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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jack Barry
8 years ago

No  -  He just got fed up with being misquoted so much. 

C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
Thanks for the references to the Pew report. There I found these two summary statements: "the overall percentage of the population that identifies itself as Catholic has remained fairly stable," and "If these genrational patterns persist, recent declines in the number of Protestants...may continue." It's helpful to have the numbers I supplied from USA Today roughly confirmed in the Pew Report you referred to. Interesting information there too on the evangelical movement in the Church and growing US latin membership. Very welcome developments.
Did you wish to refer to Ms Mansfield? I am the only Mattingly on the thread, and I'm on record twice offering an opinion that prohibiting girl altar servers in a "counterproductive regression." Accuracy is particularly important for one who proclaims himself censor. You'd hate to kick out the wrong person, wouldn't you?
William McGovern
8 years ago
I suspect Charles Jones "protests too much" and enjoys getting others stirred.

He can't be serious with his "over the top" comment calling for "girls to clean the linens and arrange the flowers."    If he truly believes that, I feel sorry for him.   Many of us, male and female, may have held those views decades ago but have since grown to understand how wrong we were.  It is time for the Church to look at itself in the mirror and face this unjust and counterproductive discrimination.  
Anne Chapman
8 years ago
Walter, I have not addressed any comments to a Ms. Mansfield.

  You seem to have missed the implications of the data you are looking at - it is true that the percent of the population that is identified as Catholic has remained fairly stable (about 23% now, down from about 25% several years ago.)  However, if you remove approximately 20 million Hispanic immigrants from the totals and look just at the native born cradle Catholics in this country, the percentage would have been dramatically lower than historical averages.  Hispanic Catholics now make up 33% of Catholics in the country.  Without immigration, the Catholic church in this country would be in even worse straits than it is now.  Interestingly enough, the Hispanic Catholics are also beginning to leave. However, as mentioned earlier, they leave primarily due to liturgy and general parish culture reasons rather than due to doctrine.  However, the number of new immigrants has been falling for several years now. And the hostile climate immigrants are encountering in many states may be encouraging some to go back to the countries of their birth. The boost that the Catholic church has enjoyed from the Hispanic immigrants may also slow down.

In another study CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostalate) reports that the number of new entrants to the church - infant and adult, has been falling for the last decade - even since before the revelations of sex abuse and the complicity of the bishops in protecting the sexual molesters .According to CARA, in 2000, more than 172,000 non-infants (adults and teens) joined the church. In 2009 (last year that they had figures for), about 112,000 did. Infant baptisms are also declining (as are marriages in the church, but those numbers are reported in a different study). And remember, the Pew study reported that for every person joining the Catholic church today, four leave it.  Without the influx of Hispanics immigrants, the Catholic church would not only have lost the most members in sheer numbers, its losses would be larger in percentage terms than any of the mainline Protestant churches.

Numbers of New Catholics Continue to Fall

In a previous post, we noted that infant baptisms have been declining year-to-year (as reported in The Official Catholic Directory; where the publication year represents totals for the year prior, e.g., the 2011 edition includes totals for 2010). We've also noted these are generally moving in step with the overall fertility rate, which has also been falling (more so since the recession in 2008). (NOTE: This is incorrect according to information attached to this article in America when America reported it. The overall fertility actually rose slightly during this time and did not fall.) In each of the past three years the number of people entering the faith (of any age) has dropped below 1 million. Since 1947, during only one other period, from 1973 to 1979, did the annual number of new U.S. Catholics number less than 1 million.

And given that the total population now is estimated at 312,333,000, and in 1973  was 211,908,788, the fact that the annual numbers of new Catholics joing the church is roughtly the same as when the population was 100 million people smaller is a another negative sign.

Perhaps instead of gleefully applauding the declines in mainstream Protestantism, you should begin paying attention to what is happening in your own church. The extent of the declines has been masked because the church in America is being saved by immigration - at least at the moment.  If the flow of new immigrants into this country slows, the increases in church membership may slow also. However, since the Hispanics who are here generally have more children than other Catholics in this country, the church will continue to maintain its levels for a while.
Jane & Francis Thomas
8 years ago
Anne - thanks for such an informative, well written posting.

Walt - never said I was a censor; never tried to kick anyone out - well of anywhere actually - let alone the Church.  All are welcome.  I think you have me confused with Charles. 

I am glad, though, that the postings have become less vitriolic.  Oh, except David Power - just another guy looking for a reaction, eh?  Okay, I mentioned you - glad to oblige your need to be heard. Sorry you think God is dead...of course, that presumes he was living so maybe you've just lost the faith.  Don't worry - God will still be there for you when you are ready.  Peace to all.
david power
8 years ago
God is Dead.Vitriol??Philosophy.
I usually do like a reaction as do most people.
Charles was a hoot.I thought he was being sarcastic and was wondering if I could pull off the same but then realized after a few posts he was being serious.
Maybe Larry and Charles are brothers??Or different personalities inside a schizophrenic mind...
The Reverend pointed out that vocations could be served by taking away girls from the altar.I think he is right.Priests would come surely.The sociological or psychological root of most "vocations" is as  clear as day. That  is why the Legion flourished.
Maciel understood that God was/is dead.
The Holy Father has been saying more or less the same for a while now.
God is Dead,look it up Larry!!
In Europe God is as dead as a doornail.The signs of life seen by some are nothing only mirages.
God was born and killed.Born of a woman no less!!!
If God is born again(Nietzschean sense) maybe it will be through women.
 The God of Charles is never coming back. People are not just gonna wake up some day in the future with a desire to turn the clock back. I like play pretend as much as the next guy but Charles me and you will be all alone. We could cut Europe and North America out of the picture and go straight for the Third world. Submission is alive and kicking there.But in a century God will pop his clogs there too.

"If He changes ,He is" said the Pope's favourite Italian and the evidence is hard to come by in favour of that.

Hi To Norman (always a pleasure to read)and Anne( I think you love the Catholic Church more than you know)

Where is Juan Lopez??       
Epifanio Castillo
8 years ago
It simply does not make an moral sense to deny girls and opportunity to help bring the holy Eucharist to the People of God as alter servers simply because of gender.
Kay Satterfield
8 years ago

No, it doesn't make sense and that is why there is so much anger in this thread including my own.  It is emotional.  This article brings 'into the light' what is going on a a few parishes in our country.  Hopefully, by exposing the actions of these few and the strong reaction against it will help to discourage others in position of power from making the same decisions.  I don't see it as a conservative/liberal thing; both sides have their daughters helping as servers at the altar. 
alan baer
8 years ago
Well said! I'm on board. Count me in.
david power
8 years ago
Well said Kate.In about 29AD the women went to wash the dead body of the Lord.It was the women who discovered that the body of Jesus was gone. The Gospels all recount this story and in doing so make the Apostles look bad.They didn't believe  the women. They didn't turn around later and say "change that part, it makes me look terrible".In 1978  Pope Luciani died and his body was found by a nun.Shock!Horror!!!!
The Vatican drafted in soon to be Bishop Magee to deny that such a scandalous thing could have occured.He had found the body.Then of course later on when the story was seen through they said"Oh, there has been a misunderstanding".In layman's terms they told a "porkie pie".
One thousand nine hundred and forty nine years to go from simplicity and naturalness to that!!Women deserve a "Nostra aetete". A recognition of the wrong done them through history by the Church . For a couple of decades  that was what made Bishop Magee famous (he was involved in the cover-up of the murder/death of Pope Luciani) but he later went one better.
A Priest cannot have a Father's heart if he feels that way about girls. Children at the age of altar servers are innocence and humanness personified.         
Paul Ferris
8 years ago
A picture is worth a thousand words....some Catholics insist on being more Catholic than the Pope.
Paul Ferris
8 years ago

The laity may not have spent years on the seminary studying theology but the rector of the Cathedral is not a parent and this issue is more about parenting than about theology.

Paul Bennett
8 years ago
If your questions are not rhetorical, then you'll find your answers in the works of Peter Kreeft:

Advocates of women's ordination usually misunderstand sexual symbolism because they misunderstand symbolism itself as radically as they misunderstand authority. They think of symbols as man-made and artificial. They do not see that there are profound and unchangeable natural symbols, that things can be signs.

Christ's priests are men because Christ is a man. But why is Christ's maleness essential? Because he is the revelation of the Father, and the Father's masculinity is essential. God is masculine, not male.

The fundamental problem with most advocates of priestesses is as radical as this: they do not know who God is. Most would register strong discomfort or puzzlement at the description Lewis gives of God—i.e., the Bible's God. Now, if the reply is that this ancient biblical picture of the hunter-king-husband God is historically relative, and that we should throw away the accidental shell and keep the essential, timeless meat of the nut, I reply:

First, the masculinity of God is not part of the shell, but part of the nut. It is not like Hebrew grammar, a translatable and replaceable medium. Something as deliberate and distinctive and as all-pervasive in Scripture as God's he-ness is no mere accident...

Once you start monkeying with your data, where do you stop? Why stop, ever, at all? If you can subtract the divine masculinity from Scripture when it offends you, why can't you subtract the divine compassion when that offends you? If you read your Marxism into Scripture today, why not your fascism tomorrow? If you can change God's masculinity, why not change his morality? Why not his very being? If you can twist the pronoun, why not the noun?

The other half of the case against priestesses based on sexual symbolism is the femininity of the Church.

The Church is God's Bride. All the saints and mystics say the ultimate purpose of human life, the highest end for which we were made, is the Spiritual Marriage. This is not socially relative; itls eternal. And in it, the soul is spiritually impregnated by God, not vice versa. That is the ultimate reason why God must always be he to us, never she. Religion is essentially heterosexual and therefore fruitful.

The ground of Mary's greatness is the thing so simple and innocent that it is too simple and innocent for the feminists to see. The reason she is crowned Queen of Heaven, the reason for her great glory and power is her total submission to God-her sacrifice, her suffering, her service. Muslims see it, but so-called "Christian" feminists do not. It is islam, the total surrender, the fiat, and the peace, the shalom, that are the secret treasures hidden in this submission, the delicious fruit of this thorny plant. Modem feminist "Christianity" becomes radically different from Christianity (or Judaism or Islam) when it drifts into a radically different ideal of sanctity, of the summum bonum, the greatest good, meaning of life, and purpose of all faith. Feminists need most fundamentally what we all need most fundamentally: to go to the cross, unclench the fist, and bow the knee.

C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
That reference was to Larry. Sorry if I didn't make that clear to you.
I also noted that the entrance of Latinos into the Catholic Church has certainly been a factor in stabalizing Church membership in the US. I am fine with Latinos and don't feel they in any way count for less than Anglos. In any case this describes a demographic shift in membership, not a loss in members.
I take no joy in any loss of devout religious life to skepticism and secular humanists. The gleefulness you ascribe in my comments on decline of Christian church membership is solely your creation. What I did mean to imply is that assertions such as yours that the church, in order to staunch the decline of membership in the American church (which has been steady in the most recent years), should move in the direction of the "reforms" mainstream Protestantism have made is called into serious question by the simple fact that these churches have been losing members at a frightening rate in recent years, a continuation of a long-established trend. (Actually Tom Piatek should be given credit for pointing this out; I merely provided some corroborating info.)
I (Mr Mattingly, that is) confess to referring to you as censor. This thread is a dialogue. By calling to cut someone off from dialogue, you are calling to silence him from the life of the thread. I'll agree I didn't cotton to some of the angry tone of those comments either, although some other angry commentators from both ends of the spectrum have  been here before and passed muster. In any case, I berlieve it is Tim Reidy's responsibility to censor dialogue here, which he has since done in this case. 
Anne Chapman
8 years ago
Walter, I think the Latinos bring a great deal of life to a church that was dying in the United States. However, Hispanics prefer a liturgical style that does not match up well with what Benedict is dictating. The conservatives prefer liturgies that reflect midaevil European culture. They are distinctly uncomfortable with liturgies that reflect local non-European cultures rather than that of Rome. Their music often uses guitars, drums and native instruments that offend Benedict's sensibilities. Increasing numbers of Hispanics in the US are responding by leaving, for the liveliness and warmth of the Pentecostal churches. Not too long ago, almost 100% of those of Latino heritage in the US, both native born and immigrant, were Catholic. It is now about 68% in the US and falling. There is no reason for complacency.

Pew Research notes: "While those Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers as a result of changes in affiliation, Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%). These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration."

It is surprising that you are not even a little bit interested in understanding why 30 million people who were born in the United States and were raised Catholic have left the church. And you seem uninterested in the fact that the rate of adult converts is half of what it was 30 years ago, and significantly lower than just ten years ago. The departure rate is accelerating. Nor are you concerned that fewer babies are being baptized, presumably because their raised-Catholic parents are choosing to not raise their children in the church of their own family heritage. 

For more than 40 years, beginning in the Paul VI papacy, popes have worked to reverse Vatican II.  John Paul II and Benedict are very close to what one assumes is their goal of having the church reflect the totally authoritarian culture of the pre-Vatican II church. The priesthood is returning to the cultic model where priests are looked at as some kind of mini-gods, rather than as equals working with the laity as servant-leaders.  The priest who unilaterally decided to ban girls from altar service is a perfect example of the pre-Vatican II mindset, confirmed in the tone of his post.

 During these decades of increasing and accelerating conservatism, in spite of the personal celebrity/charisma of John Paul II who attracted crowds everywhere like a rock star, there has been no return to the imagined "glory" days of the 1950s. Instead the decline of the Catholic church in the west has accelerated the faster the popes reverse Vatican II.  It seems that the return to this monarchical/midaevil model of church is not holding members, but instead driving more and more away.  The church is near death for all practical purposes in Europe, declining rapidly in the US, and now there is an accelerating falling away of members even in Latin America itself - home to about half of all the world's Catholics.

This story was written several years ago, and the picture in Latin America has gotten even worse since then. Presumably the pope is hoping for a short-term booster shot by having the World Youth Day in Brazil, even though it seems that the drift away begins again after the party is over and kids grow up.

Catholic Church Losing Followers in Droves
By Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Oct 21, 2004 (IPS) - For the Catholic church hierarchy in the Vatican, Latin America has changed from the "Continent of Hope" to the continent of concern, as followers are leaving the church in such large numbers that it could lead to the collapse of Catholicism within a decade and a half. (bolded in the original story)

Although Latin America is still home to almost half of the 1.07 billion Catholics in the world today, numerous studies indicate that their numbers are declining throughout the region.

The loss of Catholic faithful "is a painful reality that calls out dramatically to us as pastors of Latin American churches," said Cipriano Calderón, a member of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops and former president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

In Brazil, where there are more Catholics than in any other country in the world - roughly 100 million, out of a total population of close to 180 million - close to half a million followers are leaving the Catholic church every year.

Does this not matter to you at all? Do you prefer a fantasy world to reality?  Or are you OK with it as long as those who remain share your conservative views? Perhaps you are among those who are content with a smaller, "purer" church?

I have posted enough data for a while. I could produce study after study, story after story, report after report.  Some will simply choose to ignore the implications. There is nothing that can be done for those who choose not to see.
ed gleason
8 years ago
Anne C.  Thanks for the data that cannot be refuted, I would add that Catholic sacramental weddings have declined 50% in a decade and a half. and what does that say about the future? Smaller purer or head in the sand Trads.?? As if no altar girls is a 'hill to die on'
Jane & Francis Thomas
8 years ago
    My apologies-didn't realize this a clique but I should have.  Suppose most of you are retired - you know each other, are used to and expect the same responses from each other  - David Powers is the censor, walter & charles are the bullies who stifle conversation but they are familiar so welcome, Anne is the smart girl with all the info...and I walked into the room and was starred at.  Since this really is a closed forum, I'll say adios.  Thanks for making it all clear Walt and David. 
Anne Chapman
8 years ago
Larry, I keep vowing to stay away from this forum, partly because it is so predictable. I know what Walter is going to write, and he knows what I will write. That goes for several of us.  This board can use some new input, and I, for one, greatly appreciated your post #95.  Sometimes it is very discouraging to be a woman in this church, and I have to remind myself that most men I know, including most Catholic men, are intelligent, educated, and welcome equal partnerships with women.  They are not threatened by women. The vast majority are neither patriarchal nor misognyst thankfully. It's the actions of occasional backwards looking priests (and this priest lives in a diocese with a very backwards looking bishop) and some of their vocal supporters that occasionally make me forget that most Catholic men are not like this - thanks be to God. I agree with you also that some posters should simply be ignored. When I read something that is so far off the wall that it takes my breath away, I  don't read further and afterwards skip over posts by people who simply can't be engaged with seriously.

David Power, you are right that I love the church. If I didn't, I wouldn't be so upset about the church's slide backwards, and its increasingly desperate attempts to hold on to patriarchy, which seems to be evidence of a very deep-seated fear and even dislike of women on the part of too many of the hierarchy, including the pope himself, sadly, and their vocal admirers. But mostly it makes me just very, very sad.  I stayed in the church as a young woman because of Vatican II - I was going to leave in college, but my theology professor, a priest, spent many hours talking with me, explaining what had happened at Vatican II and describing to me the hope and promise.  But, apparently Vatican II was like Camelot - it was here, but only for one brief, shining moment.  I feel about the church as I would if I were a member of a highly dysfunctional family. You hope and pray for years that eventually your loved one or loved ones will recover and become whole again, healthy again.  But after a while you realize that by staying and supporting them, you are enabling the dysfunction. So then you have to leave - for your own well-being, and because you no longer wish to be an enabler.
8 years ago

The current objection by the very Rev. John Lankeit (no, Norman Costa, the 2011 Annuario Pontificio, the current Vatican Yearbook, does not list him as monsignor) against girls altar servers, prompts me to ask another question which I wish some more competent person, even some bishop, would address frankly. “Can women be cardinals if they cannot be priests?”

When Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter firmly declared that “the church does not feel herself authorized to confer the priesthood on women,” one was led to conclude that, if the church only had the authority, of course we would have women priests. My point, and my question is this: since the cardinalate is not an evangelical category, the church can do with it whatever it wishes. It isn’t likely that we will ever see an apostolic letter claiming that the church does not consider herself authorized to confer the cardinalate on women’ Is it unreasonable to wish that some day (and why no during our lifetime) there might be women to represent over half of humankind in the pope’s council—even to help elect the pope of all? But I’m reminded of what has been proposed as the Conservative Manifesto: “Nothing must ever be done for the first time.”

Sadly, it does presently appear that our Roman Catholic Church is the only great organization opposed to accepting women among its leaders. When someone asked Frank Sheed some years ago whether he might not some day be made a cardinal, he replied, “Not unless next to Francis Cardinal Sheed there can also be Maisie Cardinal Ward.”

There are currently twenty female presidents or prime ministers of their own country, including Germany, Ireland, Brazil,.Argentina, India, Finland, Iceland, Croatia, Lithuania and Australia.   Many Colleges and Universities today have a woman as their president.

It is only in the Roman Catholic Church that women are not capable of filling positions of  responsibility and of leadership?

One can reasonably ask why among its billion members our Roman Catholic Church has not yet been able to find at least some women who can reach the “eminence” of some of its present cardinals.

Even though even many Jewish Temples and Synagogues are proud to have today a number of females Rabbis, we can set aside the problematic and controversial idea of a catholic priesthood, and limit ourselves to something where ordination would not be a problem: Roman Catholic Cardinals.

Not only can the pope make anyone a cardinal, he already has. An example comes readily to mind: The last cardinal who was not a priest was Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli, Pope Pius IX’s secretary of state, who resisted the unification of Italy.

Even though Pope John XXIII decreed that every cardinal be a bishop, several non-bishops even recently were named cardinals. Remebber Pavan? DeLubac? Dulles? Currently, the 2011 Annuario Pontificio (the Vatican Yearbook) lists three cardinals who are not bishops (Card. Albert Vanhoye, SJ, Card. Roberto Tucci, SJ, and Card. Omenico Bartolucci).

No girls altar servers?  Don’t make me laugh…

Catherine Benincasa
8 years ago
Where to begin? First off, I would like to say that having had the opportunity to serve as an altar server did in fact nurture my call to ordination. As a woman in my late-30s, it wasn't common at the time to have female acolytes and I had to fight for the opportunity, although I've always suspected having my younger brother fall asleep while serving did in fact stregthen my argument that I would do everything a bit better than he was doing, if given the chance.

Years later, as I struggle to find ways to authentically live out my call to priestly ministry, I continue to be surprised and disappointed by decisions such as these. Why limit the call of the Spirit? Why limit the way in which a person can respond to such a call? One day, all roles of service within our Church will hopefully be filled by those whom the Spirit has called, male and female.

I do believe with the author's suggestion that: "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." Personally, though, I'm waiting for the day when men and boys, in solidarity with the sisters, will decline the honor of ordained ministry. That type of solidarity would create radical change. But, as the author reminded me, I shouldn't talk about that. :)  Blessings... and thank you for reading, Cate
Catherine Benincasa
8 years ago
Larry, I just read your last post...  and had to add that it was the argument that anyone could in fact be chosen as a Cardinal, at the pope's request, was what ultimately persuaded my pastor to allow me to become a server back in '80.

He was arguing that it gave the boys a chance to prepare for ordination, should they be called... and I argued what a travesty it would be were I to be named a cardinal or be elected pope, having never been allowed to serve. :)
Jane & Francis Thomas
8 years ago
Just wanted to thank you for your very lovely posting...and to commend your priest - now long among the Communion of Saints, I suppose - for his pastoral care and sense of humor.  You both clearly were a head of your time but hopefully foretelling a time to come.  Anyone who thinks God really cares about the gender of those who love and serve Him unconscionably limits God, shackling Him with human limitations.

I say the following with regret because your gentle sentiments express better than anyone else how simple, true, and truly Christian it is to both answer that call is and respect the call in others of either gender:  Brace yourself for an onslaught of narrow minded bigotry. 
Lisa Weber
8 years ago
If anyone can be chosen as a Cardinal, surely at least a few women among 500 million or so are worthy of the honor.  I would thoroughly enjoy seeing a Cardinal pictured with her grandchildren.
Steve Iannaccone
8 years ago
What facts are involved in this decision by the rector. Much of what he speaks of is an interpretation centered in a paternalistic separatist mentality. One has to pity him that he has not been trained in the notion of pastoral decision making. There is no proscription against woman servers, thus all his decisons are personal interpretations of what is essentially an implementation directive. He contends that secular responses to his decision will be emotional and not blessed with (his) light of reason. Since when truly has reason been relegated to theology?

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

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

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

God calls; few who have received his call can shake it off as if choosing the priesthood was the difference between choosing to be a lawyer or optician. If one is to believe that more needs to be done by people to have men enter the priesthood, preparatory programs such as "weekends" in the seminary on retreat, engaging young men in discussions with priests for monthly discussions in the parish or diocese are far more effective means of helping young men imagine themselves following this path if in fact they are indeed being called.
C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
Funny, I had always thought bullies were those who attempted to shun or exclude others. Indeed, the editors' comment which initiate this thread concludes in an appeal for inclusiveness rather than exclusion from the church liturgical dialogue. In any event, you are most welcome here by me should you wish to return, but of course that is your business and your decision.
The last thing I would wish to do is to ignore the implications of the facts. The church, and Christianity generally, is struggling, as has been the case throughout its history. But concerning the church in the US, the facts are that it has retained its membership better than mainline Protestant churches. Since you are advocating reforms that these churches which are suffering greater losses of membership have already done some time ago, on what basis do you think moving in their direction would be of benefit to retaining membership in the church? To  use your words, to ignore the implications of these membership loss facts is simply choosing not to see,  
I see the foundational problem somewhat differently. Its lowest common denominator is the refusal to accept human limitation. Jesus says marriage is a permanent bond between a man and a woman; I don't want it to be permanent and exclusive because it restricts my polygamist nature, or between a man and a woman because it is contrary to my inclinations. As you know, the number of inner city African American households with a mother and father at home dropped in half from 75% to 37% over a mere 50 years. But it is not an underclass phenomenon. The popularizer of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, had as the Gestalt prayer, "I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations...."  In other words, staying at home with you and these two kids we have produced is not my thing. I'm not here to live up to your expectations to support this family. The zeitgeist is to avoid anything smacking of moral sense, restriction, or moral system in general. Another Perls pearl: "Lose your mind, come to your senses." His recommendation to not think about things excessively but rather to participate in a sensationalized culture. Mick Jagger, Madonna, Lady Gaga, all indicative of this general direction, as Bob Dylan satirized in his lyric, "Don't think twice, it's alright."
And it finds its way into the church, where essentially relating sexuality to procreational and family rather than recreational, and disapproval of terminating an undesired pregnancy are now being deemed examples of the church's "pelvic anxieties."  These are the genuine issues threatening all Christian churches: a loss of moral sense, replaced by a culture of sensationalism. How to respond to this shared challenge is the issue all Christian churches bear.
Mary Sweeney
8 years ago

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

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

Charlotte Bloebaum
8 years ago
This is terrible.  Perhaps the reason some do not refer to Pope Benedict as "Pope Benedict" or His Holiness is because we are losing respect for the position.  This is like saying that we women are tainted and have something wrong with us.  Women are also "called" to the religious life - God is not a sexist.  God does not support racism, sexism, discrimination - God believes we are ALL beautiful and have gifts - even WOMEN.  I hope and pray this will never infiltrate my parish.  It is still the "Good Old Boy" system it appears and that is very sad.  FYI, what I am hearing is that boys are reluctanct to enter the priesthood today because of all the abuse issues - one wrong word from a child and there is a problem.  Who created that horror - not women that is for sure!! 
8 years ago
Why are we arguing as though this is a zero sum, either/or, all or nothing proposition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the box you are in is too tight, expand the box.
Anne Chapman
8 years ago
Walter, your last post touches on so many issues in such a random manner that it is impossible to address them all in terms of what different denominations believe.

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

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

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

Cate, thank you for sharing you story and Larry, your observations.
Norman Costa
8 years ago
@ John:

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

By suggesting that women advocates, themselves, are the barriers to something meaningful, you have made the victims of pathological sexism responsible for the millenia of degradation and humiliation that were heaped upon them. 
Paul Ferris
8 years ago
So much erudite discussion here but the picture of Pope Benedict being served by a girl speaks for itself....he is against women's ordination so obviously in his mind there is no intrinsic connection between priesthood and altar girls...enough said... 
Paul Ferris
8 years ago
I think this issue raises the question of how come so many bishops and priests turned a blind eye to the pedophilia scandal.  If they had kids of their own they would have been more sensitive to the gravity of what their pedohile priests were doing and sent them packing and off to jail where they belonged.  Probably some thought that the laity were not educated enough in theology to understand why priests should be given a pass when it came to child abuse.  One can get educated in theology by study and prayer.   The only way to get an education in parenting is by being one.
Jack Barry
8 years ago

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

Michael Barberi
8 years ago
Sorry for being late to this most important blog.  Here are a few comments that touch on the subject of Church teachings and the role of women in the Catholic Church.

1. Supporting Patriarchy and the Traditional Roles of Women:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with the role of women in the Church? Plenty. It is the same closed thinking that prevents right reason from guiding Chuch teachings. Rather, what guides Church teachings is tradition, an exaggered fear of change and the defense of the papal encyclical and his utterings. Unfortunately, it will take decades and even a century before we will see needed change. In the meantime, the Body of Christ remains divided and in crisis.
Jane & Francis Thomas
8 years ago
Dear Editors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Editors give us this great opportunity. If they do read the comments, let's reward them for doing so. 
C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
Actuallly, I had only one question for you in my last post, contained in the only sentence ending with a question mark. I will repeat it once again: since the reforms you are advocating to a large extent have already been taken for the most part by mainline Protestantism some time ago, and since this direction taken by these churches in the US has resulted in a worrying decline in membership in the US that exceeds that of the church, on what basis would you claim that these choices are the answer for a Catholic church interested in retaining and growing members?
I really am interested in that question, originally posed by Tom Piatek, whom I suspect has given up on a response here some time back.
The rest of my comments were not questions, but rather descriptive of one possible reason why Christianity in general, including but not limited to in the US Catholic church if we exclude the demographic shifts, is losing members: the West is generally experiencing a loss of a moral sense, or better perhaps a turn from a moral centered ideology, such as that introduced by the first Christians as The Way and conituing to a greater or lesser extent in most Christian churches, to one more defined by sensationalism. My later comments, which contained no questions, were merely intended as a description of this process whcih accelerated around the time of the onset of the 60's counterculture.
The percentages you quote are relevant. I for one am in agreement that the church's position that birth control other than rhythm limited to regulating the size and timing of a family rather than denying procreation in a marriage ahould not be proscribed.   Yet I recall that the percentage who don't believe in the Divine Presence in the Eucharist was over a third, and I'll speculate if you asked how many weekly attgendees did not believe in the risen Christ as God Incarnate, if answered honestly, you would get a surprising minority. To many moderns mystery is out; logical positivism is in.
Jane & Francis Thomas
8 years ago
    Thanks, Norman, for your thoughts.   I did expresss frustration with the fact that the same people keep writing basically the same tihng and think it is their job to call other people out, by name, and "correct" their thinking.  But I certainly understand how this is a useful forum for sharing ideas - one wonders, though, if having an outlet doesn't unintentionally appease when dissent might be channeled directly to the source of the complaints...but I digress.

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

Mark Wonsil
8 years ago
Some have encouraged leaving the Church or withholding funds but I have taken a slightly different approach: directed giving. I probably donated more last year than I ever had but you wouldn't know it from my contribution statement. Instead of dropping money into the basket, I've donated needed goods or services instead. Others have helped pay tuitions for Catholic Educations for students who come from single parent households or who families with multiple children in Catholic Schools. Even more help by giving to groups like Homeboy Industries, St. Vincent DePaul, and many other groups doing God's work out in the world by showing them what Catholics look like.

And thanks Anne C., great posts.
Anne Chapman
8 years ago
Walter, I cannot answer your question because the "reforms" you refer to are not defined. Are you talking about women in ordained ministry?  Your post discusses everything from Bob Dylan to belief in the Incarnation. And since you persist in concluding that the loss of 30 million cradle Catholics in the last 30 years in the US is "retaining her membership" better than Protestants (not the same conclusion the professionals who anlyze the data come to), it is difficult to discuss anything, because you deny the reality that the Catholic church in the west is losing members at least as fast, and maybe faster, than the mainline Protestant churches. 

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

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

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

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

Since both you and I are among the repeat posters here, and since the viewpoints of both of us are well known to one another, I will once again suggest that you click on my name and we can continue this discussion by email. I have made this suggestion before - it would be a consideration to others here to take this discussion private.
Anne Chapman
8 years ago
Mark, thank you for your kindness. I vowed that my last post to Walter would be my last on this public forum, but I wanted to applaud you for your approach to giving.  While still sitting in a Catholic pew (before I started thinking about my presence being enabling the dysfunction at the top), I was doing the same.  I worried about not donating money since the parish does need funds to operate, but I didn't want a penny going to the chancery or Rome.  I gave of my "time and talent" as a volunteer and sent the money directly to those who are doing God's work on the ground, rather than living in mansions and lecturing everyone else on their "materialism" and "consumerism".  I also would write checks for specific parish needs (the new roof or whatever). I select recipients partly based on their transparency and accountability, checking them out with groups like GuideStar or Charity Navigator if I don't know their work and management personally (as with some local charities).  I still give to Catholic groups - but on an individual organiztion basis.

 After reading about some of the parishes in the mid-west who are at a stand-off with their bishops (St. Stanislaus, in St. Louis,  a Cleveland parish who moved their entire congregation, including the pastor, to a non-church facilitiy when the bishop closed their historic, inner-city parish without consultation, etc.). I read about another parish where the pastor began raiding the bank accounts of lay groups within the parish who were raising money for specific purposes - the pastor simply said the money was his to do with what he wanted, even though these groups had been set up for specific purposes and never had a problem with their pastors before (another younger priest with a superiority complex).  Perhaps parishes faced with an autocratic pastor should consider setting up a non-profit whose entire focus would be the parish?  People could give their donations to the non-profit, whose directors and board would be accountable to the whole parish, and would directly pay for parish expenses - utilities, mortgage, staff salary and benefits etc. The pastor could be a member of the board, but with no more say over the funds  than any of othe elected members.  Anyway, nobody that I have heard of has done something like that yet, but it is an interesting possibility for those faced with power-mad pastors. And it is a way to keep the parishoners' money out of the hands of the hierarchy who do not operate with either transparency nor accountability to those who fund the church's work.
Anne Chapman
8 years ago
Finally, I would like to commend Mr. McSweeney in #139 - excellent suggestion. 

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

OK, three in a row. I am a repeat offender. Mea culpa!
Bill Taylor
8 years ago

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

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


8 years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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



Michael Barberi
8 years ago


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

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

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


Jane & Francis Thomas
8 years ago
    Dear Editors...thank you for your reply...first smile to emerge from reading this very long comment board!  I knew you must have a healthy sense of humor - which, I would add, also should be seen as a requirement for the priesthood!

while not related to the article, for which I apologize, thank you, thank you, thank you for being there multiple times a week (through the magazine, blogs, etc) to remind me and the world that being Catholic can embody both outstanding anaytical skills and love of God, the Church, and our fellow human beings!  Blessings on all of you.
Lisa Weber
8 years ago
I am grateful for this long comment board.  That a discussion exists anywhere in the church is an encouraging sign.  Thank you to all.
Norman Costa
8 years ago
We've had a couple of priests contribute to the discussion on both sides. Thank you, all! This is a bonus for all of us, especially if we keep to vehement and passionate debate without flaying alive the opposing writers and denouncing their sinful ways. Please, let's hear from more priests in these discussions.

Without going back and analyzing the comments, it seemed to me that there were significant efforts to develop a line of thought, and do a decent job of explaining. At least one of the Editors demonstrated his ability to retain his sanity and sense of humor. 
ccocoo ccocoo
8 years ago
Louis Vuitton Handbags Neverfull on the individual hands bags are generally wonderfully fantastic. low-cost louis vuitton bags save funds. Even now, they usually are costed much like handsomely. You must look up hard as part of your funding to see a geniune Louis Vuitton bag, in which to some degree spots precisely why low-cost imitations are generally ample. This burberry scarf may perhaps be the greatest purses and clutches on earth. Vuitton purses and clutches comes in undertaking go on a spree stores.
C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
Thank you for the offer to continue the conversation on my question via email. But it seems to me either I am unable to rise to the level of articulation you require to entertain my question, or you wish to avoid answering it. As I lack the verbal skills to phrase the question more clearly in the first instance, and you decline to entertain the question in the second, I doubt the exchange would be productive, So permit me to take a pass on the invitation this time. But I appreciate and thank you for offering the invitation. 
Others have shown an interest, especially for "irrefutable" data on the question, posed originally be Tom Piatek, that since the same liberal Protestant churches in America that have already extended most of the reforms many of our liberal commentators here desire, such as women's ordination, approval of divorce, acceptance of abortion (by no means as broadly supported by liberals here, as I have been chastized for suggesting), decentralization/elimination of papal authority, rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation. have in recent years suffered a declining membership, as opposed to the relatively stable membership our church has experienced, why should we expect a different result from following their lead? Others have pointed out immigration patterns have affected these numbers, and truly they have, yet we are and always have been an immigrant church. Without the great Irish, Italian, and German Catholic immigrations of the past century and a half, and the Hispanic ones recently, the Church here would be nothing like it is today. Even our editors Kevin Clarke and Tim Reilly, whose heritage I suspect partly by name but mainly by choice of the favored beverage they belt down when they have read one too many of our (my) comments here, would be absent. And in those earlier times the church suffered administrations even more hostile to its values and carisms than our current one.
While I doubt any set of numbers is "irrefutable," here are the last two years of numbers from the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which the National Council of Churches presents as the most authoritative source on the subject:

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

 "Reverend Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the Yearbook since 1998, said many experts cite 'an increasing secularization of American postmodern society, and its disproportional impact on liberal religious groups as the cause of decline in some American churches.'"
As Reverend Lindner is obviously not a Catholic priest promoting a Catholic agenda (actually a Presbyterian minister), with her own church among the mainline protestant denominations suffering from these losses and subject to the assessment she presents, it would seem logical to question whether following their lead in these reforms would strengthen the church and increase its membership. I don't here mean any criticism of our fellow Christians, whom I would hope to thrive as our church hopes to thrive. It is meant, however, as a shot across the bow to those who would propose to emulate their lead.
Kevin and Tim, your choice of Jameson might even be more fortuitous than you expect. Your greatest Irishman of modernity, James Joyce, favored Jameson when he wasn't imbibing Swiss white wines. His reason, I recall, is that most whiskey is made from treated water. He claimed that Jameson, however, is made from the untreated waters straight from the Liffey, including the organic and inorganic detritus of mankind. Therefore in imbibing Jameson, you get not only the waters of life, but also the sewerage of mankind. In other words, you take in the whole thing, not merely a purified essence. That this is still the case, I would doubt, but at least you can participate in that tradition. 
Thus with our church. 


The latest from america

The cardinal archbishop of Westminster came to Rome with 15 English and Welsh bishops to concelebrate the Mass in which Pope Francis declared Newman a saint, the first British saint to be born after 1800.
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 13, 2019
Participants expressed support for proposals to ordain women deacons and warned of the deadly consequences of climate change.
Luke Hansen, S.J.October 13, 2019
The racism that is now a part of public life must be named and opposed, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Tex., said in a new pastoral letter.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 13, 2019
Banners showing new Sts. Giuseppina Vannini and John Henry Newman hang from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica as Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass for five new saints in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 13, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The new saints include three women religious who cared for the poor and the sick, a laywoman mystic and the most significant English Catholic theologian of modern times.
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 13, 2019