The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, which had been one of two U.S. dioceses that did not allow girls to be altar servers, will now allow them in parishes if pastors request them.
The decision by Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde on March 21 leaves the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., as the only Catholic diocese in the United States to prohibit girls and women from assisting priests at Mass.
“Some parishes have actively requested the liberty to allow female altar servers; others have not,” Loverde said in a letter to his 400,000-member diocese. “The church's permission in this arena, accordingly, allows for a legitimate diversity of opinions.”
Loverde had maintained the ban he inherited from his predecessor when he became bishop seven years ago; the Vatican has allowed female servers since 1994. Loverde had been reluctant to lift the ban out of fear that it could upset elements of the conservative-leaning diocese.
Previously, girls were allowed to serve in non-parish settings, such as on college campuses and in convents. Loverde's new directive expands their roles to include Catholic high schools and parishes.
“This is long overdue, and the right decision,” Horace Grinnell, a priest of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church, told The Washington Post. “I understand there are some laity against it, but they are as rare as hen's teeth because most people who have children see the innate fairness of having ministries open to everyone who qualifies.”
Loverde also allowed two parishes in Alexandria and Front Royal to celebrate the Latin Mass once each Sunday. Since the 1960s, nearly all Masses have been conducted in the native language of parishioners.