speaking Spanish—for the poorest of the poor who can’t otherwise afford or get to counseling sessions. One of our parishes has an immigration attorney on site. And a dozen parishes have English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for community members. Many have bereavement groups, support for widows and widowers, senior services support and emergency assistance helping with rent, utilities, prescriptions, funerals. Parishioners go out to help those in nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities where disabled or seniors who cannot travel receive fellowship and prayer. I am so proud of these efforts to serve those on the margins of our society, even as I pray that the work of charity will deepen and expand throughout our diocese.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” What important bridges have you seen built in the communities of Northern Virginia? How would you describe the regional and local ecumenical and interreligious climate, and how does it bear on the Diocese’s mission?
Building bridges and encouraging dialogue has led to a number of remarkable relationships here at the Diocese. Our State LARCUM (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist) Conference has continued a dialogue unparalleled in most states in the US. Bishops of the Lutheran, Episcopalian, Catholic and Methodist churches have met at least annually for the past 20 years to reinvigorate friendships and discuss areas of common belief, worship and service. The Catholic Church has been a leader in this ongoing dialogue.
Around 10 years ago, we signed a covenant with the Muslim community in northern Virginia to grow together in mutual understanding and, most importantly, work toward resolving misunderstandings we have of each other. Some lasting and deep friendships have resulted, and where discord flashed in some places following national and international misunderstanding or persecution, our groups have met to understand, rather, the truth of events and seek reconciliation.
I have supported and encouraged representatives of every parish in the diocese to gather quarterly with the diocesan commission to seek ways to reach out in the local communities and neighborhoods to build bridges and opportunities for fellowship and service among local churches and religious communities. Through this commission we have gathered annually with representatives of other faith groups in northern Virginia for prayer for unity and religious liberty, for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each January, and in meetings connected with the annual State LARCUM Conference, a weekend seminar for anyone in Virginia who would like to attend a series of scholarly and pastoral presentations on the current ecumenical climate.
Nationally, the Diocese of Arlington has a strong reputation of being a leader in ecumenical and interreligious activities.
You and other religious leaders have expressed concern about “religious liberty” in the public square. What are a few local or regional examples of how religion has been either duly included or unduly excluded from public life?
The government’s unprecedented HHS mandate remains a clear and unacceptable violation of religious liberty. Under the Obama Administration’s so-called accommodation for religious institutions, the funds used in the procurement of coverage for sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraceptives still come from religious employers and their employees. Further, the administration’s mandate penalizes the Church for its long history of charitable works, targeting our colleges, hospitals, and other facilities that serve others regardless of their faith. The Church and its related institutions must be free to provide healthcare coverage for their employees consistent with our religious and moral principles, and without the threat of government coercion. Church institutions have provided healthcare and education to our fellow citizens since our nation’s founding. We have always supported healthcare services for all people, but pregnancy is not a disease, and the Church cannot abandon the dignity of the human person and submit to complicity in the destruction of innocent life.
The Second Vatican Council called for “dialogue,” “cooperation,” and “mutual exchange and assistance” between the Church and the secular world. What opportunities and challenges, responsibilities and limitations have faced the Diocese in this regard?
Last year’s visit to our area by Pope Francis is a prime example of dialogue and mutual exchange between the Church and the broader society such as the President, Congress, the media, and so many people of different faiths and of no particular faith who heard his message in person, or through other mediums. I would also cite the work of the Virginia Catholic Conference on behalf of this Diocese and the Diocese of Richmond, whereby we seek to engage with our state’s public policy leaders to protect life at all stages, improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable, and seek the common good.
Pope Francis has spoken of “integral ecology.” Can you clarify this concept? How does it bear on the Diocese’s pro-life posture?
Integral ecology is a key concept in “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, by which he emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life. As the Holy Father states, “Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment. There is an interrelation between ecosystems and between the various spheres of social interaction, demonstrating yet again that ‘the whole is greater than the part’” (paragraph 141).
The American bishops have said that basic human rights include foremost the right to life, and also “the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture.” Can you comment on these rights, in the context of Northern Virginia?
In expressing a commitment to defending the gift of life, we remember that what our Church teaches need not necessarily be viewed as exclusively Catholic, but rather, reflective of what we know to be true according to human reason and logic. So, for example, the rational person understands that if we do not defend life at its beginning at conception, then there is no life for us to develop and protect thereafter. It is the first right. I expressed this sentiment throughout my time as a priest and bishop, most recently in a series of letters in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election.
You spoke recently of the “multicultural” character of the Diocese and “a need for new outreach.” What is the relationship between multiculturalism and the Diocese’s mission? What specifically might a new outreach entail?
The Diocese has some of the most diverse zip codes in the United States, and over 225,000 Latino Catholics. Reflecting the region’s ethnic diversity, Mass is celebrated not only in English, but in Spanish (in 36 parishes and missions), Korean, Vietnamese, and for the Filipino and Ghanaian communities. Since its creation in 2005, the Office of Multicultural Ministries has served alongside our Spanish Apostolate here at the Diocese in order to assist parishes in serving all of our ethnic communities. By deepening our pastoral outreach to Catholics of all cultures, I hope and pray that we are an ever-more welcoming diocese.