Save the Altar Girls

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ed gleason
8 years ago
"This pastor did not consult the parish council, he says, because its members are not theologically trained.'
The pastor did not consult the pastoral council because he would have had extreme push back. The pastoral council would have used its pastoral  sense , that's why it's existance is mandated.... pastor. So saying they have no theological creds is an outright falsehood  and extreme disrespect of canonical processes. However, these betrayals are OK in the eyes of the Trads in their guerrilla war against Vatican II. Partisans will always say 'Alls fair in a dirty war'..  
8 years ago
So many truck-sized holes to drive through....such little time.  Where is the evidence that having female altar services diminishes vocations to the priesthood?  Even if this were true, what does it say if a young man's call to the priesthood is so fragile that it cannot withstand serving alongisde young women when both are altar servers? Will we further entrench the clerical state in a culture of an exclusive, all-male club?  Using the "explanation" for not consulting a pastoral council because they are not theologically educated does not hold water.  Many pastoral council members do have theological education at the graduate level. Even if not, most are intelligent adults who are capable of hearing and critically assessing a sound theological argument if presented honestly and well. I do not believe that these moves to ban female altar servers are happening in a contextual vacuum.  There is an element in the Church, and in the episcopacy, that does indeed wish to march us firmly back to pre-Vatican II days.  Sad that these bishops seem to think that the priesthool can and/or needs to be propped up by such measures.  Those of us who have known priests who encourage all of the laity to claim and exercise their baptismal rights, and who walk humbly with us on our respective pilgrims' journeys are the ones who have inspired me and earned (not demanded) my respect.
David Haschka
8 years ago
“Gott hat die Klugheit aber nicht die Dummheit der Menschen begrenzt” [‘God has limited man’s intelligence, but not his stupidity’] (Konrad Adenauer, speaking to Sir Ivonne Kirkpatrick)
Mona Villarrubia
8 years ago

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.

There is an obvious problem with this statement by the rector: The church is consistent in denying that women can even receive a call to the priesthood, assuming that if it is a woman it cannot be a call from the Holy Spirit. How is that not a question of rights?  How is questioning this sexism not reasonable?

it is time for the Church authorities to stop hiding their sexism behind the claim that they know when and to whom the Spirit speaks. Any reasonable, theologically trained Catholic absolutely knows that no human agency controls whose heart God's Spirit touches. Sadly, theologically trained priests and bishops seem to have lost their sense of reason. It is therefore up to our reasonable, theologically trained laity, and there are many of us out there, to stand up and challenge these pseudo-rational claims.

8 years ago
Boy's being alter servers?  I thought only girls want to be alter servers.  At least thats what it seems like in my parish.
8 years ago
The fuss in the church and the world over sexual abuse  might be the greater reason for a decline in interest by boys in considering a priestly vocation  They just aren't attracted to the present public image. On the other hand a healthy catechesis for youth on wholesome and healthy gender cooperation might go a long way to correct some of this ennui we sense in the area of vocations. These so called "corrective" measures here and there serve not those who would serve.
Father Lankeit
8 years ago

As the rector mentioned in this piece, I feel compelled to respond to the distortion and emotionalism contained herein, but the sheer amount of slant makes it tremendously difficult to even know where to start.   It seems best for me to being with my exact words to the good assistant editor who contacted me.  I told him:

"As the rector, I am the chief liturgist of the parish. I do not, as a general rule, consult our Parish Council on liturgical matters since the typical parish council (and ours, specifically) is not comprised of members formally trained in theology and liturgy. As many in the media have demonstrated clearly, the absence of formal theological and liturgical training leaves far too many individuals evaluating this decision from purely emotional, subjective standpoint. Such decisions require a proper understanding of theological anthropology, sacramental theology and ecclesiology, as well as a willingness to examine honestly what contributes to, and what detracts from, priestly vocations. Naturally, I consulted with the bishop, as he is the canonical pastor of the Cathedral. But he leaves the final decision and implementation to me."

I have bolded and italicized part of my statement because this particular opinion piece demonstrates in black-and-white, exactly the point I was making about a preferential option for emotionalism and ideology. Unlike a committee which lacks formal theological training (like the average parish council) the Jesuit assistant editor who contacted me, and who, presumably, wrote this piece, modeled precisely the emotionalism to which I referred, despite having the requisite theological training.

To go point-by-point through the article to unmask the distortions would require far more time and effort than I have available to invest, so I’ll highlight just a few of the distortions here:
  • “Replacing girls” and “shunting them aside”– if one knows the actual history of altar service, one knows that, prior to the establishment of the seminary system, altar boys were “apprentices” for priesthood, and the service pointed to that specific vocation. It was actually the boys who were replaced at the altar by dissident clergy in the late 80’s and early 90’s prior to the permission being given by the Holy See.  So this all started with disobedience which is the epitome of clericalism.
  • The “image of the priesthood today”.  The obsession with priestly “image” is the problem.  The first step in ending the confusion/distortion for this publication’s readers would be for the editor to share Vatican II’s actual teaching on the identity (i.e. Sacramental character) of the priest.  That is, unless one dissents from the Church’s theology of priesthood.
  • “The policy of John Paul II”.  (Could you not, at least, have referred to him as “Blessed” or “Pope”?) Presenting the Holy Father’s clear articulation of the Church’s teaching as a policy is a transparent attempt to frame Church teaching as arbitrary and, therefore, changeable.
“ Fr. ______, I look forward to reading a complete and accurate presentation of my statement in your publication, should your article make it to print.”

I responded in good-faith to his request for an interview.  Sadly, I did not receive a good-faith treatment in this opinion piece. 

As food for thought for the readers of America Magazine:  If you ever read that an individual featured in an opinion piece like this one responded, “No comment”, please understand that this does not automatically mean the person is afraid to confront a difficult issue. More often than not, such a comment is made out of frustration of having one’s words distorted, truncated or slanted one too many times, as mine were here.  For someone who has never had their words manipulated in the media for ideological purposes, no explanation will suffice. For someone who has had such an experience, no explanation is necessary.

St. Ignatius of Loyola…PRAY FOR US!


Very Rev. John T. Lankeit


Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral

Phoenix, AZ
Sean Simpson
8 years ago
Lord, help us ! One does get tired and weary of fielding insults from Mother Church poured out on our Catholic wives, girlfriends, friends and,indeed, mothers.insults to their intelligence,to their dignity and staus as free human beings !

As I get older,it has been pointed out to me by my kids, I'm getting more impatient, grumpier and tend to look back to the "Golden Age" of the my youth in the 60's and go on and on and on..I try to fight thiese attitudes.I want to remain a person of dignity with something relevant to say not just a moaner ! I feel I am making progress.Anyway, once pointed out to me,I have now noticed that this attitude is wide-spread among oldies of my age group! !

Do you think that clerics in their 80's or 90's have a magic potion which protects them from being 'old farts'-mitres not-withstanding ? How many old people fear the future,are suspicious of change and take refuge in nostalgia! All this to say that I do not think that a lot of the arguments around issues in the Church, role of women in the Church,celebacy etc etc are really about theology, but simply emanate from ageing leaders who can't cope. God forgive me, but I have to say step aside, in the name of God and do not obstruct the Gospel.
C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
Why would anyone wish to deny a girl an opportunity to assist the priest at Mass? It was OK for Veronica to wipe the face of Jesus and many women served as Jesus' handmaids and assisted his ministry. Why prohibit our young women of today the opportunity to assist the priest? Jesus may have had all male apostles, but He had not a single altar boy we can cite as establishing an only altar boy cadre. Removing girls from altar service would simply be a destructive, gratuitous, and counterproductive regression.
Norman Costa
8 years ago

From your mouths to God's ears. I am sure She is listening.
Craig Hanley
8 years ago
Good editors would have ridden their egalitarian hobby-horse further enough down the road to note that this same rector's bishop has also just decided not to let the Phoenix laity have Eucharistic wine except on special occasions. That is a profounder throwback than not letting little Nancy wear an alb.
Arnold Richardson
8 years ago
   Clearly, the Very Rev. John Lankeit doesn't understand the difference between ignorant emotionalism and reasoned argument.  But in the Gaderene rush to a pre-Vatican Golden Age his stance makes a sort of sense. No matter that by excluding girls from the altar he is demeaning one half of the People of God.  No matter that by stigmatising girls by asserting theyare responsible for the lack of masculine vocations to the priesthood.  Such assertions ignore the elephant in the room.  Vocations are affected more by secular pressures and an unwillingness to be asociated with a caste that shows an unseemingly arrogant view of presumed ignoramuses in the pews, who dare to call clerics to account for the horrible abuses some of them have comitted.
     His parishioners may not have degrees in theolgy, but Fr. Lankeit could benefit from a course in Sociology 101.  A dose of old fashioned commonsense, alas, is probably too late to expect.
Norman Costa
8 years ago
@ Very Rev. John Lankeit:

Thank you for commenting and weighing in on this discussion. It is good to be CLEAR about opposing views, since it helps to frame the discussion. Also, I understand a few things better than I did before, such as altar service being an early preparation or exploration for a priestly vocation. 

You mentioned the idea of the priestly identity, the Sacramental character, of the priest, and the theology of the priesthood. I think this subject, alone, is worth a couple of posts and discussions. The notion of the Sacramental character came up, earlier this year, in a critque of Blessed John Paul II's expectation that it would lead to the rehabilitation and redemption of offending priests who abused children. My personal view was that his faith was misplaced. 

Mona Villarubia challenged your position that the issue of Mass Servers is not a 'question of rights' as we tend to understand 'rights' in America. I understand your position from the vantage point of Church prerogatives and tradition. I think this is another important issue to discuss.

I've criticized those who equate Christianity with Western civilization, or who elevate the U.S. Constitution to a level of near parity to the Hebrew bible and the Christian Testament, or who can only see a 'born again Christian' as the only suitable candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Yet, we do see fundamental rights, as we understand them, to be endowed by a creator and unalienable. These are understood by believers and non-believers who see them as self-evident.

What almost all Americans do not understand, including most Catholics, is that our Constitution and democracy were looked upon as just plain wrong, if not near evil, by Popes up through Leo XIII and after. Our understanding and pronouncement of 'rights' was viewed with seething hostility in some quarters of the Vatican. Americanism would have been considered, long ago, the stuff of mortal sin and cause for excommunication if not for the deft handling, persuasiveness, and political skills of the American bishops since the founding of our Nation.

John Cooney's book about Francis Cardinal Spellman, The American Pope, was an acknowledgment, at long last, of a de facto American Catholic Church. 
Norman Costa
8 years ago
I think the Very Rev. John Lankeit is more than worthy of our respect and considered opposing opinion. He has taken the time to be clear about his views and give us an opportunity to debate the matters. I don't see him being contemptuous of the other commenters.
Kay Satterfield
8 years ago
With all due respect Msgr Lankeit,  I understand that your new policy of only male altar servers is motivated by a desire to increase the number of priests under the idea that having girls on the altar confuses things.  That said I am confident that this new policy is going to backfire.  As a mother of 3 teenage/young adult sons, if I were a member of your parish, I would walk, no run to another parish/diocese if I have to.  I don't want my sons to be exposed to this sort of thing.  I also write the church donation checks.  

About the laity not having the theological background to participate in church related decisions, I have to respond that theological reflection is not just about tradition and church teaching but also about listening to the experience of the faithful. Otherwise how can the Catholic Church be relevant and connect with those she is trying to serve.
Jack Rakosky
8 years ago

We live in modern times with modern challenges. Not some past age in which men were ordained to a series of offices: porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, subdeacon, deacon, priest.

Today’s equivalent adult roles include readers, Eucharistic ministers, catechists, choir members, cantors, social ministries, etc. “Server” tends in most parishes to be exercised by only children and adolescents.

Today’s challenge is to involve as many children and adolescents in as many parish ministries as possible so that they develop life long patterns of parish involvement. If we do not do this as our major priority we will not need many priests! We have to get away from an education model to a practice model of passing on the faith.

The more children and adolescents that we involve in all these practices, the more of them that will consider becoming priests and religious as well as practicing these ministries as adults.

As for any specific ministries for future priests, they should experience as many as they can personally so that they will be better pastors in the future and related better to all the ministries of the parishes. It is ok to be a server for a couple of years, but that should be followed by being in the choir, taking communion to shut-ins, teaching catechism to very young people, etc.

In other words before becoming a priest be a model well rounded modern lay person.
Liam Richardson
8 years ago
What needs to be highlighted is the chimerical aspect of this: boys are fully admitted to this service already, so they are not gaining any opportunities by this, so it’s not really enhancing vocations prospects. Except perhaps if we are talking about boys who don’t want to do anything that girls do. And I am not sure I want such boys cultivated for ministerial service if that’s the switch from No to Yes for them. I don’t think I’d want to encourage boys into that calculus. Note the important qualifier: *if* that’s the toggle switch for them. I don’t condemn them as persons. But I don’t approve of a system that *panders* that being the toggle switch. 

This decision, though licit, makes the Church look small. It does not build up the Body of Christ. The decision merits scorn.
MG Chandler
8 years ago

 Your agenda is to "push" young females into positions for them to break down your misguided theology making women into priests. Shame on you

Dianne Pelullo
8 years ago
Not often am I moved to respond to articles.  But this is just horrible.  I am so very disappointed in the leaders of the Catholic Church.   Please stop treating men and women differently.  Where is God in this nonsense?
Arnold Richardson
8 years ago

It is very difficult sometimes to be charitable in the face of an outrage. Msgr. Lankeit  is visibly a very good practitioner of the admonition to be "as wise as serpents, and gentle as doves". But in the wider context of  the direction the Church is taking,  the exclusion of altar girls is not only in itself a serious error, but one of a series of retrograde actions to turn back the clock to the pre-Vatican II era.  Putting the tabernacle back behind the Altar, the New English Language Missal, the elevation of the hierarchy by placing barriers between clergy and people, having the altar turned to the back wall, (hardly likely in some centrally planned churches), are all part of a 'death by a thousand cuts'.  Many lay persons were worried about some of the excesses and liberties taken after Vatican II.   But most questionable enthusiasms have been corrected.  The concerted, surreptitious return to pre-Vatican II days must be rigorously challenged.  In such circumstances, clear, unambiguous assertion sometimes trumps the niceties of expression. There were many reasons for Vatican II.  Old, outmoded ways needed correction.  We have them. But for how long?

Virginia Edman
8 years ago

  • The “image of the priesthood today”.  The obsession with priestly “image” is the problem.  The first step in ending the confusion/distortion for this publication’s readers would be for the editor to share Vatican II’s actual teaching on the identity (i.e. Sacramental character) of the priest.  That is, unless one dissents from the Church’s theology of priesthood.
This separation of priest from laity (alter girls, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, parish councils) drives me crazy.  I have heard this tone before.  It is the tone of the superior male cleric, and that tone is already there in their twenties.  Arrogant, distant, theologians, they shun women.  They are not pastors.  They quote the Vatican, they quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they threaten excommunitcation if you disagree, and then to top it all off, they forbid girls to be on the alter.

Where is the joy? Where is the sense of community?  Where is the equality?

Let's have Vatican III.

Luis Gutierrez
8 years ago
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.
Molly Roach
8 years ago
The hatred of women has been closely woven into the practice of the Catholic church.  When will this great sin be repented?
Louis Giardino
8 years ago
Thomas Piatak
8 years ago

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.
Norman Costa
8 years ago

"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.
Katherine McEwen
8 years ago
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.
Mike Evans
8 years ago
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?
Lisa Weber
8 years ago
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. 
8 years ago
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?
8 years ago
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.
8 years ago
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.  
Jane & Francis Thomas
8 years ago
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.
8 years ago

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.

William Maniotis
8 years ago
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.
William Maniotis
8 years ago
I meant femininity!
Vince Killoran
8 years ago
"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.
8 years ago
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.
8 years ago
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.
William Maniotis
8 years ago
@ 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? 

William Maniotis
8 years ago

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.
8 years ago
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.
8 years ago
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?
William Maniotis
8 years ago


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.

john ryan
8 years ago
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.
Catherine McKeen
8 years ago
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? 

8 years ago
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.  
8 years ago
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.
Donald Kauke
8 years ago
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.
8 years ago

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? 


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