The National Catholic Review

This is not a local story, but one that represents larger trends in the church—in the priesthood, the liturgy and in the role of the people of God. Recently Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, Ariz., changed its policy on altar servers. From now on only boys may serve; girls may apply for jobs as sacristans. Why? The rector of the cathedral told The Catholic Sun that the cathedral is not alone in making this regulation. A parish in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., he argues, have found that replacing girls with boys as servers leads to more vocations to the priesthood.

These moves to limit laywomen’s access to the altar threaten to drag the church back into the pre-Vatican II world. One wonders if next the altar rail will return, another barrier between the priests and the people.

According to the rector, people who are upset about this decision concerning Mass servers make a mistake in considering it “a question of rights,” as if someone’s rights were being denied. But, he says, no one has a “right” to be a server or even more a priest. One must be “called” to any church office. When the secular world comments on who should be an altar server, he says, it has only an emotional view, unguided by the light of reason.

The key issue is the status of the baptized: that the laity may be called by the Spirit to offer their talents in various roles. The rejection of altar girls disregards the counsel of the Second Vatican Council that the charisms of the baptized “are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation.” By virtue of baptism, the council reminds us, “there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus.” There is “a true equality between all with regard to the dignity and activity which is common to all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Nos. 12, 32).

That this call should be fully welcomed does not appear to be a priority in Phoenix. Yes, the Vatican instruction “Sacrament of Redemption” (2004) allows women servers, but it leaves the decision to local bishops. In Phoenix the bishop leaves it to the pastors. This pastor did not consult the parish council, he says, because its members are not theologically trained.

Another issue is the image of the priesthood today. Is it wise to re-enforce the sense of the priesthood as a clerical caste? Is the acolyte supposed to be like the page who serves Sir Galahad until King Arthur dubs him a knight? In a culture where parents want their daughters to have the same opportunities as their sons—in co-ed Catholic colleges, in the armed services, in athletics, in employment—the church can look irrelevant, even foolish, in shunting them aside. The more the priesthood is presented as an exclusive club, the smaller and more remote it will become. Those who put up barriers between themselves and the people should, using modern parlance, recall Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Look, how many times do I have to tell you? You are here to serve.”

Inevitably the issue of women’s roles in the church raises the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood. Recently a cardinal in Lisbon and some bishops in Brazil, among others, also raised the question; but since Pope Benedict XVI, despite continued agitation, has reaffirmed the policy of John Paul II to allow no discussion of the topic, the matter of altar servers must be considered a separate and independent issue.

In no way should policies imply that women are second-class citizens—welcome to tidy up the sacristy, arrange flowers and clean linens but not to set the gifts at the altar or hold the sacramentary or censer. Rather, they must be welcomed into every service and leadership role, including catechists, lectors, chancellors and general secretaries of bishops’ conferences. (The diaconate for women remains an open question and ought to be explored.) Churches that invite all their people to bring all their talents to the welfare of the congregation will thrive. To tell a young woman that she may no longer pour the water on the priest’s fingers at the Lavabo looks like sexism. If the ban in these dioceses continues and spreads, perhaps women and girls will consider withholding their other services to the parishes, and men and boys, in solidarity with their sisters, will decline the honor of acolyte.

Having girls share serving opportunities with boys is an expression of their equality in Christ. Parishes must create a variety of social and service activities. A distinguishing characteristic of today’s young men and women, even when they are not “devout” in the usual sense, is their rejection of discrimination in any form. They are highly sensitive to any hint of exclusionary policies in organizations. Perhaps if more young people believed they could continue that commitment to equality as priests, more would be ready to follow a priestly vocation.

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D Morgan | 10/7/2011 - 7:48pm
To the has been stated already, Holy Mother Church is NOT a democracy. She is the Bride of Christ and is legislated by the successor of St. Peter, along with the Bishops. And although some are terrified that the gains made by some of the more modernist elements within the Church since Vatican Council II concerning liberalizing the Church and her tenants may be stepped back, your duty and mine is to submit in filial obiedience to the Church. That includes Your Bishop and Your Priest.  
 If and when a Diocesan Bishop decides that in His Diocese alter girls will not be allowed, that is his perogative. He is within his Rights as the Shepard of his Diocese. If He feels that this issue is having a negative impact on boys serving at Alter and possibly gaining a discernment toward the Priesthood, so be it. Women cannot be ordained. Period. So why continue to flog a dead horse hoping that somehow a wedge can be created that will somehow lead to an eventual change in this? That is the Only reason that i can discern as to why so many are complaining as to the +Bishop's decision. The age old tactic of the disenters that continual cracks can become a hole. If Women want to more fully follow Christ, and serve His Church in a more fulfilling manner, I suggest there are numerous methods and services that can be rendered which do not include serving at Alter. This entire issue boils down to a simple issue: some Catholics, especially in the western churches disregard the teachings of the Church and want to mold their own brand of Catholicism. The tired arguments of the 60's, 70's and 80's are wearing thin, a movement to regain sanctity and Holiness is emerging and The Holy Father is leading by His example. I Pray  that we can all follow this lead and become an obedient, Faithful people once again. And if you call that returning to the dark ages, fine. Make it so Lord!

"A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. And the Truth is the Truth even if no one Believes it"  +Bishop Fulton Sheen

Read 2nd Timothy, Chapter 3
Read Pascendi Dominici Gregis by His Holiness +Pope Saint Pius X

Pax Chisti
Thomas Piatak | 10/7/2011 - 3:18pm
Mr. Mattingly,

You are right, I have largely lost interest in this debate, although I appreciate your continued interest in fighting the good fight.

I would recommend to you again the piece I cited in comment 64 above.  It is from a mainstream researcher and does a very good job showing that the Catholic Church in the US is growing and will likely continue to do so.

I would also recommend this piece, from the same source:

As this piece shows, there is not a great difference between whites and Hispanics in terms of their remaining within the Church in the US.  The 2008 General Social Survey showed a retention rate among white Catholics of 68% and among Hispanic Catholics of 75%.  In other words, the Catholic Church is not doing better than mainline Protestant churches solely because of immigration.  Retention rates for mainline Protestant denominations are far lower than either of these figures.

As I noted, liberal mainline Protestantism is declining everywhere.  These groups already have female clergy, no prohibition on divorce, no prohibition on contraception, largely approve of homosexuality, and more democratic church governance than the Catholic Church.  If changes in these areas were the key to growth, these groups would be booming.  They are not.  Conforming the Church to the demands of the contemporary world is not the way forward, as the experience of mainline liberal Protestantism clearly shows.
Norman Costa | 10/7/2011 - 12:44pm

@ Frank:

How many women in this discussion have talked about their love of the Church, desire to serve the Lord, and give their all for the people of God. Yet, you characterize them as reflecting and advancing a secular feminist agenda.

These women are not fleeing the Church, they are asking to participate fully - no more, no less than the men. But, you cannot see them doing any more then intruding and barring the return of men who have fled. Who can justify the call for women to go and hide so they don't scare away the absent men who might return?

If everyone were to flee, one by one, I guarantee that the last person standing would be a woman. It had already happened. The women at Capharnum were probably the most dependable of Jesus' supporters, friends, and contributors. These were intelligent, savvy, successful women of some means. Do you believe that Jesus' ministry was all one-sided? Do you not imagine that as much as they listened and learned, they also conversed, shared, advised, and even argued with Jesus? Can you not allow that Jesus the man would listen and learn from these women, that he valued their company, depended on them, and trusted them? Is it too far a stretch of the mind and heart to accept that Jesus had faith in them, as they had faith in Him?

Have you heard of the recently discovered religious text, "The Gospel of Misogynah." I quote one of its verses: "And I say unto you, 'Behold, woman will only impede the path of man to righteousness. Have her stand to the side as he flees so he may return if it so move him.'"
C Walter Mattingly | 10/7/2011 - 12:41pm
Thank you for the reservations and the question.
Regarding discarding or discounting American Church membership for immigrants, I personally find that inapplicable in this casem first because we are after all talking about US Church membership, and secondly, it seems particularly inappropriate in the American Catholic Church to do so, as America is an immigrant nation, and the American Church, correspondingly, is an immigrant Church.  Nonetheless here is some information I found from the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security.
I refer here to the years 2009 and 2010, as these are the two years covered by the 2010 and 2011 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches I referred to.
According to the Obama administration, those two years saw the deportation of over a half million illegal, very largely Hispanic immigrants. During those two years, about 180,000 Mexicans, by far the largest group of Hispanics, became naturalized citizens. Again, according to the Obama administration, the number of illegal immigrants present in the US dropped from 11.8 to 11.2 million. So if you give credibility to the Obama administration's figures, concluding that the increases in American Catholic Church membership was built by Hispanic immigration in those two years of 2009 and 2010 is questionable in itself. Not only Obama's deportation program, which he claims deported the greatest number of illegal Hispanics per year ever, affected these two years, but also the severe recession discouraged Hispanic immigration to the US, illegal or otherwise. I do not have the time to research the topic thoroughly, I'm sure other relevant info could be brought to bear.
6466379 | 10/7/2011 - 11:37am
I tried to read Post #165 but got lost in its glacial, its chilling projections as to what Church is all about, leaving me as it were in a glaze and in ecclesial vertigo! The Church Mr. David Rudmin believes in  ( and he truly believes what he projects) seems chained to itself, bogged down in the klunk, klunk, klunk, of massive rstraints, destined to move little, or at best trudge in a kind of twisted circular trod.

It's not how I understand the teaching of Jesus, which was very liberating to women. Mr. Rudmin's scholarly conclusions based I suspect  on the mistakes of saints and the confused myopia of scholars, from whose flawed teachings the Church continues to suffer in some  ways, is disheartening. The Church I love and would die for,  still continues to do wrong things, even if for supposed right reasons creating an almost unsolveable dilemma for many. About 99% of the Church is laity, of which the majority is female. Clergy amount for less than 1% of membership. A woman is "Mother of the Church" and her daughters are banned from serving the Family Table in their own home? Something is messed up there!
Anne Chapman | 10/7/2011 - 11:16am
This thread shows that patriarchy in the church is not only not dead, but is being deliberately brought back to life. The priest in Phoenix is anti-female and anti-laity. The bishop in the same place is also anti-woman and has a clericical superiority complex that is a bad example for the rest of the priests in his diocese. He's probably the reason the priest who banned the grils from the altar figures he can be so "in your face" to little girls (how weak is that?), and to all laity. These examples are encouraging lay men to think that they can also be as openly oppressive to women as they want.

These people who think they are men are weak. They think men can't compete on an equal playing field with somen, so women need to be put back in their "place" and it is men who decide what that place is. The misognists are crawling out from the dark places again. 

The posters  of some of this nonsense should name the sources of their statements. A lot of it sounds like John Paul II, who was not a friend to women. Or maybe they're  getting it second-hand from far right bloggers, like the one that one of the  posters mentioned.
C Walter Mattingly | 10/7/2011 - 10:07am
The sentence with the question mark I referred to was in #139, second paragraph.
Thank you for your response. From my point of view it was genuine, helpful, and adequate and furthers an important dialogue.
I think your point on what is and isn't "liberal" is well taken. You may have noticed I was more comfortable with the term "mainline"; I switched to "liberal" becaue that's the term Tom Piatek used in his statement I referred to, as well as the NCS study. Ultimately, we are speaking here about support for Protestant reforms already generally taken by mainline and most Protestants contrary to Church positions, many advocated by commentators here, and recent demographic trends in the various US Christian churches. I have limited my comments primarilty to the US Church, as almost all commentators here are in America and therefore more familiar with and immediately affected by the Church here.
Still, the question does arise as to why certain "conservative" Protestant churches, such as Pentacostal churches which I'll address separately, are maintaining and gaining membership while their mainline bretheren are so steadily losing membership. You mention as a valid distinction that the positions of mainline Protestantism on the one hand and the Church and those "conservative" sects not losing membership on the other is their postiion on abortion. Agreed, and it is obviously an immensely controversial and seminal one. Nothing else involves the loss of a million innocents annually in our country. That may be the largest issue in terms of social justice of any mentioned.
You also add as a distinguishing characteristic the position of the conservative Protestant churches on holding to the literal words of the Bible as opposed to both the Church's and mainstream Protestantism's acceptance of figurative speech. I would agree with this on questions concerning the Old Testament, which is so obviously figurative and poetic, but would demure to an extent on the NT. We have encountered, for example, Christ's words in the NT on the nature and the indissolubility of marriage. You and many others maintain that His overriding concern here was with the social and economic damage a man divorcing a woman could cause and was not proscribing divorce per se but merely protecting the woman. That was clarified when dealing with his apostles' objections, He made clear the mutuality of male and female in the marriage vow: "He said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.'" The reciprocal obligation is made clear; denying it is a serious stretch of casuistry that runs counter to Christ's clear reciprocal intolerance of divorce for either party. With these words of intolerance for divorce, we are told, Jesus not only caught grief from his disciples but also lost many followers. And so has the Church. But it has gained something also: it has in this instance been true to Jesus' words and, therefore, true to itself. In doing so on hard, unpopular issues it gains a certain authenticity which has enabled it to thrive despite its constant and disheartening failures from Peter on down to the present.
On the issue of transubstantiation, which as you point out is rejected by all Protestant sects, I would add an addendum. This rejection came about in part as the result of a rising historical consciousness and the growth of what would become logical positivism. When the celebration of the eucharistic meal became merely a rememberance rather than a reaccomplishment of Christ's passion, the experience of liturgical, mythic, eternal time and event became a historical remembrance of something that happened long ago. A sense of a tangible, living evidence of God's immanent presence centrally contained within the liturgy of the Mass was diminshed. Several commentators in these threads have spoken that they have either remained in the Church or converted to it because of the spiritual graces they experience in the Eucharist.
The Pentacostal Protestant churches, in particular, have managed to restore that living, immanent Presence in their liturgy through glossolalia, God's immanent presence in the chords and words of the person through whom He speaks. That could also have something to do with both the Church and Pentacostal Protestant churches having more stable/growing members than the mainline churches. This may also help account for the more fervent nature of the liturgy in these churches.
Anne, thanks again for your informed response. I am going to respond to the immigrant factor question Jack Barry brought up separately.
Leonard Villa | 10/7/2011 - 9:32am
This editorial does not know anything about working with boys. First of all we have a male crisis in the church of monumental proportion which is not being addressed. Men stay away from church in droves. Many consider this women's work and business. The claim to advance women or concern about this is simply dancing to tunes set by the secular culture hence the editorial's seeming unwillingness to accept the definiteive teaching that women cannot be ordained. The Castelli study done years ago pointed out the feminization of the Church: the majority of EM's, lectors, etc. in a parish are women. Men are the vanishing species when it comes to church and in many parishes the only male in the sanctuary is the priest. Parishes which promote altar girls will see the gradual disappearance of the boys because they will see this as a girl thing. If you couple this with the male crisis in general in the Church you can see its devastating effect on vocations. Boys have to see that the priesthood is a manly vocation and not a refuge for fops, retreads, or other individuals deemed unable to make it on the outside. Many boys in the past have discovered their vocation precisely by service at the altar. It's time for the Church and your magazine to address the male crisis in the Church and not dance to the agenda and tunes of a secular feminism.
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/7/2011 - 1:01am
Is anyone else amused by the following:

Those advocating a 1950s (and before) orthodoxy show great respect for the clergy with whom they agree and great hostility and disdain to the clery they disagree with.  Moreover, these same folks seem to feel they are completely qualified to interpret and selectively quote from official publications laying out Church teaching, while discrediting theologians and the clergy who read these documents differentl or hold different views.

The same extremists also find it quite easy to tell everyone else to do what their bishop says or their local priest, so long as they agree with those bishops/priests.  Only a few of those who support kicking the girls off the altar say that it is up to the pastor or bishop.  Overwhelmingly these lay men (and a few women) don't leave it with the pastor or bishop.  Nope.  THe take up 15 inches of space on this comment log to argue why they in their self-proclaimed expert opinion know why the girls should be kicked out.

Some might call this being a cafeteria catholic!
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/7/2011 - 12:49am
    David Rudmin - I don't mean to respond in kind or unkindly but your overly long entry is full of half-baked, psuedo-psychology, pseudo-theology that amounts to analyis by assertion.  I'm sorry that some men are unable to accept a God that is gender neutral because of your own limitations.  The arrogance of these assertions is stunning and I'm really left dazed by how narrow-minded this perspective is and how out of line it is to superimpose on our God. what are outdated discredited ideas even to humans  Thankfully most of the Catholic world has grown up from such ideas and has really come to understand our loving God is limitless in his love.  It isn't that men and women are not different but how you can believe God wants to limit how any of us serves and loves him is beyond me.  I am tempted to say, "how dare you," and "shame on you." but I know you and others who hold similar views are sincere.  What you don't realize is that you display an immature undrestanding of God, of men, and certainly of women.  I will continue to pray for those who hold such extremist ideas whose anticidents are historically rooted in the prejudices, fear, and simple-mindedness of Western thinking several centuries ago.  Yours might be slight updated, or wrapped in paper, but it's not hard to see where the origin of such ideas lie - not in God but superstition and fear.  I pity those who hold such views and will indeed pray for you.
Norman Costa | 10/6/2011 - 11:31pm
@ David Rudmin:

Where did you get this stuff? I am sure that what you wrote is sincerely believed and deeply felt. It is my personal view that it is deeply offensive to my daughters, my women friends and colleagues, and many men. 

I remember, well, a book in my college library in the 1960s titled, "Catholic Psychology." It translated Freudian notions, long discredited, about men being active and penetrating, and women being passive and receptive. You might as well have said that anatomy is priestly destiny.

You talk about "...a rich Biblical tradition of various women referring to themselves as "handmaids of the Lord" (the female counterpart for the term "servant")...". Let's be clear that male authors and redacters of the bible wrote about "women referring to themselves."

In many cultures, especially in prehistory, women were the shamans, the priestesses, and the mediators with the goddesses.  They knew the secrets of Nature's remedies and elixers. They were the birthers of a spiritual sense and a connection to all of nature. Agriculture was more the domain of women in the transition from hunter gathering to farming. Today in many cultures, it is women who make daily offerings, outside her front door, to deities that can be of help. Go anywhere in Thailand, or India, or Bali in Indonesia. You find it in godless Hong Kong, for Pete's sake. 

If there is anyone who knows about spirituality, an intuituve sense, sanctification, intercession, offerings and sacrifices, a regard for the holy, and shepherding, it's a woman.  
David Rudmin | 10/6/2011 - 10:37pm
The Human (Anthropological) Argument for the Preferability of Male Altar-Serving:

           What is altar-serving?  Altar-serving is a venue where a person steps up before the community and performs functions that represent the service of the community as a whole. The community, as a "nation of priests" (Ex. 19:6, I Pe. 2:9) offers mostly spiritual gifts to the priest (their time, treasure, daily sacrifices, prayers, etc.), who in turn then offers these prayers, sacrifices, etc. of his congregation up to God in the Mass, in union with the offering of the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ on the altar.  Since we are all priestly by our baptismal anointing, then technically anyone, male or female, can perform this symbolic role of bringing the gifts up to the altar in his (or her) capacity as an altar server. It is like the Levites in the old testament who were at the disposal of the Aaronic priesthood to assist and do whatever Aaron and his sons-the consecrated priests-needed (Interest fact: All the Levites, male and female ate of the sacrifices, though only the men did the work in the inner court).
           But in a ceremonial sense, altar-serving is more than this: It is service . . . WORK . . . servant-hood. Although there is a rich Biblical tradition of various women referring to themselves as "handmaids of the Lord" (the female counterpart for the term "servant")-including our Blessed Mother-this is NOT something, I argue, that women should particularly aspire to. Why? It goes back to the differing natures of male and female work:
            MAN's BODY IS CONSUMPTIVE AND HIS SPIRIT IS BY NATURE PRODUCTIVE; CONVERSELY, WOMAN'S BODY IS BY NATURE PRODUCTIVE, AND HER SPIRIT IS CONSUMPTIVE [Capitalized since this is a general principle].  Now since altar-serving occurs tangibly, in the physical realm, we can for the moment discount the spiritual half, and focus just on the physical half. Since woman's body is by nature physically productive, she doesn't need to work in the physical realm to justify her existence . . . after all, it happens for her naturally (i.e. by 1st Act, the act-not of DOING anything, which is known as "2nd act," but-of simply BEING who she is), in the generation of new life.  Just by being who she is (again, 1st act), she already has an incredibly larger amount of work to do that men don't, and so she already has her work cut out for her.  However, man's body is not by nature productive, and therefore he has a very real need to work and do tangible things (i.e. through 2nd Acts of DOING things) to express in a physical way his spiritual value and thereby justify his existence. For this reason, men have a psychological need to DO something to show for themselves, and they therefore excel not at BEING perfect (as women do) but at trying to DO things to perfection. A man longs to do not just a satisfactory job, but the perfect "end-all, be-all" job that perfectly and essentially represents and models that sort of work. He doesn't just want to do any old firefighter's work (unless he's so worn out that his spirit doesn't care anymore). . . . No, he wants to do a superior, outstanding job of firefighting! (Contrariwise have you ever found a woman who was obsessed with doing her job "to a T"? . . . If you did, at least we can admit that it's comparatively rare.) Of course this isn't always true (e.g. sometimes in the interest of time even men have to accept 2nd-rate work), but it often is, and therefore illustrates the principle:  Men must DO well to find their flourishing.  
                Consequently, in altar-serving where most especially there is the need to do not just an ordinary job, but an EXCELLENT job (indeed, the very best that we as a community can offer to God!), a man is much more suited to what the situation calls for.  For a man feels in his bones and tendons the riveting, sacred, and intuitive knowledge of the virtuous actions which he is modeling and carrying out.   In serving then, and by being stirred by the act of what he is doing, he finds his calling, his "vocation," his flourishing, that is, of being himself intuitively sanctified by the sacred service which he is rendering.  Women do not have such strong senses and muscular movements, and so they do not intuitively feel every little action (and its inner spiritual significance), to quite the same degree that men do.  In showing himself a model of virtue, faith, and servanthood then, that is, in carrying out his role to the best that it can be done (Essentially, ceremonially, ritualistically, i.e. "to a Tee"), man finds his flourishing, his ultimate self-identity, and this can occur in no other way, except by physically (i.e. in action) stepping into that role and DOING it, to the point of becoming identified with it.   A man then has a need to express himself FULLY in his work, and this is especially true in the sacred and demanding work of altar-serving.  
            Does this mean then that women are unable to be altar servers? Of course not! It just means that a woman's flourishing isn't expressed in the act of physically DOING the altar-serving, so much as a man's is. By contrast, woman's flourishing is expressed more in other things: If she really wants to excel to perfection in something (i.e. thru 2nd Acts of 'doing'), then it is more natural for her 2nd acts of doing to occur in the spiritual realm (e.g. by praying, doing spiritual sacrifices, making acts of faith, hope, and love, etc.-which is also why so many nuns became wonderfully DEEP mystics, very close to the heart of Christ-just look at Dante's Paradiso). Conversely, within the physical realm, woman's work occurs by doing things not with perfection, but merely satisfactorily-e.g. showing her family sufficiently clothed and taken care of (Note: There's no "best" or "ultimate" at this sort of thing). Of course, we must not forget that woman's flourishing and radiance in the physical realm occurs more naturally by 1st Act-i.e. by the bearing of children. Consequently, in regard to the Mass, it's best for all parties involved, if a woman just accepts the general role (which applies to nearly the entire congregation anyways, both male and female), of offering her weekly sacrifice spiritually, symbolically, and through the hands of (the altar server and) the priest, and doesn't seek the extraordinary role of doing it in front of everybody on the altar. Instead, a girl should be urged NOT to worry about the fact that she never gets an opportunity to be an altar server (It doesn't realy matter, after all, anyways!). Instead, she should be urged to concentrate on excelling in those areas where she can and really does surpass the boys (since they're often busy worrying about physical things)-i.e. in assisting the mass in its true dimension-spiritually-though making spiritual offerings and imbibing and hence growing in the spiritual virtues which are really more integral to being a Christian anyways (see Pius XII's encyclicals: "Mystici Corporis Christi" and "Mediator Dei"), inasmuch as Christianity has always been more about BEING than about DOING (Though by God's grace doing can also lead back to and cause new existence, new being). 

            So ladies, certainly step up if the situation calls you to it! But all other things being equal, please give as many guys as possible the chance, not because you can't do it, but because they can, and moreover, they NEED to, in order to forge a self-identity and become who it is that they need and wish to be.  Physical servanthood, just as much as soldiering ("servant" and "soldier" were synonyms in ancient times), is an essentially male activity.

-   -   -
            Note: Just because women can, if necessary, be altar servers, doesn't mean that they can, if necessary step up and be ordained priests, because that's an entirely different situation.  In ordination, the ordinained stands as a symbolic sacramental sign of Christ, "in persona Christi;" either as Christ the prophet and preacher (for deacons), or as Christ the priest (for priests), or as Christ the king (for bishops), and for all of these, male-ness is a definite requirement, since Christ was male and performs the service in his capacity as a male, as the heavenly bridegroom, calling (Deacon), sanctifying (Priest), or saving (Bishop) his church.  Also, this sort of ordination is purely spiritual-i.e. at the rational level-not partially physical and partially spiritual (as altar serving is)-i.e. at the sensate level-and so it has higher standards of purity (rational purity) than altar-serving does (mere sensate purity). 
Norman Costa | 10/6/2011 - 7:38pm
@ Michael:

Your clarification is a welcomed bonus. 
Anne Chapman | 10/6/2011 - 6:34pm
Michael (#162), I believe Norman was addressing his comment to David S (#159). 

Thank you for the background information that traces the source of Humanae Vitae to Karol Wojtyla.  I had long been aware of the fact that Pope Paul VI ignored the recommendation of the vast majority of the Commission who had studied the matter for several years, but had not been aware of the Polish/Wojtyla connection.
Michael Barberi | 10/6/2011 - 6:27pm
My comments followed several other blog comments about the various opinions of Catholics concerning the teachings and practices of the Church and the relationship to the profound disagreement over female alter servers specifically and the role of women generally. The statistics cited in these recent blog comments point to a Church divided and some possible reasons for a Church in Crisis.
My comments were related to one reason, the moral method called ecclesiastic positivism. As such, I offered examples of how inconsistency and contradiction in the formation and application of some Church teachings have impacted the opinions of Catholics and have in many ways lead to a distrust in the Magisterium as the authority on morals. Why we have a crisis of truth in the Catholic Church is most complex and while my comments are simply my opinion, I hoped to shed a wider light on this general subject, but if I added to ambiguity, I apologize. 
Is this a clearer description of my point?
Norman Costa | 10/6/2011 - 5:21pm
@ David S.

I am not being facetious or snide when I ask, what is the point you are trying to make, or trying to support with your quotes, above?

I am not clear where you are going.  
Michael Barberi | 10/6/2011 - 3:23pm
IMO, the most important issue is not the teachings of the Protestant and Catholic Churches from the standpoint that this is the primary reason for a decrease or increase in Mass attendance or Catholic Church membership. Clearly, the change in Church membership is caused by many factors and one of them could be disagreement with Church teachings. However, most Catholics (I can't substantiate this) choose to remain Catholic and elect to fight for reform in their own way. Some have given up the fight or refused to fight because they believe it is futile.

The most important issus is hypocracy, the inconsistency and contradiction in how certain teachings are applied in real life circumstances. The other troublesome issue is authoratatively closing debate on the most profound issues that cause much suffering and divide the members of the Roman Catholic Church (abortion to save the life of the mother when the fetus will die with certainty under all circumstances: contraception use to space pregnancies and as security when spouses want no more children for good reasons, the use of condoms by serodiscordant couples, in vitro fertilzation using the husbands sperm, etc). It is our failure as a Church not to strive continuously for soldiarity. Instead we have ecclesiastical positivism, without remainder. It is driven by pride that tradition and the papal utterance is the Divine truth regardless if such teachings lack of a convincing moral theory.

 For example, when Humanae Vitae was issued in 1968, Paul VI asserted that he could not accept the conclusions of the Pontifical Commisson on Birth Regulation (PBCC) because there was not a complete agreement among the (72) members and that the conclusions were in tension with "the constant doctrine on marriage" taught throughout the centuries. Unfortunately, the doctrine on marriage was never static but constantly changing since Augustine. The very lack of a complete agreement that Paul VI used to dismiss the Commission's conclusions, was in contradiction, used by Paul VI to embrace the Minority Report, supported by only 4 theologians, and the conclusions of a one-country Commission in Poland, limited to Polish bishops and theologians, headed by Karol Wojtyla. Seventy-five percent of the PBCC members voted for the conclusions of the Commission Report representing a wide cross-section of bishops, theologians and laity from 5 continents. Yet, Paul VI choose to embrace the conclusions of a narrow Polish commission and a few theologians that voted for the Minority Report. The inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act, the moral absolute at the heart of HV, was first articulated by Karol Wojtyla in his 1960 book Love and Responsibilty (L&R).  Therefore, it is not an exaggeration that L&R, HV and the Theology of the Body were the integrated theory of one man, Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II. Paul VI was searching for a reason to embrace tradition, and he found it. However, there was no complete agreement or a constant teaching on marriage to support it. 

Each week, there are hundreds of Catholics who practice contraception and stand in line to receive Eucharistic Communion, condemned by the Vatican as intrinsically evil, a mortal sin. The priests of each parish know this and ignore it. The rationale: if those Catholics are following their informed consciences, there is no sin. They are simply invincibly ignorant.  The hypocracy is that for those few Catholics that confess the sin of contraception, they receive absolution without a firm purpose of amendment under the princilple of graduation that apply to habitual sinners. But, this principle does not apply to other habitual sinners like the divorced and remarried Catholics.

I could go on, but I would just be repeating myself. It is not surprising that we have a crisis of truth in our Church today.
David Siefker | 10/6/2011 - 3:03pm
I am somewhat surprised by the treatment of Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) in this article.  I'm afraid these quotations are quite distorted from their original contexts.  Here is the relevant section from the article:

The key issue is the status of the baptized: that the laity may be called by the Spirit to offer their talents in various roles. The rejection of altar girls disregards the counsel of the Second Vatican Council that the charisms of the baptized “are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation.” By virtue of baptism, the council reminds us, “there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus.” There is “a true equality between all with regard to the dignity and activity which is common to all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Nos. 12, 32).

The reference to charisms is given below in its context (Lumen Gentium #12).  Note that these charisms are juxtaposed with the role of "the sacraments and the ministries of the Church."  The latter are not included as a subset among these charisms.  But for the sake of arguemnt, even if they were included in the charisms:  "judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church."  This is exactly what the good Reverend Lankeit is doing.

12. ... It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, "allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills,(114) He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit".(115) These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.(116)

The reference to "there is neither male nor female..." is given below in its context (Lumen Gentium #32).  Note that the paragraph begins by saying that "all the members have not the same function."  And again immediately after the quoted section, the council fathers reiterate, "If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path..."

32. By divine institution Holy Church is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity. "For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another".(191) Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: "one Lord, one faith, one baptism"(192); sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity. There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because "there is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all 'one' in Christ Jesus".(193)

If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God.(194) And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ. For the distinction which the Lord made between sacred ministers and the rest of the People of God bears within it a certain union, since pastors and the other faithful are bound to each other by a mutual need. Pastors of the Church, following the example of the Lord, should minister to one another and to the other faithful. These in their turn should enthusiastically lend their joint assistance to their pastors and teachers. Thus in their diversity all bear witness to the wonderful unity in the Body of Christ. This very diversity of graces, ministries and works gathers the children of God into one, because "all these things are the work of one and the same Spirit".(195)

Therefore, from divine choice the laity have Christ for their brothers who though He is the Lord of all, came not to be served but to serve.(196) They also have for their brothers those in the sacred ministry who by teaching, by sanctifying and by ruling with the authority of Christ feed the family of God so that the new commandment of charity may be fulfilled by all. St. Augustine puts this very beautifully when he says: "What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop; but with you I am a Christian. The former is a duty; the latter a grace. The former is a danger; the latter, salvation" (1*).

Note also how St. Augustine is quoted above by the council fathers:  He refers to his Prieshood using words like "terrifies me," "duty," "danger."  Does that sound like a "clerical caste," or an exclusive club?

Also, perhaps some attention should be paid to a response from the CDW in 2001, which discusses exactly this topic:

In accord with the above cited instructions of the Holy See such an authorization may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar, nor require that priests of the diocese would make use of female altar servers, since "it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar" (Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conference, March 15, 1994, no. 2). Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain, not least of all due to the well known assistance that such programs have provided since time immemorial in encouraging future priestly vocations (cf. ibid.)

With respect to whether the practice of women serving at the altar would truly be of pastoral advantage in the local pastoral situation, it is perhaps helpful to recall that the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors
Norman Costa | 10/6/2011 - 11:30am
Re: The American Catholic Church and  immigration:

The following is an excerpt from my comment on Bishop Timothy Dolan's article on "The Catholic Schools We Need." I believe it is relevant to the discussion here about Catholic immigrant populations. I am quoting Bishop Dolan on the decline of Catholic Schools as a result of changes in immigration of Catholics. Following the quote is my commentary.

2. "[T]he drastic shift in demographics of the late-20th century that saw a dramatic drop-off in Catholic immigration from Europe;" -Bishop Timothy Dolan

Agreed! Faith, the Church, native language, and social cohesion enabled arriving Catholics to survive and then prosper. The Church was a great socializing influence in creating U.S. citizens who could participate in our democracy. This country's debt to the American Catholic Church and schools, for the mainstreaming of immigrants into our nation, is incalculable. 

One question becomes obvious after noting the decline in immigration of Catholics. Are there not enough Catholics already in this country whose children can benefit from Catholic schools, even with declining birth rates? If the survival of Catholic schools is dependent upon large numbers of immigrant Catholics, yesterday and today, then something was missing all along in Catholic education. It seems as though Catholics are just now trying to find out what was missing. -Norman Costa
Jack Barry | 10/6/2011 - 10:39am

Walter  -  You base your argument from statistics on the "relatively stable membership our church (sic) has experienced".    Taking comfort from recent Hispanic immigrants supporting the population of the US Church is a parochial view in the secular sense of the word.   Each Catholic immigrant to the US is a loss of one Catholic in the country of origin.   As seen from the Vatican, the net change in the Americas due to immigration of Hispanic Catholics to the US is zero.   What does that say about "our church"?   

Statistics can commonly be used to show whatever one wants when accompanied by suitable hypothetical explanations, as you know.   A step toward plausibility if not irrefutability would be to look separately at the US sub-population of recent Catholic Hispanic immigrants and the US non-immigrant Catholic sub-population.  What do you find? 

Thanks, Anne C.  Please keep it up.

Anne Chapman | 10/6/2011 - 10:25am
Walter, I am still not sure of what your question was - there were no question marks in the post you referenced, but maybe I was reading the wrong post? Maybe try again?

You assert that liberal Protestant denominations are in decline because: they have women's ordination, they don't exclude divorced members (which is different than "approving" divorce), they don't teach transubstantiation, they don't accept papal authority, they tolerate abortion.  OK, that is probably fairly accurate.

 Now let's look at conservative Protestant denominations - most have women's ordination (with the exception of the Southern Baptists primarily), none accept the doctrine of transubstantiation, none accept papal authority, most do not reject divorced members (once again, they don't "approve" of divorce), some reject keeping abortion legal. 

With the exception of abortion (and rejecting the legality of abortion is not universal among conservative Protestant denominations either), this profile is almost identical to that of liberal Protestant denominations and quite different from that of the Roman Catholic church with the exception of mostly disapproving of abortion.  I am surprised that you left out modern birth control from your list since you bring that up quite a bit. Protestants, both liberal and conservative, do not reject the use of modern birth control methods.

There are probably two major things that divide liberal Protestants and conservative Protestants.  The first would be their approaches to scripture - many conservative Protestants read scripture literally - they argue that the earth was created only a few thousand years ago and that it was done in 6 days.  They reject much science. Liberal Protestants do not read scripture literally and this is the approach taken by the Roman Catholic church at least since Pius XII, with the beginnings of a departure from literalism starting a bit earlier. But, a century or so ago, the RCC was also interpreting scripture literally still.

I would suspect that at this point, the other major issue dividing "liberal" and "conservative" Protestants is something not mentioned in your list, but related to how they approach understanding scripture (literally or not literally) - and that is their different understandings of the place of homosexuals in the church. Some totally reject homosexuals and condemn them in no uncertain terms. The liberal Protestant denominations are wrestling with the issue and some have made decisions that offend conservatives. This is one issue on which the conservative Protestants and Roman Catholic official teaching do coincide.

 Other than that, there is little difference in terms of Protestants' universal rejection of many RCC teachings - papal infallibiity, transubstantiation, the definition of sacraments, Marian theology, birth control, denial of ordination to women. Conservative Protestants no more agree with the Catholic church on these things than do liberal Protestants and yet they are growing in membership - without the boost of immigration. 

Beyond scriptural fundamentalism, the other reason many conservative Protestant churches are growing is the style of their worship - it tends to be warmer, more inclusive of the non-clergy, and livelier than that of either the Roman Catholic or the mainline Protestant churches.  From the studies I have read and the anecdotes people share, these congregations are very welcoming and offer a strong sense of real community - rather hard to achieve in most urban area Catholic churches with thousands of parishoners, most of whom come to church and leave again without even recognizing more than a handful of people, if that.
C Walter Mattingly | 10/6/2011 - 9:30am
Thank you for the offer to continue the conversation on my question via email. But it seems to me either I am unable to rise to the level of articulation you require to entertain my question, or you wish to avoid answering it. As I lack the verbal skills to phrase the question more clearly in the first instance, and you decline to entertain the question in the second, I doubt the exchange would be productive, So permit me to take a pass on the invitation this time. But I appreciate and thank you for offering the invitation. 
Others have shown an interest, especially for "irrefutable" data on the question, posed originally be Tom Piatek, that since the same liberal Protestant churches in America that have already extended most of the reforms many of our liberal commentators here desire, such as women's ordination, approval of divorce, acceptance of abortion (by no means as broadly supported by liberals here, as I have been chastized for suggesting), decentralization/elimination of papal authority, rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation. have in recent years suffered a declining membership, as opposed to the relatively stable membership our church has experienced, why should we expect a different result from following their lead? Others have pointed out immigration patterns have affected these numbers, and truly they have, yet we are and always have been an immigrant church. Without the great Irish, Italian, and German Catholic immigrations of the past century and a half, and the Hispanic ones recently, the Church here would be nothing like it is today. Even our editors Kevin Clarke and Tim Reilly, whose heritage I suspect partly by name but mainly by choice of the favored beverage they belt down when they have read one too many of our (my) comments here, would be absent. And in those earlier times the church suffered administrations even more hostile to its values and carisms than our current one.
While I doubt any set of numbers is "irrefutable," here are the last two years of numbers from the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which the National Council of Churches presents as the most authoritative source on the subject:

Catholic church membership   up .6%   up 1.5%
Presbyterian "                      down  2.6%  down 3.3%
Episcopal      "   down 2.5% down 2.8%
Lutheran       "   down 1.1% down 1.9%
Methodist     "   down 1% down 1%

 "Reverend Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the Yearbook since 1998, said many experts cite 'an increasing secularization of American postmodern society, and its disproportional impact on liberal religious groups as the cause of decline in some American churches.'"
As Reverend Lindner is obviously not a Catholic priest promoting a Catholic agenda (actually a Presbyterian minister), with her own church among the mainline protestant denominations suffering from these losses and subject to the assessment she presents, it would seem logical to question whether following their lead in these reforms would strengthen the church and increase its membership. I don't here mean any criticism of our fellow Christians, whom I would hope to thrive as our church hopes to thrive. It is meant, however, as a shot across the bow to those who would propose to emulate their lead.
Kevin and Tim, your choice of Jameson might even be more fortuitous than you expect. Your greatest Irishman of modernity, James Joyce, favored Jameson when he wasn't imbibing Swiss white wines. His reason, I recall, is that most whiskey is made from treated water. He claimed that Jameson, however, is made from the untreated waters straight from the Liffey, including the organic and inorganic detritus of mankind. Therefore in imbibing Jameson, you get not only the waters of life, but also the sewerage of mankind. In other words, you take in the whole thing, not merely a purified essence. That this is still the case, I would doubt, but at least you can participate in that tradition. 
Thus with our church. 
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Norman Costa | 10/6/2011 - 12:28am
We've had a couple of priests contribute to the discussion on both sides. Thank you, all! This is a bonus for all of us, especially if we keep to vehement and passionate debate without flaying alive the opposing writers and denouncing their sinful ways. Please, let's hear from more priests in these discussions.

Without going back and analyzing the comments, it seemed to me that there were significant efforts to develop a line of thought, and do a decent job of explaining. At least one of the Editors demonstrated his ability to retain his sanity and sense of humor. 
Lisa Weber | 10/5/2011 - 11:41pm
I am grateful for this long comment board.  That a discussion exists anywhere in the church is an encouraging sign.  Thank you to all.
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/5/2011 - 10:52pm
    Dear Editors...thank you for your reply...first smile to emerge from reading this very long comment board!  I knew you must have a healthy sense of humor - which, I would add, also should be seen as a requirement for the priesthood!

while not related to the article, for which I apologize, thank you, thank you, thank you for being there multiple times a week (through the magazine, blogs, etc) to remind me and the world that being Catholic can embody both outstanding anaytical skills and love of God, the Church, and our fellow human beings!  Blessings on all of you.
Michael Barberi | 10/5/2011 - 8:15pm


I think the state of affairs of the Catholic Church is more accurately described as a reflection of ecclesiastical positivism. Your comment about birth regulation was not completely clear. If you meant that you support Humanae Vitae, I would love to know your argument since the Church has been in search of an intelligible and convincing moral theory since 1968.

The opinions of Catholics are not a reason for disagreeing with a Church teaching. Opinions do not prove anything theologically. However, a teaching that is not received may be true, but it does not contain any power to change behavor. Catholics do not have a right to disagree with a doctrine of the Church, but they must never go against their informed conscience.

The statistics I referenced should be viewed in terms of its context. If I did not make this clear, that is my fault. Your further reference to statistics should indicate that the message about Catholic theology is also problematic. We have a divided Church for many reasons and ecclesiastical positivism is not helping to bring about needed soldiarity.


KEN CHAISON | 10/5/2011 - 6:29pm

The simple solution is for the boys to stay away too.  Parents… find another parish and, obviously, stop contributing to the parish.  I would move parishes to demonstrate to my children that I do not believe in such foolish and blatant sexism.

Historically, these clerics are way off base.  There is proof in history and art that there were women deacons, priests and abbesses in the early church.  Women-hating men became powerful in Rome and began discriminating against women for various reasons.  First it was because they were “unclean” when they menstruated.  They could not receive communion during menstruation.  And after giving birth, they had to stay away for a while.  Of course, if they had a boy they could return the church sooner than if they had a girl.  (Girls are intrinsically sinful, after all.)  And the church has never recovered from this sexism.

I pray that this latest exhibition of sexism is actually the work of the Holy Spirit.  The more conservative and restrictive the Roman Church becomes, the more it drives people away and then it will eventually collapse on itself, although it may take another generation or two.  (The Roman Church is no longer catholic, i.e. universal.)

The hierarchy must eventually learn that the church belongs to the people of God, not to them alone.  The loss of collegiality and subsidiarity promised by Vatican II is all but gone.  All power is now reserved for Rome and all the recent Episcopal appointments in the U.S. have sworn allegiance to the head of a foreign city-state who lobbies our government, and would control all our actions, including what we do in the bedroom and with whom, when we have children, how we should pray and celebrate liturgy and even what we should learn and teach our children.

The hierarchy has put themselves on high pedestals with authority above all others, wearing fancy silk robes with 20 foot trains and tall miters to mark their territory and lord their authority over all.  That is not what Jesus commanded of his disciples.  Jesus washed the feet of the 12 to demonstrate to them how they were to behave.  The members of the hierarchy are supposed to be servants of the church, not royalty.

When the Roman Church collapses, as did the Roman Empire long ago, then a new Catholic Church can form, from the ground up, based on all the teachings of Jesus, including…. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” - Galatians 3



Bill Taylor | 10/5/2011 - 6:01pm

Whew! This is a long thread but maybe an indication of a raw wound. I am an old priest an utterly not convinced by the In Persona Cristi argument. The priest is somehow the official image of Jesus of Nazareth? He is risen! He now lives in a new way. A woman like Mother Theresa can image him better than an authoriarian like John Paul II ever could. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to see her preside at a liturgy?

The good rector of the Cathedral is a perfect example of left brain male linear energy gone amock. Why does l"Mother Church" turn out to be old men in pointy hats or young priests flashing their purple or magenta or whatever it is. Emotional arguments are to be dismissed as irrelevant to his closely reasoned decision? All the rational discussions in the world cannot match the power of emotional energy. There is more than one way to touch the truth. And, in reply to somebody back there further than I can remember, the Church does not define truth. Read a hilarious book called "Rome has Spoken" to see what I mean.


Anne Chapman | 10/5/2011 - 11:36am
Finally, I would like to commend Mr. McSweeney in #139 - excellent suggestion. 

America recently ran an article about changing the canonization process in a way that would include the saints  among ordinary Catholics - those who are not ordained, not consecrated religious, nor confined to  those laity who have renounced married sexual love in their marriages.  Perhaps the many comments that appeared on a blog post on this subject several months ago contributed to the editors' decision to write this article (Sept 19 issue).  It is nice to know that at least a few members of the priestly class are willing to listen to the concerns of the laity.  I don't know if John Allen has written on this, but most of his commentaries come off as simply Vatican cheerleading. Perhaps that is why so many of his recent theories have not "panned out."

OK, three in a row. I am a repeat offender. Mea culpa!
Anne Chapman | 10/5/2011 - 11:24am
Mark, thank you for your kindness. I vowed that my last post to Walter would be my last on this public forum, but I wanted to applaud you for your approach to giving.  While still sitting in a Catholic pew (before I started thinking about my presence being enabling the dysfunction at the top), I was doing the same.  I worried about not donating money since the parish does need funds to operate, but I didn't want a penny going to the chancery or Rome.  I gave of my "time and talent" as a volunteer and sent the money directly to those who are doing God's work on the ground, rather than living in mansions and lecturing everyone else on their "materialism" and "consumerism".  I also would write checks for specific parish needs (the new roof or whatever). I select recipients partly based on their transparency and accountability, checking them out with groups like GuideStar or Charity Navigator if I don't know their work and management personally (as with some local charities).  I still give to Catholic groups - but on an individual organiztion basis.

 After reading about some of the parishes in the mid-west who are at a stand-off with their bishops (St. Stanislaus, in St. Louis,  a Cleveland parish who moved their entire congregation, including the pastor, to a non-church facilitiy when the bishop closed their historic, inner-city parish without consultation, etc.). I read about another parish where the pastor began raiding the bank accounts of lay groups within the parish who were raising money for specific purposes - the pastor simply said the money was his to do with what he wanted, even though these groups had been set up for specific purposes and never had a problem with their pastors before (another younger priest with a superiority complex).  Perhaps parishes faced with an autocratic pastor should consider setting up a non-profit whose entire focus would be the parish?  People could give their donations to the non-profit, whose directors and board would be accountable to the whole parish, and would directly pay for parish expenses - utilities, mortgage, staff salary and benefits etc. The pastor could be a member of the board, but with no more say over the funds  than any of othe elected members.  Anyway, nobody that I have heard of has done something like that yet, but it is an interesting possibility for those faced with power-mad pastors. And it is a way to keep the parishoners' money out of the hands of the hierarchy who do not operate with either transparency nor accountability to those who fund the church's work.
Anne Chapman | 10/5/2011 - 11:04am
Walter, I cannot answer your question because the "reforms" you refer to are not defined. Are you talking about women in ordained ministry?  Your post discusses everything from Bob Dylan to belief in the Incarnation. And since you persist in concluding that the loss of 30 million cradle Catholics in the last 30 years in the US is "retaining her membership" better than Protestants (not the same conclusion the professionals who anlyze the data come to), it is difficult to discuss anything, because you deny the reality that the Catholic church in the west is losing members at least as fast, and maybe faster, than the mainline Protestant churches. 

 So, given that the Catholic church has taken a very conservative course for more than 40 years, since Paul VI and HV, and given that John Paul II increased the level of conservativism and authoritarianism, and given that Benedict has accelerated this pace even more, why has the Catholic church been losing members at an ever faster rate as the years go by and the conservatism increases, now even at the parish level  - if neo-conservatism is the answer, why hasn't it worked during the last 40 years?  John Paul II and Benedict together presided over an era that saw the biggest drop in membership in Catholic history in Europe and N. America and is now witnessing a similar outflow in Latin America, home to half the world's Catholics. "Catholic" country after Catholic country in Europe - Spain, Portugal, Ireland etc - have consistently ignored Catholic church dictates in passing new secular legislation in recent years.

If the imperial, authoritarian model that has prevailed since the 4th century, one that denies the laity any voice at all in the governance of the church, and which denies the sensus fidelium in teachings, has not worked for the last 40 years, why do you think it will now? Throughout most of Catholic history, the laity were uneducated, often illiterate, and superstitious.  The church held enormous secular power as well as religious power. The church regularly tried people for heresy and turned them over to the state for execution. It ruled too often by using fear - intimidating people who did not yet have the education and literacy to read the scriptures and learn on their own.  The church can no longer rule by intimidation - priests who scorn their parishoners as being too simple and uneducated in theology to be consulted on major decisions in their parishes are a sad return to the imperial model of priesthood.

 The most recent evidence, that of the last 12 years is that not only are people continuing to leave in spite of the conservative governance in Rome and the chanceries of the last 40 years, the rate of new adult members joining has also dropped dramatically, as are baptisms.  And the trend now of the "John Paul II' priests to come striding into rectories and inform the members of the parish that only they have the education and intelligence to make decisions, totally shutting out the voice of the laity at the parish level now, joining Rome in treating the laity as mindless sheep, the outflow will again increase. Many now flee to other parishes, the "Vatican II" parishes as Mr McSweeney mentioned in terms of his own parish. I have seen that in my city as well. And when those parishes disappear - parishes where thelaity in general are not seen as a lower class genus, and women are not treated as little more than servants by the priest in charge - many of those who have hung on may also join the exodus.

Walter, if the authoritarian, neo-conservative stance of the church for the last 40 years has not held Catholics during the last 40+ years, why should racing back to Trent even faster work any better than it has to date?

Since both you and I are among the repeat posters here, and since the viewpoints of both of us are well known to one another, I will once again suggest that you click on my name and we can continue this discussion by email. I have made this suggestion before - it would be a consideration to others here to take this discussion private.
Mark Wonsil | 10/5/2011 - 10:30am
Some have encouraged leaving the Church or withholding funds but I have taken a slightly different approach: directed giving. I probably donated more last year than I ever had but you wouldn't know it from my contribution statement. Instead of dropping money into the basket, I've donated needed goods or services instead. Others have helped pay tuitions for Catholic Educations for students who come from single parent households or who families with multiple children in Catholic Schools. Even more help by giving to groups like Homeboy Industries, St. Vincent DePaul, and many other groups doing God's work out in the world by showing them what Catholics look like.

And thanks Anne C., great posts.
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/5/2011 - 7:51am
    Thanks, Norman, for your thoughts.   I did expresss frustration with the fact that the same people keep writing basically the same tihng and think it is their job to call other people out, by name, and "correct" their thinking.  But I certainly understand how this is a useful forum for sharing ideas - one wonders, though, if having an outlet doesn't unintentionally appease when dissent might be channeled directly to the source of the complaints...but I digress.

I seriously would like to suggest somebody study what all of this anger, dissent, disillushionment is doing to the Church internally - for those who aren't bolting, are they  having a quiet impact on their parishes, are our parishes become polarized between the "liberal" parishes and teh "conservative" parishs.  (In my parish, for example, we have literally hundreds of refugees from revistionist, regressive churches throughout the area.)  It would be nice to see a scholarly assesssment of what all this internal strife is doing - much like an assessment of how internal turmoil affects the body, how is this effecting the Body of Christ.  Is it gradually pushing the Church in one direction or another?  What will the Church look like in 10 years - both here and abroad?  I suppose John Allen has written on this but some of his theories (well grounded as they were) have not panned out.  Okay, that's it... you get the point.

C Walter Mattingly | 10/5/2011 - 2:59am
Actuallly, I had only one question for you in my last post, contained in the only sentence ending with a question mark. I will repeat it once again: since the reforms you are advocating to a large extent have already been taken for the most part by mainline Protestantism some time ago, and since this direction taken by these churches in the US has resulted in a worrying decline in membership in the US that exceeds that of the church, on what basis would you claim that these choices are the answer for a Catholic church interested in retaining and growing members?
I really am interested in that question, originally posed by Tom Piatek, whom I suspect has given up on a response here some time back.
The rest of my comments were not questions, but rather descriptive of one possible reason why Christianity in general, including but not limited to in the US Catholic church if we exclude the demographic shifts, is losing members: the West is generally experiencing a loss of a moral sense, or better perhaps a turn from a moral centered ideology, such as that introduced by the first Christians as The Way and conituing to a greater or lesser extent in most Christian churches, to one more defined by sensationalism. My later comments, which contained no questions, were merely intended as a description of this process whcih accelerated around the time of the onset of the 60's counterculture.
The percentages you quote are relevant. I for one am in agreement that the church's position that birth control other than rhythm limited to regulating the size and timing of a family rather than denying procreation in a marriage ahould not be proscribed.   Yet I recall that the percentage who don't believe in the Divine Presence in the Eucharist was over a third, and I'll speculate if you asked how many weekly attgendees did not believe in the risen Christ as God Incarnate, if answered honestly, you would get a surprising minority. To many moderns mystery is out; logical positivism is in.
Norman Costa | 10/4/2011 - 11:06pm
@ George:

You ask how the Editors can stand reading the same old arguments over and over again, including the insults and the bullying. Well, I can give you a definitive answer. They wade through the dross for those few magic moments of great truth and lucidity. If I didn't believe that to be the case, I wouldn't take the time to create the gems for which they hunger.

Like minded compatriots, I am sure, labor under the same illusion as I, that the Editors and the general public are interested in what we have to say. 

Speaking for myself, the act of writing is crucial to the thinking process, and this is generalizable to most people. We don't write what we know or think, necessarily. Writing produces knowledge and thought, as well as recording what we have already learned. If you want to determine how much you know, and how well you understand, start writing about it.

I write non-fiction and essays in other venues. Yes, I believe I have something to say, and I would like to influence the thinking of others. Too, I want to be a better writer and there is no other way to improve. Write.

The Editors give us this great opportunity. If they do read the comments, let's reward them for doing so. 
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/4/2011 - 10:33pm
Dear Editors:

I have to ask - do you read the entries here? I ask because so much energy is put into the comments - particularly repeat posters and especially by the repeaters who insult or bully.  So, I'm curious if you do read these entreis - and if so, isn't it the same old arguments over and over again?  How do you stand it?

Perhaps this might even spark an article on whether the opinions, discontent, withholding of either money or attendence are having any influence on the Vatican, churches in America and beyond (Ireland as a case in point or if that's too Western focused, India - once considered the hope for a new pool of priests, now too facing a downturn.  Maybe look at changes individual parishes have made because a pastor listened or was moved on? This would be a big endeavor...I wonder if perhaps Catholic publications - America, Commonweal (I guess what Charles would call the filth pubs) - might work toghter on a larger investigation on what all the angst is doing to the Church and where it is taking the church. YOu could even look at whether the large financial settlements some religious orders and dioceses have had to make are having an effect on how they interact with the laity? I don't mean are they more wary - on the contrary. Has the money crunch settlemetns have caused forced any of the religious orders or diocese to be more responsive in response to a need to replenish coffers just as retirement costs are skyrocketing - in other words, is there pressure to modify tone anywhere to increase donations? Just some thoughts on how all of this chatter might spark something interesting and lasting...
Michael Barberi | 10/4/2011 - 8:10pm
Sorry for being late to this most important blog.  Here are a few comments that touch on the subject of Church teachings and the role of women in the Catholic Church.

1. Supporting Patriarchy and the Traditional Roles of Women:

From the time of Jesus to Vatican II, one could argue that the role of women never changed. although this was debated. Since Vatican II we have seen women in newer sacramental roles such as Eucharistic Ministers and Theologians. Since JPII's Motu Proprio defining for the first time a new definition of teaching called "definitive" (a teaching that cannot be reformed), and his later proclamation that "women cannot become priests", has touched off another significant debate and criticism of the pope and Magisterium. JPII encourgaed women to follow the example of Mary. After all, celibate priests are doing such a fine job that the priesthood does not need women. After all Jesus selected men as his Apostles, so why change it?

Now we see young girls being excluded from becoming alter servers, a decision that further supports excluding women from other roles such as, God forbid, becoming Deacons.

It is true that Pew Surveys and human experience is minimized as factor in the formation of Docrtine, teachings and ecclesiology. However, when teachings and decisions are in tension with the right reason and praxis of most Catholics in general, and women in particular, the Hierarchy would better serve the Body of Christ if they would reflect on the distorted message such decisions mean to us all.

2. The Opinions of the Youngest Cohort of Catholics and The Cleaning of All Revisionist Thinking from Priestly Education:

In an 2007 survey of Catholics, by the late prominent theologian Dean Hoge from CUA, the youngest Catholic cohort (ages 18-25) hold to a greater individual authority in religious and moral decisions than older Catholics (ages 40-62 and ages 63 and older). In particular, only 10% of young Catholics believe that women should stay at home; 75% have no confidence in Church leaders and only 19% attend weekly Mass. Of all Catholics (yound and old) that attend weekly Mass, 64% believe that you can be a good Catholic without obeying the teaching on birth control, 52% without obeying the teaching on divorce/remarriage and 40% without obeying the teaching of abortion.

According to the Vatican, new priests are being trained in the right orthodoxy and are not being exposed to revisionist opinions on a host of issues. The Vatican hopes that "young Catholics" and older enlightened Catholics will have an epiphany because these newer priests will be unlike many (40%) of their contemporary counter-parts who do not fully embrace all the Church teachings especially sexual ethics. Unfortunately, these "new priests" have not been given new knowledge but the same old proscriptions that have not been convinicing or received since 1968.

Given that the youngest of Catholics disagree dramatically with the opinions of older Catholics, who themselves also significantly disagree with most sexual ethical teachings of the Church, moves one to believe that the Vatican should re-think its presuppositions and not authoritatively close debate on certain teachings. After all, has not history taught us that new knowledge and thinking has helped the Church to better understand the truth? Not our understanding of the deposit of faith, but those complex teachings that impact our human condition and spirituality.

What does this have to do with the role of women in the Church? Plenty. It is the same closed thinking that prevents right reason from guiding Chuch teachings. Rather, what guides Church teachings is tradition, an exaggered fear of change and the defense of the papal encyclical and his utterings. Unfortunately, it will take decades and even a century before we will see needed change. In the meantime, the Body of Christ remains divided and in crisis.
Jack Barry | 10/4/2011 - 7:42pm

Paul F.  -  It does more than raise the question;  it answers it, as you do.  The Very Rev. John T. Lankeit aims to obfuscate the altar girl issue by burying it beneath a great heap of "formal theological and liturgical training" and "a proper understanding of theological anthropology, sacramental theology and ecclesiology", beyond the reach of ordinary people.   Think of how wise he might get with enough hours sitting at the kitchen table with parents and young ones going around and round on God, futures, genders, and right and wrong. 

Paul Ferris | 10/4/2011 - 6:41pm
I think this issue raises the question of how come so many bishops and priests turned a blind eye to the pedophilia scandal.  If they had kids of their own they would have been more sensitive to the gravity of what their pedohile priests were doing and sent them packing and off to jail where they belonged.  Probably some thought that the laity were not educated enough in theology to understand why priests should be given a pass when it came to child abuse.  One can get educated in theology by study and prayer.   The only way to get an education in parenting is by being one.
Paul Ferris | 10/4/2011 - 2:37pm
So much erudite discussion here but the picture of Pope Benedict being served by a girl speaks for itself....he is against women's ordination so obviously in his mind there is no intrinsic connection between priesthood and altar girls...enough said... 
Norman Costa | 10/4/2011 - 12:47pm
@ John:

You state your position on compromise as if it were there, all along, and waiting to be seized and implemented by women and their supporters for greater representation in liturgical events. It is as if their advocacy was a distraction and impediment to getting on and doing something. Even if it were true, there is still the question as to who has the discretion to implement such compromise. Do you think compromise is there for the asking?

By suggesting that women advocates, themselves, are the barriers to something meaningful, you have made the victims of pathological sexism responsible for the millenia of degradation and humiliation that were heaped upon them. 
Anne Chapman | 10/4/2011 - 10:43am
Walter, your last post touches on so many issues in such a random manner that it is impossible to address them all in terms of what different denominations believe.

 Since Protestant churches are not joined into one monolithic body, it is impossible to generalize for all Protestants, nor even for "conservative" Protestantism which comprises many churches and traditions.  However, to get back to the role of women in the churches, if you research Protestantism, you will learn that the majority of traditionally conservative (evangelical and Pentecostal) churches have women ministers, many of them have had women ministers for a very long time - some as far back as the 19th century.  The Southern Baptist Convention still refuses ordination to women, but other Baptists have women ministers. I attended the ordination of a close friend (Baptist) about five years ago - and she is a blessing to her church.  The desirability of the Catholic church becoming identified with the Southern Baptists and, worse, with Islam (as one man mentioned in this thread) because of their treatment of women provides some food for thought, does it not?

Since you are concerned about the state of marriage in the US, you might also want to be aware of the real-life divorce patterns - they are highest in the Bible Belt states, where a majority of the population belong to conservative Protestant churches.  Divorce is lowest in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country.  Research indicates that divorce is less related to religious affliliation than to age at marriage and educational level completed.

An interesting factoid - In an official internal Episcopal CHurch report in 2010, there is this bit of information - "Congregations that are “very liberal” were most likely
to have grown in worship attendance (38%) followed
by congregations that are “somewhat liberal” (32%) or
“very conservative” (30%)."

Cate, thank you for sharing you story and Larry, your observations.
John Lyons | 10/4/2011 - 10:33am
Why are we arguing as though this is a zero sum, either/or, all or nothing proposition?

Why is it "either girls get to be altar servers...or they have zero role in Mass"? Or "either the relatively recent liturgical development of altar girls is maintained....or the Church has no credibility (meanwhile, of course getting rid of the Tridentine Mass that was 400 years old was no big deal so just get over it!)?

Why can't we, smart, nuanced thinkers that we are, come up with a compromise position?

Why not create MORE liturgical functions, not fewer and so give MORE kids, sensible roles to fill than the customary 3-4?

Girls and women already serve as ushers, lectors, cantors, and extraordinary ministers of the eucharist. Why not - if it's a do-or-die situation, allow for 4-5 more slots per Mass for boys:

1) get rid of all clip on microphones and give that job to a boy
2) get rid of all spot lights and give the job of illumination to two boys
3) bring back the turifer and assistant to help the priest incense the altar, ambo - that's two more roles....
4) provide an assistant to every extraordinary minister of the eucharist with a patent for those faithful who do receive on the tongue... that'd be a dozen or so roles for boys.

This way girls can still 'serve on the altar' but so can a dozen more boys per mass.

Everyone "wins", boys don't lose out, and vocations are promoted.

No need for schism, "take my ball and go home grumpiness". No need for hues and cries of havoc and apocalyptic tearing of garments over perceived insults and slights.

If the box you are in is too tight, expand the box.
Charlotte Bloebaum | 10/4/2011 - 9:25am
This is terrible.  Perhaps the reason some do not refer to Pope Benedict as "Pope Benedict" or His Holiness is because we are losing respect for the position.  This is like saying that we women are tainted and have something wrong with us.  Women are also "called" to the religious life - God is not a sexist.  God does not support racism, sexism, discrimination - God believes we are ALL beautiful and have gifts - even WOMEN.  I hope and pray this will never infiltrate my parish.  It is still the "Good Old Boy" system it appears and that is very sad.  FYI, what I am hearing is that boys are reluctanct to enter the priesthood today because of all the abuse issues - one wrong word from a child and there is a problem.  Who created that horror - not women that is for sure!! 
Mary Sweeney | 10/4/2011 - 8:52am

I am inclined to think that it is quite reasonable not only to not fight this battle but to simply withdraw. I remember someone who wanted to be a pilot questioned on why she wouldn't opt to be a flight-attendant instead. She replied, "I could be a waitress anywhere". The same analogy applies. Let the priests and the boys take care of the scripts, lighting, and utensils. Young girls and women have far, far more important things upon which to focus their energy, creativity, and time. If you find those opportunities in your parish, fine — give a hand; if you don't, look elsewhere to other groups.

And Lisa Weber, you are so right. And remember too — Good Friday Liturgy is a communion service. How about having a Permanent Deacon preside?

C Walter Mattingly | 10/4/2011 - 5:56am
Funny, I had always thought bullies were those who attempted to shun or exclude others. Indeed, the editors' comment which initiate this thread concludes in an appeal for inclusiveness rather than exclusion from the church liturgical dialogue. In any event, you are most welcome here by me should you wish to return, but of course that is your business and your decision.
The last thing I would wish to do is to ignore the implications of the facts. The church, and Christianity generally, is struggling, as has been the case throughout its history. But concerning the church in the US, the facts are that it has retained its membership better than mainline Protestant churches. Since you are advocating reforms that these churches which are suffering greater losses of membership have already done some time ago, on what basis do you think moving in their direction would be of benefit to retaining membership in the church? To  use your words, to ignore the implications of these membership loss facts is simply choosing not to see,  
I see the foundational problem somewhat differently. Its lowest common denominator is the refusal to accept human limitation. Jesus says marriage is a permanent bond between a man and a woman; I don't want it to be permanent and exclusive because it restricts my polygamist nature, or between a man and a woman because it is contrary to my inclinations. As you know, the number of inner city African American households with a mother and father at home dropped in half from 75% to 37% over a mere 50 years. But it is not an underclass phenomenon. The popularizer of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, had as the Gestalt prayer, "I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations...."  In other words, staying at home with you and these two kids we have produced is not my thing. I'm not here to live up to your expectations to support this family. The zeitgeist is to avoid anything smacking of moral sense, restriction, or moral system in general. Another Perls pearl: "Lose your mind, come to your senses." His recommendation to not think about things excessively but rather to participate in a sensationalized culture. Mick Jagger, Madonna, Lady Gaga, all indicative of this general direction, as Bob Dylan satirized in his lyric, "Don't think twice, it's alright."
And it finds its way into the church, where essentially relating sexuality to procreational and family rather than recreational, and disapproval of terminating an undesired pregnancy are now being deemed examples of the church's "pelvic anxieties."  These are the genuine issues threatening all Christian churches: a loss of moral sense, replaced by a culture of sensationalism. How to respond to this shared challenge is the issue all Christian churches bear.
Steve Iannaccone | 10/4/2011 - 2:24am
What facts are involved in this decision by the rector. Much of what he speaks of is an interpretation centered in a paternalistic separatist mentality. One has to pity him that he has not been trained in the notion of pastoral decision making. There is no proscription against woman servers, thus all his decisons are personal interpretations of what is essentially an implementation directive. He contends that secular responses to his decision will be emotional and not blessed with (his) light of reason. Since when truly has reason been relegated to theology?

Separating the discussion from the idea that both sexes have  "right" to serve on the altar, which is elementally true, let us look at the relationship between vocations to the priesthood and the number  or percentage of young women serving. As one post has stated, this leads to an associated thought that having women swrvers has led to or discuoraged priestly vocations. This thinking is especially unreasonable as it has no basis in any data or argument put forth with rigorous analysis.

More to the point, the association of girls being altar servers causing confusion in the mind of yourng men who would theoretically reeive a call from God removes from the role of grace and divine calling by God of yoong men to become priests. Nothing can easily prevent the will of God. If God wished for more young men to "hear his call" the numbers of vocations would increase. Even if you give some credence to the idea that boys would be tempted away from the priesthood by worldly attractions, the out-pouring of the Spirit would continue to other young men who would be able to resist these worldly temptations.

The rector's answer to the lack of God's work in calling men to the priesthood is to blame worldly emotionalism. If only he can separate the boys from the temptresses being actually on the altar with them, then this would focus the young boys on listening to the call of the Spirit. How vulgar a thought; how lacking in reason!

God calls; few who have received his call can shake it off as if choosing the priesthood was the difference between choosing to be a lawyer or optician. If one is to believe that more needs to be done by people to have men enter the priesthood, preparatory programs such as "weekends" in the seminary on retreat, engaging young men in discussions with priests for monthly discussions in the parish or diocese are far more effective means of helping young men imagine themselves following this path if in fact they are indeed being called.
Lisa Weber | 10/4/2011 - 12:31am
If anyone can be chosen as a Cardinal, surely at least a few women among 500 million or so are worthy of the honor.  I would thoroughly enjoy seeing a Cardinal pictured with her grandchildren.
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/3/2011 - 11:35pm
Just wanted to thank you for your very lovely posting...and to commend your priest - now long among the Communion of Saints, I suppose - for his pastoral care and sense of humor.  You both clearly were a head of your time but hopefully foretelling a time to come.  Anyone who thinks God really cares about the gender of those who love and serve Him unconscionably limits God, shackling Him with human limitations.

I say the following with regret because your gentle sentiments express better than anyone else how simple, true, and truly Christian it is to both answer that call is and respect the call in others of either gender:  Brace yourself for an onslaught of narrow minded bigotry. 


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