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.

Show Comments (221)

Comments (hide)

Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/1/2011 - 11:38pm
One out of every ten adult Americans is a lapsed Catholic. From the Catholic perspective that is the most striking statistic among the many furnished in a "Religious Landscape Survey" by the Pew Forum.

Catholics still constitute the single largest religious denomination in the US, accounting for 23.9% of the adult population.  But that is because Evangelical churches are not grouped together.  These churches, though, are home to 26.3% of the American people, divided among the different Protestant denominations.) Baptists run a distant second, with 12.7%. If they qualified as a separate denomination, the Americans who have deserted the Catholic Church of their childhood would constitute the third-largest religious group in the country, with 10.1% of the population.

And you really think the problem is Susie with her ponytail reverently assisting at mass....really?  Moreover, I know several parents who worried about whether to allow their children to serve and were reassured that both boys and girls now do.

 I am aghast that we still have people around who can't deal with treating women and girls with respect and dignity and letting them answer the Holy Spirit's call. How dare you try to stifle the Spirit.  I think he is making himself quite clear as the above stats show- you are sadly disappointing our Lord with your bigotry, pettiness and small-mindedness.
Anne Chapman | 10/1/2011 - 11:35pm
Ed, you don't think withholding the flow of money would help. I don't know what else might have a chance. How will the majority of Catholics who are fed up, but stay in the pews anyway, will be heard if money will not move the hierarchy?

 I am not so sure that they are so flush that they wouldn't notice if, say, their collections dropped by 75% or more and their Bishops Appeals went to near zero. They have had to pay out billions in settlements. They are closing churhes by the dozens, as well as schools.  I would love for there to be some way to influence these willfully deaf men, but short of depriving them of their luxurious lifestyles and stopping the flow of money from the pews, I don't see any way of getting their attention. 
ed gleason | 10/1/2011 - 10:55pm
Msgr Lankeit , rector, knew this ban would go national [Phoenix is full of fed uppers]
So if his pastoral members show up for the next meeting they deserve the disrespect they were given by him....especially if they think like me that the ban was just a retro publicity ploy.  
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/1/2011 - 10:37pm
You've picked out comments from a couple of people who now attend other churches because the sexism and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church was no longer tolerable to them.  They didnt advocate that the Church should change its view on abortion.  Nor did they speak for the overwhelming majority of posters who haven't left the church.  So like the Very Reverend, you are creating red herrings to avoid the truth.  Boys aren't dissuaded from joining the priesthood because their friends who are girls also are altar servers.  They are not even considering the priesthood because sadly it is now equated with pedophiles, those who would protect pedophiles, and closed minded bigots.  That may be an unfair characterization but it is how priest are now seen.  The church needs to address that, for all our sakes, not blame innocent 12 year old girls who just are answering a call to serve.  
Charles Jones | 10/1/2011 - 10:30pm
We each serve God in different ways.  Boys get called to serve at the altar, and men get called to be Priests.  Girls get called to arrange the flowers and clean the linens, to use the language of this column. 
C Walter Mattingly | 10/1/2011 - 10:22pm
Thanks for bringing some facts to bear upon some of these speculations. A few more facts:
While several of the above commentators note that the Catholic church is hemorraghing membership headed for the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and other main line churches, we might do well to check what the actual numbers are. According to studies quoted by USA Today, the most recent year membership in the Catholic church grew by just under 1%. Doesn't sound great, but it is growing, not hemorraging, membership. That's not the case with our mainline Protestant brothers, with Presbyterians, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches all losing membership, Episcopals around 2% and Presbyterians 2.6% annually. Those are frightening numbers. Clearly, the argument that the Church would benefit by following these churches by going all-in for abortion, etc, doesn't seem to supported by the facts-mainline Protestant churches are losing, not gaining, membership as a result of the directions they have chosen.
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/1/2011 - 10:10pm
Jane:  as you can see, not all of the church wants to move into a more mature spirituality.
Charles:  with love, let me point out that the words and imagery you use come not from scripture but from the images and teachings of the Church during the Dark Ages...not exactly a time of purity, chastity, and moral living within the church itself.  The early church of Christ was more simple, loving, and accepting of leadership roles for both men and women.  It was to women that are Lord first revealed himself after the resurrection and it is the woman at the well who is called the first evangelist.  Your church came later, when corruption, debauchery, and decadence engulfed the church.  It was also a time of severe condemnation of women as scapegoats for the evil practices of men.  That is not good enough for us- for our mothers, daughters, wives, or friends nor for us men.  It certainly is not good enough for the Blessed Mother, who is a role model for all of us.  Accepting women and girls on the altar does not deny the difference between men and women.  It does acknowledge God's unconditional love for all and our shared desire to serve Him.  
Thomas Piatak | 10/1/2011 - 10:03pm

Ms. Thomas,

I brought up liberal Protestantism because there are two posters on this thread who said they now attend the Episcopal church, one of whom also discussed the number of people leaving the Catholic Church.
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/1/2011 - 9:44pm
I can only assume you warn against adopting liberal Protestantism because you are equating the belief in inclusiveness with an argument about "rights" - i have to assume because you failed to explain why you are writing as if someone has called on the church to adopt what you label "liberal Protestantism."  So either you are defining "liberalism" in a historically correct manner or you are creating a straw argument to rail against.  In either case, you presume falsely that the choices are either orthodoxy, as the term is commonly used, or liberal Protestantism.   Service to God is not about "rights" but a response to a calling.   For a pastor to stifle that calling because it presumably would serve to weaken another's calling (in this case to the priesthood) is at best illogical.  In this specific case, it continues the refusal of some clergy to acknowledge where we are as a people of God.  We have reached a level of spiritual maturity that does not require excluding women and girls from serving God as they are called to do so.  But the regressive clergy and laity fear that without patriarchal structures, the people of the church-who are the church- will not blindly follow.  It is about control, not serving God. The priesthood as we knew it HAS changed.  It is smaller in numbers and the percentage of priests who are gay is triple that of the general population.  Clearly something is askew but it isn't because 12 year old girls are altar servers.  Blaming them is sophomoric and simply reflects the misogyny of some orthodox clergy.  
Charles Jones | 10/1/2011 - 9:22pm
Dislike, in the extreme.  Publishing pieces like this, this publication (America:  The National Catholic Weekly) should put Catholic in quotes.

Before addressing the substance of the piece, I make two observations:  First, returning to the pre-Vatican II days is a GOOD thing.  Back when Mass was a grand holy experience instead of a God-forsaken rock concert, when Churches looked like Churches instead of movie theatres, when nuns wore nuns' clothing, when people knelt and received Communion in awe and fear, instead of taking Him into their filthy dirty hands as if they were grabbing for a potato chip.  Taking the Church back to the pre-Vatican II times?  Lord, haste the day.

Secondly, there was a mention made in this piece of the Priest not consulting the "Parish Council" before making this decision.  Of course he shouldn't.  There shouldn't even be any such thing as a parish Council.  The Priest is the Father of the family.  That is why Catholics call a Priest "Father."  (It is unclear what the author of this piece would call him - dude or bro or whatever.)  Now, in your knowledge of human families, how many fathers do you know who allow their children to form a council and tell him how to run the family?  How many fathers do you know need approval from their children before making a decision?  How ridiculous.

Now, as to the substance of the piece:  My opinion is that female altar servers should be absolutely forbidden.  The contrary view, expressed in this piece, stems from the profoundly preposterous belief that women can do everything that men can do.  And of course, they cannot.  Men and women are equal, this is true - but they have different parts, and different functions.  Consider the mathematical statement "5+1" and the mathematical statement "3x2."  We can agree, can we not, that these statements are equal?  But, they have different parts (the first has a 5 and a 1, and the second has a 3 and a 2), and different functions (the first has the function of addition and the second the function of multiplication).  If you try to take these statements with different parts and give them the same function, they become UNequal.  (5+1 does not equal 3+2, nor does 5x1 equal 3x2.)  They are only equal when we recognize their different functions. 

Altar servers are boys because allowing boys to experience what is going on "behind the altar rail" may inspire them to become Priests.  And of course only males can be Priests.  (This piece seems to want to change that, but it is absolutely unchangeable - it would be easier to change the earth into a flat plane instead of a sphere.)  To put some girl in that position takes the position away from a boy, whom - if he had been allowed to participate as a server - may have been inspired to become a Priest.

As with every other aspect of life, we can look to the Blessed Mother as our example.  She, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, was happy to just be behind the scenes, and to use the analogy of this piece, cleaning the linens and arranging the flowers, while the male Apostles were busy being Bishops.  And if that is good enough for Her Omnipotent Majesty, it is good enough for women today. 
Thomas Piatak | 10/1/2011 - 9:02pm

Ms. Thomas:

Here you go:

59% of those raised Presbyterian are no longer Presbyterian, 56% of those raised Episcopalian are no longer Episcopalian. As I said, if liberal mainstream Protestantism is growing anywhere, I am not aware of it.

I am very happy that you are pro-life. I know that many other progressive Catholics are as well. My point was that changing Catholicism to resemble mainstream liberal Protestantism, which is not pro-life, will not help the Church. The answer to the Church's problems is not the answer of liberal Protestantism, which is to conform Christianity to the spirit of modern liberalism.

Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/1/2011 - 8:36pm
Your stats don't jibe with any of the reputable research institutes.  More importantly, you are collapsing the views of what you call progressive catholics into a self-serving single mindset that links those who expect the church to follow Jesus' teaching on inclusiveness with those who support permissive abortion law.  It might be easier to dimiss us but it is dishonest.  Being pro-life means recognizing that we are all equal before God, that God loves us all unconditionally-whether we are the innocent unborn children of God or those of us - male and female-who wish to serve God.  The complexity of what it means to be truly progressive may be too challenging for those who wish to return to a repressive, fearful church more eager to condemn than to love.  But we are here, we support both the unborn and the vulnerable and we will preserver because we are on the side of the angels and our Lord.  I will pray for you and others too fearful of change to understand who we are. We are the future church for without us, there will be no church.  
Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/1/2011 - 8:28pm
Your stats don't jibe with any of the reputable research institutes.  More importantly, you are collapsing the views of what you call progressive catholics into a self-serving single mindset that links those who expect the church to follow Jesus' teaching on inclusiveness with those who support permissive abortion law.  It might be easier to dimiss us but it is dishonest.  Being pro-life means recognizing that we are all equal before God, that God loves us all unconditionally-whether we are the innocent unborn children of God or those of us - male and female-who wish to serve God.  The complexity of what it means to be truly progressive may be too challenging for those who wish to return to a repressive, fearful church more eager to condemn than to love.  But we are here, we support both the unborn and the vulnerable and we will preserver because we are on the side of the angels and our Lord.  I will pray for you and others too fearful of change to understand who we are. We are the future church for without us, there will be no church.  
6466379 | 10/1/2011 - 8:28pm
Hi Norman, Yes, I tend to use imagery in writing quite easily, but it's "not worth a bucket of spit" As Coolidge  said of the US Vice Presidency of his day, if the message is lost in the imagery. But thanks for commenting on the style. 
Thomas Piatak | 10/1/2011 - 7:13pm

It has become a constant theme of progressive Catholics that one third of Catholics have left, with the implication being that they have left because the Church is not significantly progressive. There is, however, little evidence to support that inclination. One half of those who have left have left for evangelical Protestantism which, on a variety of social issues, is more conservative in practice than American Catholicism.

It should also be noted that the number of those raised Episcopalian, for example, who no longer practice that faith is nearly 60%. Which is consistent with a far larger trend: liberal mainstream Protestantism everywhere is shrinking. If there is an exception to this trend, I have yet to hear of it. Those who think that the Catholic Church will solve its problems by becoming just like liberal Protestantism, by allowing contraception, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and female clergy, are mistaken.
ARTHUR CHAGNON | 10/1/2011 - 6:52pm
Now what was that that Jesus said about serving and who would be first in the Kingdom? Probably a shrewd move by these clergy to get some distance from females serving them!
ed gleason | 10/1/2011 - 5:48pm
Anne rightly says millions have left. ...about a third is the number.
I would say to Anne though . 'they' have enough money for two or more generations.. so withholding money which is too often suggested... will do nothing.

Arnold R. has a good analysis of how we got here.. that I totally agree with.

But the fearful anonymous conservative letter writers and posters who are a small minority , have found that their complaints are always  acted upon by the hierarchy..maybe because the complaints  echo the hierarchy's agenda. These complaints have worked since 1980s [Say hello to Fr.Tom Reese SJ]
However the anonymity of these anonymous complaints should be their weakness.
remember in sports the yell "How are we losing to these guys" .???
Pew Catholics have not yet found a way/tactic to express their extreme displeasure with the governance of the Faith. The conservatives and hierarchy say complaints about governance are dissent/heresy/excommunicable. This is like saying that crappy governance has been enshrined in doctrine by 'tradition' by the HS .. so get used to it. That is blasphemous 

Norman Costa | 10/1/2011 - 5:29pm
@ Bruce:

You have a flair for imagery in your writing. 
Arnold Richardson | 10/1/2011 - 4:47pm

I doubt its the fearful laity that has motivated the fundamentalists to be in the ascendancy.  Look to the top. As soon as the Vatican II findings became doctrine the fundamentalists determined to roll them back.  Paul VI, in spite of his broadly supportive attitude to the Vatican II risorgimento, was the first to violate its spirit when he issued Humanae Vitae. After John Paul I's unexpected death the fundamentalists in the top levels of the Church's feudal structure made their comeback. The Conclave Cardinals, many shocked by some of the excesses commited when some risorgimento enthusiasts rode off in various directions, chose the arch conservative, John Paul II. The longer he reigned, the more time he had to choose  bishops and cardinals who could be relied on to toe the ultra orthodox line. Through the nuncios, the importance of the bishops' conferences has been eroded. Benedict XVI has continued  the process.  No doubt when the cleansing has been completed, the Vatican will be assured of complete compliance.  Thus the fundamentalists are emboldened and are able to turn back the clock, all the while proclaiming to be acting in harmony with Vatican II.
Reform is light years away.  The control freaks are in charge and the psychological barriers are erected once more to glorify the separateness of the clergy from the laity.  It's back to pray, pay and obey, little by little and bit by bit.  Thank heavens the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not control freaks.  Christ has set us free and we wish to be so.  Not that we should resist the proper formation of our souls.  We must, of course, listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  We all need to pray for discernment in following the magisterium, rather than to obey a spirit killing hierarchy. The psalmist says God's people are his joy and delight.  Not much joy ahead of us for some time yet, methinks.
Anne Chapman | 10/1/2011 - 3:53pm
Ed, you ask why the fearful have been so successful at rolling back Vatican II?  I have thought a lot about that and finally decided it is because the majority in the pews are simply too passive. They may not like what is being done, but they sit there and take it. They are model Catholics - pay, obey, and, as an afterthought, pray.

 I began going to mass at an Episcopal church three or four years ago once I realized that by sitting in the pews of a Catholic parish, and giving of my "time, talent and treasure" I was supporting the system that has totally shut out the voices of the laity, and enabling an increasingly dysfunctional hierarchy. As a woman, I  finally decided that the church's treatment of women as officially second-class could not continue if enough women had enough gumption to say "Enough - I am no longer giving you any money, nor will I teach religious ed classes, arrange the flowers, organize the parish picnic, iron the altar cloths, nor do any of the other dozens of jobs that women do for the church without pay nor recognition.  I will be willing to arrange the flowers and teach the children and do the other nurturing tasks when my insight and understanding as a woman are also incorporated into the church's teachings and governance as fully equal to those of men. I will again arrange the flowers when women give homilies and when women may stand at the altar and consecrate the bread and wine."

Catholics have had one body-punch after another in recent years. In terms of liturgy, it is one thing after another. The roll-back to the 50s church is acclerating. In terms of the dishonesty and venal behaviour of the hierarchy, even though there are now norms for lay people working for the church including background checks and fingerprinting, and even a process for handling cases of ordinary priests accused of sexual crimes, there are still no sanctions or policies or guidelines applicable to bishops who enable crimes and protect criminals. They consider themselves to be above the law - both God's law and civil law. 

The Vatican has yet to discipline even a single bishop who stood by and allowed priests to molest tens of thousands of children. And because it hasn't. we have the Cloyne Report, we have Kansas City, we have Philadelphia (again).  Yet, the Vatican wasted little time in forcing a bishop in Australia to resign because he had committed a heinous sin - suggesting that the church consider ordaining women (it is officially an equal sin to pedophilia according to Rome. But Rome tries to ignore pedophilia committed by clergy as much as possible. Ordaining women, in their minds, is as evil as abortion in terms of how its handled by the hierarchs in Rome).  When the kettle got too hot for Law, he was whisked to Rome and given a luxury apartment, several important jobs, including vetting new bishops and a staff to provide him with all the comfort and service he "deserved"  (the staff includes nuns to do his housekeeping and cooking and other menial tasks - the "complementary" role  the male clergy have decided that women are supposed to play - which is to be always subservient to men - to serve the men.

Like Kathryn, I attend a small Episcopal parish - there are three masses every Sunday with a total attendance of about 200. There are two full-time priests, a seminarian, and a deacon.  Most non-Catholic churches are quite small and it is actually possible to be recognized as a real person rather than as simply a check in an envelope.  In our Episcopal parish, both priests were greeting us by name after only two weeks.  One is a woman, and she is fantastic, especially as a homilist. Our male priest is  great also, and together, they provide a true complementarity. God made them male and female in God's image. I realized after going to this church for a while, that to have a healthy church - in the wholistic sense - it must reflect God's image and that means male AND female as equals. Not male as master, woman as servant, or male as superior, woman as inferior, men's work and women's work (barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?) which is how the church defines "complementarity."

If Catholics really cared enough about what is happening to close their wallets the bishops might suddenly discover what it means to "listen" instead of simply "pontificate."  They may begin to act as if THE church actually includes the 99.9% of people who are not orgained or consecrated religious. They are used to the imperial model - they will not easily give it up.

It's up to the people in the pews. Many millions of us have left, one by one. That is not enough to effect change. Those who are still in the pews could effect change, and in so doing, maybe bring back some of the millions who have left in despair. But it requires them to have enough courage to close their wallets and say why they are doing so - write letters (they won't be answered, but write them anyway)Because if enough of them do, sooner or later, they will be asked why their donations have stopped. It's rather sad thing, isn't it, when the only "voice" the people of God have is their money.
ed gleason | 10/1/2011 - 2:51pm
Nota Bene...despite Editor Reidy's  constant asking ,conservative  posters who do not want altar servers are always anonymous..Ask yourself   Why?.. But an even better question is ...why have the fearful been so successful rolling back Vatican II?
6466379 | 10/1/2011 - 2:34pm

Going, Going, Gone, altar girls, the latest sign of the revisionist spirit that has entered our Church, beginning the  dismantling Vatican Council II. Gone too, the buoyant refrain of Bl.JPII, “Do not be afraid,” being replaced with the tight triumphalistic maniple mentality of the pre-Vatican II Church, bogged down with such things as black Dracula-like clergy capes, gaudy tasseled-sash cassocks, waist-length lace albs ( gone the more masculine in-ostentatious linen vestures) and pom pom Birettas and so much more.  Clericalism is coming  back, a clear manifestation of the fear of the laity, especially women!

Or is all of this linked to the  quest for  unity between Orthodox Christianity and the Catholic Church? I say this remembering what an Orthodox priest once told me, that, a great hinderance to Orthodox/Catholic unity is the presence of laity in the sanctuary, especially women!
Personally, I see nothing wrong with altar girls and for that matter with women serving as lectors. In fact why not allow women in the deaconate? JPII did say that the deaconate is not part of Holy Orders, but separate from it. And I’d even like to see some enlightened Pope in the future name  laity, women, men, married or single, to the College of Cardinals, not eligible of course for election to the Papacy, but serving simply as advisors and electors of the Pope. And useful perhaps on diplomatic missions.

But admittedly, I am conflicted in that  I do not support women in the presbyterate because Bl.JPII said that his teaching on that subject was “definitive” some say, “ex cathedra” which seems to me to pretty much close the book!

The Gospel of Luke dealing with the Annunciation further conflicts me, as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had no difficulty in accepting the ministry of the girl virgin Mary. If anyone ever served the altar of the Lord and announced the Word, Blessed Mary certainly did! - But then things are being revised -  so it doesn’t matter? 

Donald Kauke | 10/1/2011 - 2:04pm
We recently lost a young lady server who did not survive cardiac surgery. Her service on the altar was only one of the areas where she contributed to the life of the parish. She was a model of piety, thoughtfulness and intelligence and is missed by her colleagues and parishioners.  We are blessed to have had her service.
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 10/1/2011 - 1:00pm
The c comments to this post show wide the gulf is between many Catholics and the traditionalists and their supporters on a matter hardly of faih!'Ray from MN,  if America ia an occasion of sin, your approach is amajor occasion  of (profound) ignorance.
The problem in Phioenix as in the tarditionalist approach is Father/Msgr, etc. is the answer man and the laty , even those on a parish council, are not sufficiently intelligent and too emotional.
A sort of broad ad hominem from the pastor there, who, I think, is not very pastoral, but very taken with his position.
That kind of posture is not ony alienating  but indicative of a terible gulf that needs to breached -something the editors here have tried to point up.
MARGARET O'NEIL | 10/1/2011 - 12:03pm
Bill - I don't need to "forget" you but I do challenge your definition of "truth" - and yes, it is yours for you are conveying what you believe to be "truth" even when you interpret WETN or the are the filter.

Please tell me though:  why do you keep mentioning "modesty" with regard to women alone?  Do you mean humbleness? or do you mean modesty in the sense of discretion and chastity - modesty in dress, behavior, and attitude?  Does this then suggest that modesty or the lack of modesty is exclusively a problem for women?  

This is of course related to the discussion topic because you seem to believe that a failure to see "modesty, selflessness, motherhood as the highest ideals of womanhood (as fatherhood should be the highest ideal for males, by the way!)" contributes somehow to the scarcity of men called to the priesthood.  So, logically, it is because women are immodest, selfish, and eschewing motherhood that we have these problems.  Aside from the fact that in making this argument, you are implicitly saying men are so weak as to be rendered emasculated by strong women and incapable of hearing God's call, why the repeated reference to modesty?  And aren't men and father's called to selflessness, too?
Like the church of old you embrace, you are revealing a limiting, repressive view of women - you are blaming women for the ills we are discussing and exhibiting in so doing a fundamental failure to appreciate that God made women diverse and that being modest and selfish are not exclusively related to motherhood.  You can't be a good mother without being those things but you can't be a good person in general without them.  Women, and our culture that allows them to live their lives according to their own values, are not the problem.  The problem is that the Holy Spirit is not calling people to the church.  That is obvious whether you look in the pews or the seminaries.  Perhaps that is because the Holy Spirit is trying to tell the Church something while calling people to serve and worship God in other, more loving ways.  

I'm sorry you feel the need to blame women for so much - yes, you'll say you blame the culture not the women themselves but really, that's just a way to sugar coat it.  I will pray that you can accept women as multi-dimensional and that  you can teach your pupils to do so, too.  
Catherine McKeen | 10/1/2011 - 11:58am
Only in parentheses do America's editors even mention one of the more obvious moves to shore up the male church in the post-Vatican 2 era.  ("The diaconate for women remains an open question and ought to be explored.")

Year after year, our diocesan newspaper trumpets all its new ordinations:  male permanent deacons shown prostrate on the floor of the cathedral and vowing themselves in obedience to their bishop.

Deep beneath the streets of Rome, in chambers where early Christians held and hid their rituals, the walls show women presiding at tables where bread was broken and shared and Jesus remembered.  That was the reality of the lived Gospel then.  How have we forgotten so much?  Why is our church so afraid of women (even the miniature version) when it comes to the altar or the ambo? 

john ryan | 10/1/2011 - 11:41am
At some point in time,after our present Holy Father,Gods Love will penetrate the well intentioned but mistaken views of these people. The denial of Priesthood to any called member of The Body Of Christ will be looked back on with a mixture of wonder,pity and shame. The Church,administered by men,has made these errors before,Galileo the Inquisition.... In the meantime, we pray,talk to each other,write,peacefully demonstrate and pray some more.
William Maniotis | 10/1/2011 - 11:21am


You say: I don't need Bill M. to define femininity for me, nor do I need him to define masculinity for my sons.

"Bill M" isn't defining anything.  If I were, than you would be right to ignore me.  The Church teaches that men and women are fundamentally equal AND complementary.  That isn't "my" truth-it is supposed to be "the" truth. 

Look, I know I am not going to change anybody's mind here.  If that were my purpose, you'd be right to rip me, because I'd be overstepping my bounds.  I'm just trying to stand up for the truth: the truth the Church teaches us.  Now, I have come to believe deep in my heart and soul that the complementarity of the sexes is true, and that a full understanding of this truth will lead us to live happier lives.  But you shouldn't care that I think or say that.

You should care about whether or not what I pointed to-the need for modesty, selflessness, motherhood as the highest ideals of womanhood (as fatherhood should be the highest ideal for males, by the way!)-is true, and good, and beautiful.

So Kathy-forget me.  Don't lose sight of truth though.

MARGARET O'NEIL | 10/1/2011 - 11:18am
My last comment - I promise-but boy did this hit a nerve in my extended family.  Yet we are all in accord.  The problem isn't women, or emasculating men (but boy am I glad you are in a position to tell them that they have been!).  The "problem" is that this trend of declining church membership and declining numbers of priests is because the people of the Church are not hearing the Holy Spirit call them to stay or sign up.  But why is it that you can blame our culture (yet the numbers are dropping outside of the w. Hemisphere, too), women, or any other reason outside the Church, without considering that the Church itself is at least somewhat responsible.  The sex abuse scandal -and the Church's handling of that - are enough reason why young people are disgusted and turning away from the Church.  That's a reality.  So maybe the Church might also consider that it needs to change - just a little, don't completely freak out.  Maybe these young folks aren't called to join the Church because the Holy Spirit isn't telling them to - that the Holy Spirit is not going to channel good souls to an institution that has stopped serving God and his people and has hunkered down.  The Kingdom of God is upon us - we are the Church - come into the light and embrace us and where we, through the grace of God, are in our journey to evolve into more perfect sons and daughters of God.  Now that would be something that would serve as a clarion call to the young and the young at heart.  Lead the way toward a more loving and yes, still obedient people who care more about lives of service to God and each other than clinging to a medieval perception of men and women's roles.  Do you really think that was when we reached our peak as children of God?  Of course not.  We've yet to do so.  So, please. leave the past in the past and embrace our journey to become INclusive church.  You might be surprised at what happens in the pews and the seminary. Clearly what you are doing isn't working now is it?
MARGARET O'NEIL | 10/1/2011 - 11:03am
I don't need Bill M. to define femininity for me, nor do I need him to define masculinity for my sons.  You, too, are blaming women - perhaps slightly more subtly than others but still crystal clear.  Boys aren't interested in becoming priests because they don't hear God's call to join the Catholic Church....might that be because he is calling them to lives that serve Him better?  Of course not.  Much easier to say we are de-masculating our men...Really?   WETN is as reactionary as you are - the truth is we need a church that cares about its people not just maintaining some fictionalized vision of the past.  Expansive views of the roles of women and men are not the problem, friend.  The problem is that the Church doesn't speak to them - the Church doesn't serve as the mouthpiece of a loving God.  The Church does not spread the Good News, it spreads a message that says women are the problem, only men can hold real authority in the Church (and there is no more man-made concept than that), and is unable to stop clinging fearfully to a past that brought pain, condemnation, and darkness rather than the Light of the World.  Jesus has Saved US ALL.  Why not be joyful and inclusive and let go of your need to exclude to define who is included.  Human beings created the need to exclude because of fear, insecurity, and ignorance.  God is greater than all of that.  He does not need to cower behind a human infrastructure that excludes half of His people from guiding others to him.  Given the Church's history - both distant and recent - it is time to try embracing everyone and letting each respond to the Holy Spirit as he/she is called.  I think the Holy Spirit can choose whom to call to what vocation just fine without assistance from a fearful, man-made elitist club.
William Maniotis | 10/1/2011 - 10:58am

As for the notion that I'm suggesting that women are to blame for all of men's problems, I'd say you are half-right.  You see-I'm for equality after all.

The fact that we can't even discuss such a possibility, and the failure to understand the deep significance of motherhood, modesty, and selflessness, is the reason we live in such a fragmented society today.
William Maniotis | 10/1/2011 - 10:51am
@ Vince

You quote, and then write:

"Has our denial of the complementarity of the sexes, especially in America, led to our boys' overall failure in life these days?"

There it is: men's problems today can be blamed on women.  "Jane Crowism" is back.

This is typical of the response I get when I ask people to consider the fact that complementarity of the sexes is recognized as TRUTH-rather than mere ideology-in the Chuch.  Rather than and ad hominem attack, can you talk instead about what I'm really asking about:

1)  Why do we feel modesty and selflessness are less-than-ideal goals to promote in our young women?

2)  When women want to be "more like men" in every way-especially when it comes to promiscuity, ultra-competitiveness, "market" values above all else-does it hurt our overall society?
3)  How is it that amazing women like Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard, can understand the need for complementarity-and the scourge of abortion-and still be as successful in her professional life as she has been? 

MARGARET O'NEIL | 10/1/2011 - 10:41am
Ah...a friend as identified the Ann Arbor parish - It is "Christ the King Catholic Church" located on Ave Maria St.  This would be the same group that started Ave Marie "Law School" which left Ann Arbor because it found the city too hostile to its conservative ways.  (Talk about being oblivious to context!)  The law school's founding principles were questionable but there's no denying it attracted brilliant, albeit reactionary, angry and fearful, legal scholars.  This church, however, which labels itself "charismatic" is the special pet of the bishop and so rigid in its orthodoxy that describing it as pre-Vatican II doesn't do it justice.  Constantine would feel at home there, as would the worst of the Inquisition!  So please, let's keep in mind that the diocese in Nebraska has been known for years as the most conservative one in the country (no longer sharing those honors with the Arlington, VA diocese) and the parish in Ann Arbor is so far out there that it is even on the fringe of conservatism.  Failing to identify these parishes - and Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, Ariz. (a state that has removed compassion and justice from its vocabulary)-as outliers, suggests a widespread trend in the church which just ain't there.  We do need to be aware of these radical churches, but they are far from being trendsetters. What they represent is a desperate effort to continue to avoid the truth - the church is declining (hemorrhaging) in members and priests when it is clear that it is serving itself and the elitist boys club that runs it rather than God.
C CRINO MS | 10/1/2011 - 10:20am
I've worked with boys and girls for over thirty years in Catholic education.  Almost annually, I have one or two girls tell me that they would like to be priests.  In all that time, only two boys have.  (I still remember both their names, although I've forgotten the names and faces of all those girls.)  This was before there were girls serving (or even being lectors) and since I've worked in parishes where that is the norm.  Of course, I gently tell the girls that it isn't possible, but I've learned to dread the downfallen look I receive as a result.

I also work in a parish where a great many men have decided to pursue the priesthood.  I have never seen a correlation between whether there are girls and women serving at the altar and the results in vocations. When I worked in parishes where females never served, we also never had a vocation come from the parish.

There are a myriad of reasons why someone feels called to the priesthood, beginning with the promptings of the Spirit, of course.  I think that they include a sense of joy and satisfaction in the priests they know, as well as reverent liturgy, quality preaching, an emphasis on how all of this should take root and flower in our daily lives.

Vibrant parishes are also key.  Who wants to join a moribund institution, only to die a slow death of frustration and boredom?

The third thing that I think leads to encouraging vocations is a sense of fidelity to the tradition and the spirituality that flows from it.  I find this in both those who are called to priesthood as well as those who are called to lay ministry.  They want to be the next page in that 'book of tradition', handing down the faith we received from the apostles.  They don't want to be Sufis or be promoting Hindu spirituality, or some sort of eco-Buddhism.  They want to be Catholics, to know that they are Catholics and to encourage others to meet the Lord as Catholics.

Priests and parish leadership who invest their energies in those three goals - building vibrant parishes, encouraging a healthy sense of the 'Catholic difference' and finding joy in ministry - will see others who want to serve the church.  

If we worked on those priorities, it wouldn't matter who served at the altar.
Vince Killoran | 10/1/2011 - 10:13am
"Has our denial of the complementarity of the sexes, especially in America, led to our boys' overall failure in life these days?"

There it is: men's problems today can be blamed on women.  "Jane Crowism" is back.

In writing about a  "willingness to examine honestly what contributes to, and what detracts from, priestly vocationsMsgr. Lankelt seems to calling into question the character of his parish council.
William Maniotis | 10/1/2011 - 9:11am
I meant femininity!
William Maniotis | 10/1/2011 - 9:09am
What is most troubling about most of the comments to this piece is that it fails to bring up one of the underlying aspects of the decision-and one I have heard discussed on EWTN-the fact that we live in a culture that denies the complementarity of the sexes, and that the Church teaches that such a complementarity does, indeed, exist.  Now, whether or not that means that girls need to be denied an opportunity to be altar servers I won't pretend to be smart enough to know.  What I do know is that boys are in trouble all around the dial, and that they are increasingly outpaced by girls in all aspects of modern American life.  The deeper question is...why?  And the hardest part of that question is this: Has our denial of the complementarity of the sexes, especially in America, led to our boys' overall failure in life these days?  Are they not receiving the mothering at home they once did, because too many of our moms have become like dads, and are obsessed with "market" values rather than family values?  Has maternity itself, pushed aside by so many women in the modern era, especially with the elevation of abortion to a "right", so skewed our concept of feminity that it has weakened our young men, who can no longer find females who exemplify the finest qualities of womenhood like those exemplifed by the finest woman, Mother Mary herself?

When I asked the students in one of my honors English classes last year to enumerate the finest ideals of womanhood, why did they seek to exclude modesty and selflessness?  They told me it was because that would make them seem "weak," and they needed to be strong, "like men."

Until we recognize that Mother Mary has gone out of the world for too many of our young women, our young men will continue to flounder, and so will our society.
8891044 | 10/1/2011 - 7:09am

It's not so much hatred of women, but fear that decides issues like this one.

A call is not something decided by a pope, bishop or priest; it is something that comes from a God who created men and women who could follow the example of Jesus, the only human being who showed us how to live our lives without fear or hostility.

As long as the hierarchy keeps rearranging the deck chairs, the Catholic Church will contine to implode.

Jane & Francis Thomas | 10/1/2011 - 2:55am
If I understand the point being made, boys are less inclined to become priets because seeing girls on the altar serving as altar servers causes confusion among the boys that leads to fewer choosing the priestly vocation. 

That seems like you are blaming women - or in this case, girls and young women - for the decline in the number of priests.  Yes, yes...I like that..let's blame women for any perceived failing in men...good.

But wouldn't that be like blaming cultural confusion of say the 1960s for the rape of children....oh, there goes that silly emotionalism again.

And of course, we would want to reinstate a culture that would put men of almighty authority in close, secretive proximity to young boys wouldn't of those prying, knowing eyes of women...or in fact are those sins also to be placed at women's feet...

Father, the reasons for the decline of the number of priests has more to do with the lack of relevancy the church has today to Jesus-loving Christians of all genders than poor boys confused because their classmates and chums are serving with them on the altar. And when I say "relevancy," I don't mean trends or those every shifting cultural sands that the church of course must stand firmly against - progress in human understanding is afterall something the church has been so good at thwarting.  By relevancy, I mean whether such a repressive, demeaning, elitist organization actually is in synch with a loving God, a saving Jesus or the Holy Spirit. 

Father, the decline in the number of priests has more to do with the attitudes of men like you who actually are the ones deaf to the Holy Spirit, not these young men who have a much more healthy attitudes toward women than you clearly have.  I will pray for you and the Church..may God save you both.
MARGARET O'NEIL | 10/1/2011 - 1:44am
I'm sorry but explain the logic to me?  Boys are and always have been encouraged to serve as altar servers.  They weren't denied that opportunity because girls were allowed to.  So the logic must be that boys are less inclined to hear the Spirit call them to the priesthood if they see girls serving as altar servers, too?  How does that work - the very sight of a girl serving as an altar server somehow deafens the young man's ears?  I'm sorry but when did such an illogical statement pass for theology? The truth is the drop in young, heterosexual men  following a calling to serve God rests in the exposure of the Church as a misogynist, exclusive, angry  organization rather than a loving and guiding presence of God.  THere are many more joyful and inclusive ways to bring Jesus into the lives of those who do not know him and to encourage all to follow him. While you focus on the structures of the church and their self-defined authority to exclude and demean women, I will focus on Jesus, who taught obedience to God's commandments and service to God - but I don't recall a commandment that says anything about excluding women nor do I recall that Jesus eschewed their company.  Rather, he recognized them for their faith by revealing himself as the risen Lord first to them.  Keep it up and the pace of the  drop in the number of priests will only increase.  Truly you are looking in all the wrong places and all the wrong reasons for why men are not called to the priesthood as they once were.  Your teaching that degrades women does not ring true as the word of God, no matter how many titles the Pope holds nor what man-made institutions you cite as the source of your authority.  
7395865 | 10/1/2011 - 1:28am
Is there any factual evidence, that having girls serve on the altar influences boys' decisions to become priests?
We are in a Catholic Church that is hemorrhaging members on a daily basis.  Perhaps Father Lankeit, born after Vatican II, thinks all will be well if we can turn the clock back; make the Church a bit more exclusive, quiet the rabble, get rid of communion in the hand, get rid of women on the altar, and suddenly the seminaries will be full again.
It is a shame that he feels so far above his parish council that he does not need or value their input.  The "my way or the highway" attitude, especially for a man with an undergraduate degree in psychology,  seems .. gee... like the Church in the 50's.
MARGARET O'NEIL | 10/1/2011 - 1:25am
Would someone please identify the alleged parish in Ann Arbor.  I've lived in Ann Arbor all my life, and attended the three foundational Catholic churches in the city - St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Mary's, which serves the University of Michigan community. All three of them are inclusive and welcome both boys and girls as altar servers.  So which church is it?
Lisa Weber | 10/1/2011 - 12:53am
A person does not need to be theologically literate to see and understand sexism when it is so plainly displayed.  I serve on the altar and consider it a privilege and joy.  Everyone should serve on the altar at some point in their lives, just to understand and participate more fully in the liturgy.

The pre-Vatican II, 1950's church culture resulted in most of the baby boomers leaving the church.  I am mystified by the apparent desire to resurrect the most disastrous era in recent Church history. 
Mike Evans | 10/1/2011 - 12:10am
There are indeed many vocations to the priesthood. Just not to the one we have predefined as male and celibate. Did the early Christians fight over who got to light the candles or help break and distribute the bread? Most likely the ministers in most cases were in fact the women (while the men engaged in halls of comparative winds). Are we so stultified and moribund as a museum church that we see women as threats, still?
Katherine McEwen | 9/30/2011 - 11:46pm
I'm saddened when I read this kind of claptrap. Monsignor Lankeit presents his arguments very cogently. However, I'm glad I'm not a member of his parish nor of any Catholic parish at the present time. In my Episcopal parish we have two women priests and two male priests, as well as two women permanent deacons. We have boys and girls as altar servers, some of whom have disabilities. So girls have priests and deacons as role models. We are fortunate to have a number of liturgically literate parishioners, as well as a number with advanced degrees in pastoral ministry and spirituality from Seattle University. And I'm also saddened when I realize we have enough clergy to staff at least four Catholic parishes and our membership is around 500 people. Plus we have a rector who believes in empowering us laity.
Norman Costa | 9/30/2011 - 11:26pm

"America Magazine is a near occasion of sin...". 

The same, and worse, was believed by some Popes concerning the U.S. Constitution and Democracy. Among the many sinful aspects of Americanism were (1.) too cozy a relationship between American Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, and (2.) the American sentiment that salvation was readily available to people of other faiths.

Things did not work out well for Italians, though. By the millions, they were excommunicated by Pope Pius IX for participating in, and voting for, a secular government. The new unification of Italy into a single Nation put an end to the temporal power of the Church and it's rule over the former Papal States. There was nothing 'near' about the occasion of all those Italian sins and sinners.

I would hate to think that a spirited discussion of challenging ideas would be viewed as a near occasion of sin. I can't think of a more effective way to bring thought and analysis to a screeching halt - even before the discussion begins.
Thomas Piatak | 9/30/2011 - 10:05pm

It's not simply a matter of John Paul I's not allowing discussion of women priests. John Paul II, exercising the authority Christ gave to Peter, reaffirmed the teaching of the Church that it lacked the authority to ordain women to the priesthood. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, in his role as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, ruled that this teaching belonged to the deposit of the Faith and had been set forth infallibly.

It should also be noted that all Churches that trace their lineage to the Apostles fully share this teaching. Any move to ordain women priests in the Catholic Church would be viewed as breaking with Apostolic tradition by the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox and end any hope of reunion with the Churches of the East.
Louis Giardino | 9/30/2011 - 9:47pm
Molly Roach | 9/30/2011 - 9:25pm
The hatred of women has been closely woven into the practice of the Catholic church.  When will this great sin be repented?
Luis Gutierrez | 9/30/2011 - 9:13pm
The article is right on target.  Excluding girls from serving at the altar is theologically baseless and vocationally misguided.  The vocation of a boy or young man who is attracted to the priesthood because he likes to see only males around the altar should be examined for authenticity.  We are saved because the Eternal Word became human, not because she became male. May the Holy Spirit enable the church to overcome the patriarchal mentality whereby only males can serve at the altar. Amen.


Recently by The Editors

Fear Not! (December 6, 2016)
The Right to Data (December 6, 2016)
Signs of Change (November 22, 2016)
Spotlight on Refugees (November 22, 2016)
Death Watch (November 15, 2016)

Recently in Editorials