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Monday, August 22, 2011
Cathedral won't allow girl altar servers
Aug. 21, 2011
Girls no longer will be allowed as altar servers during Mass at the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, SS. Simon and Jude.
The Rev. John Lankeit, rector of the cathedral, said he made the decision in hopes of promoting the priesthood for males and other religious vocations, such as becoming a nun, for females.
Made up primarily of fifth- through eighth-graders the altar-server corps in American churches has included girls since 1983 in many places. Girls and boys regularly serve together at churches throughout the Phoenix Catholic Diocese.
Bishops and pastors always have had the option of restricting the role to boys, but only one diocese, Lincoln, Neb., and scattered parishes have done so. Before 1983, when church law
was revised, girls were not allowed to serve.
At SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, the girls will be offered the role of sacristan, the person who prepares the church and the altar area before Mass.
Lankeit said 80 to 95 percent of priests served as altar boys, but he could not state the percentage of altar servers who go on to be priests.
He made the decision on his own, he said, even though the cathedral is recognized as the home church of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and is used for some important church events.
"He leaves these decisions to me," Lankeit said.
SS. Simon and Jude is believed to be the first church in the diocese of Phoenix to ban girls from serving Mass, according to the diocese.
Altar servers have a direct role in the Catholic Eucharistic ceremony, assisting the priest, and are the only lay people directly involved throughout the entire service. Other lay people may serve as lectors or Eucharistic ministers, helping the priest distribute communion.
"The connection between serving at the altar and priesthood is historic," Lankeit said. "It is part of the differentiation between boys and girls, as Christ established the priesthood by choosing men. Serving at the altar is a specifically priestly act."
There appears to be little if any research connecting altar service to a later decision to enter the priesthood - or connecting other types of service for girls to religious life as a nun. Anecdotally, the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., is one of the stronger dioceses in developing new priests.
The Rev. Kieran Kleczewski, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale and director of the diocese Office of Worship, does not expect other parishes following the cathedral's policy just because it is the cathedral.
"That's not the way things work in our diocese," he said. "The pastor has the authority over the parish's liturgical practices."
Kleczewski allows girls to serve Mass and has no plans to change.
Lankeit said there had been little reaction to his decision so far, but it was unlikely to sit well with many Catholics, especially those who have daughters who wish to serve.
"It is a shame on how the church continues to abuse the females," said Bob Lutz of Phoenix, a Catholic with three grown daughters. "Church attendance is shrinking now, and this adds more fuel to the fire on how females are treated as second-class citizens."
Carole Bartholomeuax of Phoenix, who attended St. Joan of Arc parish, said girls outnumbered boys as altar servers there.
"I believe Mary Magdalene set the example for women to be altar servers. I am so sorry to hear of this going backwards," she said, adding that she still loves her church, "warts and all."
But Michael Clancy, who heads the diocesan men's group, said girls never were supposed to be allowed to serve, based on his understanding of the rules of the Mass.