Participants of the 66th annual Red Mass in Washington on Sept. 30 paused from news coverage of the Supreme Court vacancy, and instead prayerfully sought God’s blessing on all those involved in government positions, the law profession, and the administration of justice. “I think the Holy Spirit was in the church – in fact, I know the Holy Spirit was in the church,” said Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi following the Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. The priest serves as the chaplain of the John Carroll Society, a Catholic group of professional men and women which sponsored the Mass.

“Could there not be a better time, both in our Church and nation, to benefit from the healing power of the Holy Spirit?” Msgr. Vaghi asked during his homily. “It is a power that treats the anger and divisions that so need the healing touch of our God if we are to continue our respective missions with love – a genuine love for each other – with effectiveness.”

The priest noted the need to call on the Holy Spirit’s renewal at a difficult time for the country and the archdiocese. And while Msgr. Vaghi chose not to specifically name the issues causing the division, participants at the Mass entered the cathedral walking past protestors distributing buttons reading “I Believe Christine Blasey.” Some of the protestors respectfully attended the Mass – where there were no disturbances – and later about a dozen protestors chanted the same slogan outside the building while participants left the cathedral.

In testimony at a Senate hearing three days earlier, Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a nominee to serve as a Supreme Court justice, had sexually assaulted her while the two were students at local high schools. During the hearing, Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegation and other charges of sexual misconduct as a high school or college student, saying he had never assaulted anyone in his life. Kavanaugh, who is a member of the John Carroll Society, was not seen at the Red Mass.

Additionally, the Catholic Church in the United States has been facing a clergy sexual abuse crisis, following the news that retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick has been accused of abuse and sexual misconduct, and the release of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailing the abuse of more than 1,000 minors committed by 300 priests in six dioceses in that state over the past seven decades.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington, did not attend the Mass. The cardinal has defended his child protection efforts from when he earlier served as a bishop in Pittsburgh, but he faced strong criticism after the report’s release. In a letter to priests of the archdiocese, Cardinal Wuerl said he would travel to Rome soon to ask Pope Francis to accept the resignation that he had submitted nearly three years ago when he turned 75, and explained that he would take that action “so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward” and it can experience “a new beginning.”

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville represented the archdiocese as principal celebrant at the Mass, which is held each year on eve of the opening of the Supreme Court’s new term. Bishop Dorsonville called on all participants to search out truth, unity, and prayer in “times of turbulence” in order for all to achieve justice.

In his homily, Msgr. Vaghi said, “The Spirit comes – if you will – with the tenderness of a true friend and protector, to save, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console, to renew, to heal.”

Now in his 32nd year as chaplain of the John Carroll Society, Msgr. Vaghi called on the Holy Spirit to move the faithful into being “men and women of justice, compassion, boundless mercy and joy in our respective vocations.”

The priest prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide the faithful in their work as members of the legal profession and in government service. The Mass attendees included John Roberts, chief justice of the United States; Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court associate justices; and Anthony Kennedy, the court’s recently retired associate justice. Other officials in attendance included: Jeff Sessions, U.S. attorney general; members of Congress; John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America; and deans and students from area law schools.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, joined Bishop Dorsonville, Washington Auxiliary Bishops Roy Campbell and Bishop Michael Fisher, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge, and Bishop Paul Loverde, retired bishop of Arlington, and 17 concelebrating priests at the Mass.

 Speaking of the rights outlined in this country’s Declaration of Independence, Msgr. Vaghi said “Life is God’s first gift to us. And I speak of life in every circumstance and condition, and especially the lives of those on the periphery of society, the poor and needy.” said. “Only through constant prayerful study, vigilance, and personal and collective effort will the magnificent vision of our forebears remain a reality today and endure in the years to come.”

Isela Blanc, a member of the Arizona House of Representatives was visiting Washington to see one of her own elected congressmen, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R- Ariz.) on the Kavanaugh matter and did not plan on attending the Red Mass. The Catholic lawmaker said she decided to participate in the Mass wearing one of the protester’s pins in order to “bring attention politely, quietly, and standing up” to those in power who doubt survivors of sexual abuse. She expressed concern that “if someone else has more power than you, your voice no longer matters.”

Blanc said she hears the Gospel message preached during church but fails to see it always lived out in her home state when issues are politicized, often to the detriment of people of color and people in poverty. “It’s devastating,” Blanc said, adding that she was pleased to hear the issues of freedom and justice highlighted during the Red Mass.

Later at a brunch honoring lawyers for their volunteer service, Msgr. Vaghi elaborated on the faithful’s call to holiness and their role as lay leaders. “Crisis management and best business practices have their uses, but they cannot replace true Catholic leadership – which is grounded in personal holiness,” he said in closing remarks. “When intentionally lived, the Christian way of life is a way of living that is different than other ways of life. It is a walk with Jesus.”

The priest said building a relationship with Christ through prayer, sacraments and compassionate outreach “results in sharing this life with others and not being afraid.”

Andrew Cook, chair of the Red Mass Committee for the John Carroll Society described the Mass as wonderful. “It was a time to reflect and to pause and appreciate the blessings we have in our legal system and our Church,” he said.

As part of the event the John Carroll Society honored two individual lawyers and two firms for their commitment to the Archdiocesan Legal Network.

Established in 1989, the Catholic Charities Legal Network has provided pro bono legal assistance to 90,000 individuals who otherwise would not have access to representation. James Bishop, director of the network said it would not be possible without the dedication of many lawyers including retired attorneys who are able to give of their time, as well as law students and new lawyers – several of whom are on loan from firms for up to three months. He credited the Red Mass and John Carroll Society awards as ways of “encouraging other lawyers to volunteer.”

The John Carroll Society 2018 Pro Bono Legal Service Awards were presented to: Ari Fitzgerald, a partner in the Washington DC office of Hogan Lovells; Gerard Mitchell, a partner at Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner; and the firms of Drinker Biddle & Reath and Jones Day. The John Carroll Society Medal was presented to Bishop Mario Dorsonville and Msgr. Ronald Jameson, rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

About 450 members of the John Carroll Society attended the brunch at the Mayflower Hotel, site of the organization’s first meeting in 1951. In a brief talk, “A Return to Our Roots: The Mayflower Hotel and the Beginning of Our Beloved Society” Judge John Bayley described the original founders of the organization who wanted to stand fast in faith, the same motto of the archbishop of Washington at that time, Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle. The fledgling society was named for Archbishop John Carroll, who in 1789 became the nation’s first Catholic bishop, leading the Diocese of Baltimore, which then included all 13 original states.

“Archbishop O’Boyle agreed that the society should maintain the religious and patriotic ideals of Bishop John Carroll who had encouraged the laity to remain steadfast in their faith and to embrace their non-Catholic neighbors with warm charity and forbearance,” Bayley said.