In San Francisco, A Lenten Examination for Children Goes Awry

In January Father Joseph Illo, new pastor of Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco, announced that his parish would no longer allow girl altar servers. In explaining the decision on his blog, he told parishioners that while the church has allowed girl servers for the last 20 years, “for the previous 1900 years they were not permitted” and said that when girls are allowed to serve “boys usually end up losing interest because the motivation to excel and compete with male peers is removed in a mixed program.” He also included a photo of female altar servers with the caption, “Does this picture suggest ‘women priests’?”

“I know change is hard,” Father Illo counseled his parish, “But I’m asking you all to trust me on this one. Buying into certain socially-bankrupt principles like co-ed everything does not help us in the long run. We are Catholic, and we think differently than non-believers.”

Advertisement

As if to prove just how differently “we Catholics” think, this week Star of the Sea parish is back in the news, after it gave its second through sixth grade students an examination of conscience that included questions like, “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication and sodomy)?”; “Did I practice artificial birth control or was I or my spouse prematurely sterilized (tubal ligation or vasectomy)?”; and “Have I had or advised anyone to have an abortion?”

Now, let’s make the very reasonable assumption that this latest mess was not in fact intentional. I mean, yes, the pastor did say that making everything co-ed was “a socially bankrupt principle,” which feels like a better starting point for a 1970s paranoid conspiracy thriller than for a 21st-century adult man’s take on the world. And he told the Catholic World Report that he felt the attack upon the policy was a coordinated effort to undermine the San Francisco Walk for Life, and also that “an altar boy-only policy is a poke in the eye of the liberal culture of San Francisco” (to which the young women of the universe replied, "Thank you for putting us in the middle of your tired and mean-spirited culture war. Because Jesus.”)

But let’s say it was a mistake, and perhaps not even the pastor’s—although he did write recently that “almost all the confusion about sexual and human identity began with our acceptance of birth ‘control’ fifty years ago.” (And if you’re asking, yes, I do think he just said we wouldn’t have gay people if we weren’t using birth control. Again, if this had Gene Hackman, '70s conspiracy vibe, I’m all in. But pastor of my parish, and mmm, honey maybe we need to shop around.)

Still, we have to ask ourselves—well, two things. First, what was the subsequent conversation like on that playground? I am thinking “Wonder Years” levels of painful discomfort as these poor kids tried to piece together what in fact they had been asked by adults they trusted, and for God’s sake WHY? (Sixth grader Riley Brooks, 11, told the San Francisco Chronicle that at recess they were talking and getting “really grossed out.” Riley, you are not alone.)

And second, why in God’s name is any place still presenting an examination of conscience in these terms? Truly, is it any less appalling to think that a parish might give adults this list of questions? Not because there aren’t sins in therealthough my kingdom for the day when we don’t put masturbation in the same category as adultery or abortionbut because of the sick, warped vision of church and confession that it offers. A presentation like this roams far from our modern concept of reconciliation—a moment in which a person can come before God as they are, broken and ashamed, looking for help; instead it’s about being held under a bright light by an examiner way too interested in your sex life, and forced to admit what you’ve done wrong. If you feel better for having done so, great, but the point is that you have to say it.  

Seriously, given that kind of list, what adult today would ever want to go confession? Or for that matter go to church?

In October Father Illo wrote that “Running a city parish can be mighty discouraging. The Masses are mostly empty, and those that actually make it to Mass struggle with burdens of advanced age, some in wheelchairs and many with canes.” (And for those wondering, yes, I think Father Illo did just say that parishioners who are older or sick are discouraging, giving him an old school clerical hat trick of groups insulted.)

He’s right, running a parish is hard. There’s always too much to do, and difficult choices, and you’re under a lot of scrutiny, not only from your parishioners but potentially the media and even quippy cranky bloggers. But sometimes the biggest obstacle in our way is actually ourselves. If that’s not an object lesson (for all of us) during Lent, I don’t know what is.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Katharine Gordon
2 years 8 months ago
Thanks for this article. I had written to the pastor expressing my concerns about his change to the altar server policy and got this somewhat interesting response. I don't know him personally, but if I were a parishioner, I might like a direct reply. "Thank you for writing to me and expressing your thoughts on our parish altar boy policy. I received 306 emails (239 in favor, 67 opposed) from the Bay Area, around the country, and around the world with lots of advice! I’m sorry I cannot respond individually to all of you, even though I know many of you personally. Without making any judgment on the current practice of other parishes, the priests at Star have chosen to train only boys as Mass acolytes. We do this in consideration of the Church’s directive of 1994, permitting altar girls: “the Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.” I’m sure much good comes of girls assisting at the Holy Mass, or the Church would not permit it. But as the Church encourages altar boys, we think it best for our parish at this time to give this duty to boys, in the same way that we give other responsibilities only to girls. We simply want to encourage boys to develop their fatherly qualities by assisting the priest at Mass, which is an act of God the Father’s love for us. We esteem the wonderful girls and women of our parish, and have developed girls-only groups where they too can develop their specifically feminine gifts. Thank you again for your concern and support, and please keep us in your prayers. I am praying for all of you. Yours sincerely in Christ, Fr. Joseph Illo The San Francisco Community of St. Philip Neri at Star of the Sea Parish 4420 Geary Blvd. San Francisco, CA 94118"
Mike Evans
2 years 7 months ago
Girls only ministries: babysitting, cleaning behind the altar, washing linens, arranging flowers. Very traditional....
Julie Paavola
2 years 7 months ago
Yes. Cleaning. Children. Can't wait... I am a spiritual director with an MA in theology, ready and willing to serve, but I'm changing careers because after searching for a job for 5 plus years, I have finally accepted reality: THEY DON'T WANT ME.
Bruce Snowden
2 years 8 months ago
I can't believe what I just read! Fr. Illo needs psychological help along with prayer, for inadvertent sexual abuse or misuse of minors by way of inappropriate sexual questions to children, 2nd to 6th grades. He also seems to disdain the elderly and infirm. He seems given to religious fanaticism and perhaps delusions of grandeur, something his Bishop should look into If I had kids in his school I would immediately remove them.
Molly Roach
2 years 8 months ago
I am amazed that teachers actually used this examination of conscience with their young students. I am amazed that they did not try to get the obviously inexperienced pastor up to speed about what constitutes responsible formation in younger children. With the kids, I am grossed out. People like this in positions of responsibility in our church give God a bad name.
ed gleason
2 years 8 months ago
Jim McDermott is kind to think that the mess in San Francisco is a result of bumbling. As a past member of this parish I'll give my take.. Fr Illo, a recent arrival, instituted a Latin Mass. One would think the old, the lame, the wheelchair people he complains about, might be the ones who remember and might appreciate the Latin... Correct? How many school teacher/priest hands passed out that stupid questionnaire in 5 classes.? 5 or 8 at least. Correct? So it's no mistake. My daughter teaches at a nearby public school and sees quite a few girls from Star of the Sea registering there in the last few weeks.There are more public schools in the parish.. The Church is empty, the school is emptying out. There is another old HS building on the parish , a gym building and a huge convent that are rented out. When you see clumsy stupid moves like no altar girls and dumb qustionaire by an intelligent pastor and his downtown superiors , . moves that don't make sense... you are entitled to posit a hidden motive.. Star of the Sea parish empty, is worth about 20 million dollars in high priced San Francisco..Correct? .
Anne Chapman
2 years 8 months ago
Bruce Snowden, you are absolutely right.
Kara DW
2 years 8 months ago
I'm a parent at Star of the Sea School and I want to make it very clear that it was *not* the teachers who handed out the pamphlets to the children. It was our associate pastor who gave the pamphlets to the children at church, unbeknownst to our principal and teachers. As soon as the teachers realized what was in the pamphlets, they confiscated them right out of the children's hands. Our principal, faculty, and parents are absolutely appalled that this happened and we are working with our pastors to ensure that it doesn't happen again. We're also continuing to raise the issue of girl altar servers with our pastors. Our school is a loving, inclusive, faith-filled community and we fully support our principal and faculty, who are second to none.
ed gleason
2 years 8 months ago
KaraDW; I'm glad to hear that it was not the teachers handing out that completely inappropriate brochure. I'm also glad to hear you are standing with the school. My daughter at Lafayette says they are getting Star of the Sea transfers. If too many bail out with the continuing uproar, it makes me believe that Star is on the sales block .
Kara DW
2 years 8 months ago
Thank you, Ed. Yes, we are standing together and truly believe in our principal, teachers, and family community. Star is a very special place. I personally haven't heard that we've lost any current families, but it's always possible that these recent events will cause incoming families to hesitate. We're hoping that they'll ask questions and talk with us first, so they can see that our school is a very strong, thriving place with happy children that was swimming along just beautifully until, well, you know.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 8 months ago
Perhaps it's premature, but a group of parents, teachers and school staff might want to start exploring the possibility of becoming independent and severing ties with the parish in order to save the school and protect the kids from the possibility of exposure to toxic religion. In this weeks' edition of Commonweal, a woman from Wisconsin reports on what happened in her parish when it was taken over by a similar group of priests, installed by their new bishop. She referred to some of what the priests would say as not only distorted teachings, but as "spiritual assault". The school had to be closed after only a couple of years. The situation at your parish and school sounds very much like what happened at Barbara Parsons' parish.
Kara DW
2 years 8 months ago
Thank you, Sandi. Barbara Parsons' story does indeed sound eerily similar. I'll look it up. One thing is for sure: the families in our school are strongly bonded together and very committed to preserving our thriving community. Please keep us in your prayers.
Chris NUNEZ
2 years 7 months ago
It would be really helpful to know the name of the diocese and the school to get some background and prepare other areas for the possibility that this spreads....Thanks for any information you can provide.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 7 months ago
You should contact the author of the story at Commonweal - Barbara Parsons. I am providing the link. I recommend that everyone read all three stories in the issue related to priest formation. Barbara Parsons is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. If you click on her name/byline at the top left, it will open a new tab. Click on "contact" and it will open an email form. You have to be registered at the website, but I don't think you have to be a subscriber. 'Spiritual Assault' - How Not to Run a Parish https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/spiritual-assault See also these articles on challenges to positive priestly formation. https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/inside-seminary https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/tall-orders
2 years 8 months ago
My oh my! And this priest's bishop is okay with all this? And again on the Mass server issue: boys and girls were made by God as Genesis tells us to be one to another "helpmates." What better arena to foster the wholesome development and even expansion of that vision that to have both boys and girls serving Mass.
2 years 8 months ago
My oh my! And this priest's bishop is okay with all this? And again on the Mass server issue: boys and girls were made by God as Genesis tells us to be one to another "helpmates." What better arena to foster the wholesome development and even expansion of that vision that to have both boys and girls serving Mass.
John Barbieri
2 years 8 months ago
"Seriously, given that kind of list, what adult today would ever want to go to confession? Or for that matter go to church?" How right you are! Highly trained and experienced psychiatrists and clinical psychologists wrestle with problems of guilt. Priests like the one mentioned are not trained or capable to deal with these problems. Moreover, their incompetence can start these problems or make them worse. Perhaps, giving general absolution without speaking to an untrained cleric would be a better way to encounter G_D's love and forgiveness. After the Saint Joseph's Medical Center in Arizona fiasco, it became rather obvious that the bishop involved was virtually practicing medicine without a license. He could have cost a woman her life if he had been listened to. Fortunately, he only made a fool of himself. Clerics who do not have training in mental health counseling have no business hearing confessions. There are more than a few churches in San Francisco. The parishioners at Star of the Sea just might want to go to one of them instead.
Henry George
2 years 8 months ago
I think America and Jim McDermott should have, and perhaps they did, contacted Fr. Illo for his detailed response. Was this the case ?
Chris NUNEZ
2 years 8 months ago
This was the last straw for me... "As if to prove just how differently “we Catholics” think, this week Star of the Sea parish is back in the news, after it gave its second through sixth grade students an examination of conscience that included questions like, “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication and sodomy)?”; “Did I practice artificial birth control or was I or my spouse prematurely sterilized (tubal ligation or vasectomy)?”; and “Have I had or advised anyone to have an abortion?” I was responsible for training volunteers to 'demystify homosexuality' in the public school system of San Francisco in the mid 1980s, and one of the things I had to keep in mind was 'age appropriateness' of how volunteers answered student questions in honest and forthright ways. I look at this 'examination of conscience' asked of six grade students and I'm having a heart attack wondering when will parents demand the ouster of this priest who obviously lacks common sense. This is about much more than girl altar servers, it's about a warped and distorted perception of children. That's all I can really say on public space... I'm waiting to see that the parents react to THIS assault on the hearts and minds of their children.
Bill Mazzella
2 years 7 months ago
Just shows the church is growing up as so many are calling this troubled pastor on his unhealthy and unholy approach to the gospel. Wonder what his shaky archbishop thinks about all this. What makes this all the more unsightly is the fact that we are moving away from absurd reverence to pastors and demanding that they serve rather than dominate. Another thing we can do is stop calling them "Father." Paul and Peter did not demand this. And no one deserves more respect than they. Illo is a throwback to domineering clerics and Father knows best. Illo is rightly getting his empty church which is the thing these patriarchs understand.
THOMAS ROMIG
2 years 7 months ago
Two of my daughters, now 35 and 36 years old, were lead altar servers at St. Mary's of Redford parish in Detroit in the early 1990s. When we moved to Royal Oak and joined Shrine of the Little Flower parish, they were told they could not be altar servers due to their gender. Because of experiences like this, neither daughter is now a Catholic, nor are my other two children. Father Illo will reap what he sows. I'm asking him to trust me on this one.
Thom Nickels
2 years 7 months ago
There are no altar girls in the Orthodox Church. Seems to me that Pope John Paul II did not want altar girls but the U.S. bishops went ahead and instituted this anyway. How can this be good? I think the presence of altar girls gives Catholic services a Protestant look. What with all the lay readers and Eucharistic ministers crowding Catholic sanctuaries these days, one really has to go to the Orthodox Church for (non-modernist) ancient traditions.
Elizabeth VanScoyk
2 years 7 months ago
Thank You. It's nice to see someone who values Tradition for what it is, Our Identity. Be Catholic if you are Catholic. If you want something else, there is plenty to choose from.
Clare McGrath-Merkle
2 years 7 months ago
These are not isolated incidents. Seminaries have adopted Jansenist ideals across the world under the last two pontificates, not directly from the popes, but because of elements in power who have uncritically returned to Post-Reformation ideals which were actually condemned at the time for the heresy of Jansenism. For a child of 10 to be introduced to the horror of hell for thinking things which they actually do not even understand is child abuse, and child sexual abuse at that. It is projecting on these dear innocents' minds and hearts all the malformed, ethically tortured, sexually stunted mental landscapes of this new corps of rigorist priests holed up together in seminaries for 7 plus years. Recently, I attended a Mass where the priest told all the children to listen carefully because he was their father. He said, from the pulpit, that If they indulged in pornography, the devil would first take their feet, then their legs, then their souls. This should be grounds for defrocking. Children don't get over that kind of ideological violence from an authority figure who is the closest thing to God they know. Scruples are one of the most torturous conditions a child or adolescent can have, and this kind of abuse is sure to make the most sensitive of these dear children suffer.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 7 months ago
I hope that you contacted the bishop AND the local media. The latter is needed unless your have an exceptionally good bishop, rare these days. EVERY parent in the congregation should complain, and to back up their complaints, they should stop writing checks until they receive ironclad assurances that the bishop will remove this priest from the parish and will ensure he won't inflict his sick homilies on children in any other parish either. They need to find something else for this priest to do that doesn't involve children. This is another horror story. There are too many of them in recent years. The American church is now being suffering from the bitter harvest reaped from the seeds sown from 1978-2013.
Paul Ferris
2 years 7 months ago
I agree with everything said here criticizing Illo. I just want to add that there is an obvious insult to boys in the statement that they cannot handle serving with girls. Oh why oh why did we ever start educating the female gender? Now we know why girls are doing better in school than boys. Just consult Illo. The boys have lost interest.
Chris Miller
2 years 7 months ago
I think there is really a simple solution for Fr Illo: Simply raise the age of those who serve in his parish as Mass servers. While 4th grade girls serving may deter boys (who want to be with boys at that age), 8th or 9th grade girls will be an encouragement for 8th and 9th grade boys...what a difference a couple of years makes! Pr Chris
Luis Gutierrez
2 years 7 months ago
The nefarious repercussions of conflating patriarchal ideology with revealed truth are becoming intolerable. The human person is flesh–body–heart–soul–spirit, much more than just a psychosomatic male or female object. If this applies to all human persons, even more so to Jesus Christ, who is a divine Person. In other words, the body is like a sacrament of the whole person, but is not the whole person. Given the somatic homegeneity of men and women, to be a male is not essential to "naturally" resemble Jesus Christ in his humanity. The human *body* of a baptized person is like a sacrament of Christ's presence, regardless of gender. To ban altar girls "for the good of the Church" is a symptom of a deep-seated disease. Hope the Doctor comes soon!
Paul Ferris
2 years 7 months ago
I agree but not sure Illo would understand your erudite comment. Maybe he should just refer to St. Paul who wrote much simpler: "In Christ there is neither male nor female."
Rita Balcom
2 years 7 months ago
How long will some church officials rely on "forced religiousity"? If they feel as if they it's the only way they have control, then they are not the right leaders. This is not the road to a true spirituality. Jesus lifted people up, enabled them to be more than they ever imagined, and walked with them on their journey. We are heirs of this gift. May those who use domination and discrimination turn their hearts in this Lenten period.
Nicholas Clifford
2 years 7 months ago
Back many years ago -- in the mid-1980s, I think -- I remember going to Mass in Lafayette, CA, just across the Bay from San Francisco. There was one (perhaps two) altar girls, and I remember thinking how advanced California must be compared to retrograde New England. But that presumably was the diocese of Oakland, and maybe things were a little more grown-up there. In any case, it didn't wound my faith as far as I know, any more than it was wounded back around 2006 by listening to a laywoman preach at a Mass at Europe (I only understood about 80% of it, my German being way less than fluent, but what I did get sounded very good. As she spoke, the priest sat behind the altar, smiling at us in the congregation.
Elizabeth VanScoyk
2 years 7 months ago
I find this article the perfect example of hypercritical non-objective "journalism". The examination of conscience was obviously not for a 6th grade audience and an error however, it is perfect for an adult especially in this day and age.The fact that so many "Catholics" don't like the tone of the pamphlet makes me wonder if it is a novel idea for them. Go to confession, receive the Graces promised and open your eyes to the gifts of God's love. The list of sins don't change with the times, list of sins just gets longer and longer. Aren't we so very "Modern".
John Legerski
2 years 7 months ago
Many have wondered how the archbishop could be condoning all this. The fact is, the archbishop of SF is the one who brought Fr. Illo (and several other "like-minded priests) in from outside the diocese. So I'm guessing there's not too much shock in the upper levels of the Chancery. Too bad there's not more embarrassment...
Mike Evans
2 years 7 months ago
What a horrible photograph America chose to accompany this article. It is just this stereotype of airheadedness, silly, gossipy and futile that portrays too much thinking (or far too little) about girls and young women.
Kevin Clarke
2 years 7 months ago

Sorry, we don't always have the best options for illustrations. I've changed it out for one of the few shots at CNS that clearly depicted girl altar servers, albeit in a non-traditional moment.

KATHERIN MARSH
2 years 7 months ago
When I read this article, I felt disgusted with Father Illo because he epitomized the Pharisees Jesus chastized and Adam in the Old Testament whom God kicked out of paradise. Father Illo would have us believe that the reason there are no priests, and the reason there are problems for adolescent boys is by blaming it on the presence of women. The Parisees stood on the street corner pumping their chests and telling the people to follow them because they were so holy, but infact, their hearts and minds had so focused on making themselves holy that they did not check in with God. Then, Father Illo is like so many Fundamentalist religious men who want everyone to believe that if women wore veils, and stayed away, men would seek holiness. In other words: "It's Eve's (WOMAN's) fault. Let's look at Genesis. It religious myth, that teaches us invaluable lessonn. But many fundamentalists ignore this part: At Genesis 2:15, God tells Adam to cultivate and guard the garden. AT that time---God had not made Eve. God gave Adam (alone) an order--YOU Man are to cultivate and GUARD this. Only then, after he told Adam to cultivate and guard, did God make Eve. God did not tell Eve to guard the garden. He made a helper for Adam. Helper, from the Hebrew world for warrior and in some scriputral interests--God, Himself. And then the serpent entered the garden. Some scholars tell us that the entrance was probably from the East. And serpents are hard to miss. They walked on two legs and had an "appearance." So where was the GUARD? Right there! Silently standing beside Eve, saying NOT ONE word. And the serpent meant sure death for Adam. Adam and Eve knew it. Adam FIRST did not obey God. It was not Eve who succombed to temptatiopn, she stayed right there. She started out fighting the serpent. Adam did not cultivate Eve's warrior skills. He did not shore them up or care for them. Then afterwards when God came back to the garden, Eve tells God about the serpent. Eve speaks up first. Adam blames Eve. And so today, we have Father Illo, who again blames God's final creation in the garden, and his greatest helper to overcome sin. If MY Church continues to allow the Pharisees and these Adams who are not living their Baptiusm, to guide and make "their self aggrandizing" rules for this religion--we will all go the wrong way. Yours in Christ, Katherine L. Marsh
KATHERIN MARSH
2 years 7 months ago
p.s. to Father Illo: Women suffer the worse pain in the world to bear you and carry you knowing all the time, that ultimately you will die, perhaps in horrible ways. And you think we do not belong there serving in the Sacrifice of Christ's body? Father Illo is not to be believed or trusted.He is teaching boys to look on women as temptation. He is causing people to believe that the Eucharist and the Church HERSELF will be tainted by the presence of women. And that is wrong.
Julie Paavola
2 years 7 months ago
This past weekend, my two boys returned from religious education incredulous at what the young priest had told them. The boys were separated from the girls (I don't know what the girls heard) and the boys were given a lesson on masculinity. In order to please God they were told, "you must be strong and courageous," while the special character of girls is to be "beautiful." The metaphor held up as an example of masculinity was the crusader knight, chivalrous and true, who would faithfully treat women with great honor so they would not doubt their beauty, which they were desperate to show to boys. I would never have believed this, but my son had been recording classes and had a recording of this talk. This sexism does not express the holiness of Christ's Church but a sickening parody. It makes me truly sorrowful, because I don't know how to live out my own fidelity and still protect and educate my children. God help us!
Helen Cohenour
2 years 7 months ago
What in the world has happened to our church. I hope someone sent this article to the Pope..
Paul Ferris
2 years 7 months ago
My bishop refuses to allow altar girls. I went to our parish council and the pastor, deacon, and subdeacon, plus ten parish council members all voted that they would like to see altar girls in our parish. The Bishop said NO.
Paul Ferris
2 years 7 months ago
Father Illo, for a thousand years priests were married, including most if not all the apostles. Things change sometime, even in the church. Trust me on that one. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the Orthodox sacraments including a married priesthood. The Eastern Rite churches in communion with Rome have married priests. Maybe Father Illo should get married and have boys and girls and see how his kids respond to discrimination and injustice which he espouses.
Joann Rice
2 years 7 months ago
I find this article mean spirited and slanted. I am disheartened to find a writer in this publication demeaning a person rather than just addressing the ideas. The tone is so condescending. By all means disagree with the priest's decision if you wish, but on its merits and with sound theology, not by mocking him. Personally, I am a professional woman in a position leading women. I find nothing offensive in his requiring altar servers to be boys. I'm not offended if someone disagrees with that position - but do it by interpreting the theology - not jumping on the band wagon of popular social customs. We need a Chesterton today - "Fallacies do not cease to become fallacies because they become fashions."
Paul Ferris
2 years 7 months ago
Father Illo's position is bereft of theology as is yours concerning altar servers. Would you like it if someone said women should not be in positions of leadership of women. That was the fashion not too long ago. It is hard to deal with such irrationality in a calm and rational manner. As Oscar Wilde once said: "sometimes one just has to go mad."
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
Paul - while I don't have a particular position on alter boys/girls, I do think the reaction by Jim McDermott to that story and now this one about an examination of conscience is overwrought. First, it is probably true and certainly not outlandish to say that vocations can be nurtured in boys who serve at the alter, and that boys are more likely to serve if it is expected to be a "boy" thing. It is not a theological position, although Jesus' choice of men for the priesthood certainly was. As regards the examination of conscience, I haven't seen the booklet that is decried, so this could be a distorted account (hard to tell through the sneering). I think the outrage in San Francisco would be not that they were mentioned, but that they weren't promoted. I recall a public school in San Francisco last year had to pull its sex ed booklet after parents complained they were promoting bondage and sex toys. As for your Oscar Wilde quote, I can't find it. But, here are a couple he made about women: "How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being." and "Men always want to be a woman's first love - women like to be a man's last romance." Vive la différence! One of his best: "Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much."
Paul Ferris
2 years 7 months ago
Hey Tim, glad to see you are back in the saddle. Unlike you I do have a very strong position on altar girls. I took the issue to my parish council and to my bishop. The parish council agreed with me. The bishop did not. I did not comment on the sex ed stuff. I do not know enough about it. Jesus called men to the priesthood who were fishing, collecting taxes...etc. etc. I am sure he will get through even if girls are serving at the altar...or as you indicated maybe that is the real issue...women's ordination. I have 8 granddaughters and no grandsons. Which colors my opinion I will readily admit. Someone I know used to quote Oscar Wilde about going mad. I did not read it.
Bruce Snowden
2 years 7 months ago
Tim, As you said, "It is probably true and certainly not outlandish to say that vocations can be nurtured in boys who serve at the altar ....". No doubt about it. But is it not also possibly true and certainly not outlandish to say that priestly vocations nurtured in boys who served at the altar, also prepared some of the altar boys become priests, to later on "serve themselves" in other ways that brought disgrace to the priesthood and Church? Will it continue to happen even with altar girls allowed? I don't know and for sure, I am not suggesting that having all male altar servers intrinsically nurture clerical pedophilic behavior, but perhaps may have in some cases in some ways contributed to it? I do not know if that opinion is worth "a bucket of spit" as Coolidge said of the Vice Presidency of his day and would like to see it shredded to hell if wrong! I personally however, do like the boy/girl altar serving practice.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
Bruce - I think you agree that the vast majority of priests do succeed in adhering to their celibate vows much better than almost any other male vocation/profession succeed in adhering to a chaste life (whether married or single). So, I do not think this should factor very much in deciding whether boys and girls should be alter servers. And, I do not object to alter girls myself. However, since the sexual temptations of the vast majority of men is directed toward females, I am not sure that replacing alter boys with alter girls will reduce the temptations and produce a safer environment.
Rachelle Cournoyer
2 years 7 months ago
I also deplore the tone of this article. I also would be willing to cut the Pastor some slack. There is no question that altar-girls do an excellent job, but the geater issue is the crises of vocations to the priesthood. I have noticed in my parish the decrease of boys participating as altar-boys. Some years there are none at all. And some years there might be one or two, but they don't stay for long. During the years that the children would be serving are the years where children prefer the company of their own sex. I give kudos to the parish for recognizing that reality and in taking positive measures to keep the girls involved and engaged in the Church. It has not left them as orphans. The examination of conscience seems to have been pulled off the Internet. Granted there has to be some distinction made between the normal physiological development of boys, and masturbation that goes beyond what is healthy. We all know that there is an active porn industry out there that is preying on our sons. At the same time, we know that porn has the capacity to distort their relationships with women, and indeed disable their capacity for real intimacy with the opposite sex. This is something that needs to be addressed in the confessional. I would have preffered seeing in this article some suggestions as to how these harms could be addressed and healed in Reconcilliation instead of a total and complete flight from trying to deal with this issue at all. Come on, Father, give us some advice on how to do better. The examination of conscience does serve an instructional purpose, even if it is gross. In grade 6, these kids are likely going to be confirmed, and we generally lose them after that. And for many, this will be their second Reconcilliation not having gone since their Fist Communion. Granted, it needs to be age-appropriate, and it also needs to inform. An article addressing these specific issues would be most welcome.
Anne Chapman
2 years 7 months ago
The questions in the examination of conscience that were quoted in the media stories are not appropriate for elementary school aged children, those to whom they were given at Star of the Sea. Apparently the media attention caused the pastor to claim that they didn't "realize" what the questions were before they handed them out to the children. If so, that is still a dereliction of their responsibility. The issue of the church's treatment of women, beginning with its treatment of girls. will continue to plague the church. The statistics show that young adult women are leaving the church in record numbers and that many who leave are not returning when they marry, as was the pattern with prior generations. Needless to say, infant baptisms have also declined for the first time ever in the US. In losing young adult women, the church also loses their children. There are numerous studies out there highlighting the loss of women from the church, especially of young adult women. This article gives a summary http://blogs.thearda.com/trend/featured/u-s-catholic-women-at-crossroads-as-gender-gap-disappears-will-pope-francis-make-a-difference/ I currently attend an Episcopal parish with my husband. There are three liturgies each Sunday, with three acolytes serving at each. There is a fairly even balance between boys and girls, but there are slightly more boys serving than there are girls. They don't "lose" the kids after confirmation, unlike the Catholics it seems. Almost all of the acolytes continue to serve after confirmation, continuing usually until high school graduation. Also, all who serve the altar are called "acolyte" - unlike in the Catholic church which denies girls who serve the altar the title "acolyte". Obviously having girls serve the altar in the Episcopal Church has not discouraged the boys from also serving. Perhaps boys in some Catholic parishes are receiving subliminal (or, even not so subliminal) messages from the adults - parents, priests etc - that give them the idea that serving with girls as their equals will somehow make them less "masculine" in some distorted understanding of what being "masculine" really is.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
Anne - I agree that the Episcopal Church has been accommodating feminism and gender-choice (LGBTQ...) for many decades. And, of course, they have women priests and bishops (but no Real Eucharist, since their priests are not validly ordained). But, their numbers are in precipitous decline. In the US, they have gone from 3.6M in 1965 to 2.3M in 2001. See this article: Who (Or What) Caused The Decline In Membership In The Episcopal Church http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/dojustice/j325.html. So, they are not a good model to follow.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017
Forensic police work on the main road in Bidnija, Malta, which leads to Daphne Caruana Galizias house, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the journalist as she was leaving her home, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Caruana Galizia, a harsh critic of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat, and who reported extensively on corruption on Malta, was killed by a car bomb on Monday. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)
Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence from the Pope.