San Francisco Catholic priest bans future altar girls

A Catholic priest new to San Francisco has banned girls from becoming altar servers in the future.

“We’d like to get back to an altar boy program, which is a proven, effective way to promoting vocations to the priesthood,” said Father Joseph Illo. “So boys get closer to the altar, and as you know, the Catholic church does not ordain women.”

In a statement issued on Monday, Jan. 26, Illo, a priest at Star of the Sea Church, said there are two reasons for the transition into a boys-only program.

“First, in a mixed altar-server program, boys usually end up losing interest, because girls generally do a better job,” he said.

The second reason is because altar service is tied to priesthood, he said.

“If the Catholic Church ordained women, altar girls would make sense, but the Catholic priesthood is a male charism,” Illo said.

During regular masses at Star of the Sea, only adults serve at the altar. In masses held for students of the parish’s Star of the Sea School, both altar boys and girls serve.

Trained altar girls thus far are allowed to continue serving until they leave, but no new girls will be able to enter the program.

In his statement, Illo said the discontinuance of altar girls is not because females are unworthy or incapable and that it is not discrimination.

“If this altar boy policy bothers us, we must ask ourselves if we have not unconsciously accepted the errors of the current age; specifically that the differences between men and women have no more spiritual significance than ‘plumbing’ arrangements. Do you think Mary, the Mother of God, would want to serve the Mass or be a priest, and even if so, why did Jesus not include her at the Last Supper? Is it not because she, as a woman, has a distinct, an even more exalted role than the Apostles?” he wrote in the statement.

Illo’s decision upset some people at the church and its school, and some parents and students did not agree with Illo’s decision, Nancy Bye, who serves as a liaison between the school and parish, told SF Gate.

“I think a lot of the people who are upset are not parishioners,” Bye said, according to SF Gate.

Illo is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, when he served in Modesto, he said parishioners voting for Barack Obama would have to go to confession.

“Voting for a candidate who promises ‘abortion rights,’ even if he promises every other good thing, is voting for abortion. It is a grave mistake and probably a grave sin,” he wrote in a letter to parishioners.

(With reports from NBC and SF Gate)

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