No Altar Girls at Phoenix Cathedral

by Michael Sean Winters

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The rector of the Cathedral of Sts. Simon and Jude in Phoenix has decided to only allow boys to be altar servers at Mass. The Rev. John Lankeit said the decision was his alone, not that of Bishop Thomas Olmsted. Lankeit cited the historic connection between altar boys and vocations.

The decision is regrettable from every angle. There may be an historic connection between boys being altar servers and some of those boys going on to be priests. Hard to tell. There was also an historical connection between maleness and, say, the American founding. There was, until recently, a connection between being male and running for President. The rector may not have noticed but women do lots of things they did not do previously and it is a misplaced concern for gender differenciation to want to hold on to yesteryear's ways.

The decision also runs the risk of bringing back the "boys club" mentality that has caused great damage to the Church. Altar servers bond. While other boys and girls sleep in or play soccer on a Sunday morning, they get together to help out at Mass. Restricting that activity by gender helps create the wrong kind of gender differentiation, the kind that leads adolescents to grow up to be uncomfortable with women in Church, but any future pastor will likely rely on women to run all sorts of activities in his parish. Boys who are uncomfortable around girls will be inclined to see being an altar boy as a chance to escape their uncomfortability. I would submit that this is not necessarily a good thing to discern, still less to cultivate, in future clerics.

But, there is a deeper concern. Those altar girls who are now barred are baptized. Serving as an altar boy does not have to do with holy orders - and it never has. Yes, in seminary, future priests were installed officially as acolytes and as lectors, but most parishes never had officially installed acolytes. Rev. Lankeit has focused on the wrong sacrament in this decision. One wonders if he has even read the documents of Vatican II which place such a heavy emphasis on the dignity of the baptized.

Bishop Olmsted has not been shy about making controversial decisions. And, generally, most of us think that allowing pastors more say in their parishes is a good thing: micro-managing bishops can be a disaster. But, this is not just any parish. Officially, Olmsted is the pastor of this parish. He should step in and overturn the decision.

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