A San Francisco Catholic priest defended a controversial decision to only allow boys to serve as altar servers in his parish earlier this week.
Rev. Joseph Illo, who became the pastor of the Star of the Sea parish last year, made a statement on Monday explaining his decision.
“At the risk of generalizing, I suspect young men serving with young women might just distract them from the sacrifice of the Mass, and perhaps even from a priestly vocation,” Illo said.
Star of the Sea is the only parish in San Francisco that does not allow girls to perform the duties of altar service.
Illo said he decided to bar girls from becoming altar servers for two reasons. First, he said he thinks boys lose interest in the service when girls work with them because they usually "do a better job."
The second reason Illo said he barred altar girls is because he thinks altar service emphasizes parish service to young boys as a feeder program to the priesthood.
“If the Catholic Church ordained women, altar girls would make sense, but the Catholic priesthood is a male charism,” he said. “Nothing awakens a desire for the priesthood like service at the altar among the brotherhood of young men.”
According to Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a research center studying the Catholic Church, there were around 38,000 total priests in the U.S. in 2014 – drop of nearly 2,000 practicing priests from 2010.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, a conservative Church leader who opposes gay marriage, gave Illo permission to disallow the practice of altar girls, Illo said.
Current altar girls will continue to serve alongside boys at parish school mass services only for students, but the church will no longer train females. Altar boys can now serve at the parish’s regular Masses, where previously only adults could assist the priest.
Photo Credit: Cal-Catholic, Wikicommons