New advocacy director brings national and policy expertise to a specialized niche
Feb 8, 2021
Andrew Rivas looks at his new job as manager of policy and advocacy for the Archdiocese of Washington as a return home in both personal and professional ways.
Rivas joined the archdiocese in mid-January and says his work has elements in common with his previous jobs: as a policy adviser with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as executive director for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and then for the California Catholic Conference, and with Catholic Charities USA and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In each of those posts, Rivas was involved in policy and advocacy on behalf of the Church’s concerns.
Rivas told the Catholic Standard he is excited to return to Washington after 17 years away. In part that’s because it’s where his five grandchildren live, but also because “this is the nation’s capital. Policy flows out of Washington, D.C., and this is going to be an important region for the Church to advance our public policy. I wanted to be in the center of the action.”
What exactly that will entail is still to be determined, he said. There’s a wide range of public policy concerns that affect the archdiocese and all its related entities. For example, in his first days on the job, Rivas said he was pulled into the general counsel’s efforts to help ensure that teachers in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools had the same access to the COVID-19 vaccine as public school teachers. The Archdiocese of Washington includes the District of Columbia and the five surrounding Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery.
“Vaccine distribution is a major concern for the counties and the District,” Rivas said. Besides school personnel, access to vaccines affects the Church’s nursing and elder-care homes, social services agencies and all residents of the archdiocese. His first weeks in the job have entailed learning who the key players are in various government entities and what the channels of communication are.
“It’s an evolving role,” he said. Rivas said that his work for the archdiocese bears similarities to what he did at the USCCB, in Texas and in California. One major difference is that he’s a staff of one, working under the supervision of General Counsel Christopher Anzidei.
The potential for what he will take on is broad, he said. “We are right in the nation’s capital. The cardinal will have an important voice.”
Policy advocacy on behalf of the Church breaks down along jurisdictional lines. Federal laws and policies fall within the advocacy portfolio of the USCCB. Statewide issues are the bailiwick of the Maryland Catholic Conference, constituted of the Washington and Baltimore archdioceses and the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, which includes nine Maryland counties on the Eastern Shore. Rivas’s work may overlap with those at times, but within the archdiocese alone he’ll deal with the church’s interests in policies of the District of Columbia and the five surrounding Maryland counties. Within that territory, Rivas noted, are the physical institutions of government, the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, dozens of federal agencies and thousands of Catholics who work in those.
Before becoming manager of policy and advocacy for the Archdiocese of Washington, Andrew Rivas served as a policy adviser with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as executive director for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and then for the California Catholic Conference, and with Catholic Charities USA and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)
Rivas is a native of California who was raised in Phoenix and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA before pursuing an acting career for 17 years, working in off-Broadway plays and touring theater companies primarily, in addition to a few small TV roles. He then decided to settle down and moved to Washington to attend law school at The Catholic University of America. After obtaining his law degree and before beginning his career with Catholic institutions, he worked on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and its Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs.
His three grown daughters all live in the Washington area and his son is a senior at Avalon High School in Wheaton. Rivas said the restrictions of the pandemic and his inability to see his family in the last year precipitated his decision to return to Washington. “I really missed them,” he said. “COVID pushed my decision.”