Another Step Back

Boy servers only at the Phoenix cathedral. Nice.

There’s a good bit wrong on this on a lot of different fronts.

First off, the rector is within his rights. Clergy can run their parishes however they please to do so, even right under a bishop’s nose. And if lay people or most anybody else doesn’t like it, they can wrap it up in their nearest article of black clothing and stuff it.

The practical connection from altar server to priest has blurred and faded over the past fifty years. Perhaps it was once a fact of history. But we don’t have minor orders anymore. We almost don’t have any seminaries for high school boys anymore. Most seminarians go to college. And most that do go to minor seminary don’t make it to ordination. These days, most servers quit by 8th grade. The gulf between middle school and one’s adult choice of vocation is almost as wide as the gulf between 1951 and 2011. I’m a parent of an adolescent (though female) — trust me on this.

The connection between serving at the altar and priesthood is historic. It is part of the differentiation between boys and girls, as Christ established the priesthood by choosing men. Serving at the altar is a specifically priestly act.

Well, no. The differentiation of boys and girls is physical. Build. Secondary sex characteristics. Clothing–usually*.

The real connection for recruiting seminarians is the personal presence of the bishop in the parishes of his diocese, on college campuses, and amongst young men in discernment. If the bishop doesn’t call, then vocations suffer. Dioceses large (like LA) and small (like Erie) do relatively well because their bishops have a good rapport, not with eleven-year-olds, but with young adult men searching for a deeper truth of service, sacrifice, and commitment.

This story illustrates a trade-off–and this is very instructive. In the short-term the rector alienates a fair handful of girls and their parents. And feminists, of course. And for what? For the benefit of an all-male server corps that might–might!–eventually lead to a few vocations? Fr Lankeit cites 80-95% of priests who started as servers. But he doesn’t have the numbers on the percentage of servers who continue in any sort of church involvement after their pre-adolescent assistance at the altar. And let’s be mindful that most of those 80-95 percent have served alongside girls in their experiences. And all of those priests are going to have to deal with women, unless we’re talking vocations to a monastery. In which case, I would have to support Fr Lankeit. All male servers are appropriate at a men’s monastery, just as men are inappropriate in a convent or women’s monastery.

My take is that they must be getting pretty desperate in Phoenix to crank out Misogyny, Junior Edition in the hopes that in 2025 it will pay off with young men accustomed to dealing with women as sacristans. Good luck with that.

For altar servers, the main thrust is to instill in all of them a baptismal vocation rooted in liturgy. Baptism comes first. And a well-rounded, well-formed adult believer who has many experiences of service and sacrifice will be a lot more prepared to listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudging whatever vocation to which God calls them.

* Cassocks?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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18 Responses to Another Step Back

  1. Jimmy Mac says:

    This kind of nonsense will continue so long as the slack-jawed pew potatoes who seem to predominate at mass attendance continue to accept it. Unless and until people step and and loudly declaim that “Father DOES NOT Know Best” in all cased, then these priests will continue to do whatever them damned well please.

    Do NOT continue to fund fools unless you wish to be self-defeating with your own money.

  2. Holly in Nebraska says:

    “Todd, how about a more professional and dignified approach to your comments?” The rector would be within his rights to call you out on your lack of respect. Mysogyny is a strong word and doesn’t appear to be reflected in the rector’s comments.

    If the Church allows for the option, then it is acceptable.

    This reminds me of the arguments against receiving communion in the hand. Both tongue and hand are allowed, but some will argue that, really, receiving on the tongue is better.

    “Well, no.” It is not my business to tell someone that taking an option given them by the Church is less than worthy.

  3. Todd says:

    Hi Holly. Thanks for commenting.

    I’m careful to label notions, not people. There’s a difference between calling someone a demeaning term and expressing a strong opinion about an idea.

    The option is on the table, certainly. Is it acceptable? In some quarters it would be. Is it advisable and responsible for the Church in the context of this cathedral’s liturgical ministry? I would argue against that.

    • Holly in Nebraska says:

      I don’t see how you can say that an idea is mysogynist, but the person holding it isn’t. The idea didn’t come about by itself.

      I believe I understand what you are saying. I just think that you ascribe to the rector an attitude that isn’t there. He doesn’t appear to hate or dislike women, which is what mysogyny is. He seems to believe that serving at the altar is better for vocations, etc. I don’t see how that translates to hatred of women. You can disagree with him, but the most I think you could justify would be “misguided,” which seems more like what you are saying and is much more charitable besides.

      Thanks for replying to my post.

  4. Michael says:

    The rector deserves no respect. None. Are his actions misogynistic? Yes. Is he a misogynist? I wouldn’t allow him near any woman I cared about.

    It’s idiocy this this that led me to realize that being Catholic was no longer possible for me. Fortunately, the “one true Church” isn’t.

  5. Molly Roach says:

    I think the rector is a bigot. If there is evidence to contest this conclusion, I am willing to consider it.

    • Jimmy Mac says:

      Never ascribe to malice what can be sufficiently explained by stupidity.

      Mark Twain

      Once a fixed idea of duty gets inside a narrow mind, it can never get out.

      Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.

  6. Todd – you have put this in the right context and so succinctly. My jaw dropped when I read this yesterday.

    I agree with what you said about bishops and other clergy building good relationships with men who have an interest in vocations. That has yielded good results here. Call me crazy, but I’m kind of thinking about the wisdom of formation and seminarians with life experience and not an (as if) army of the results boys nurtured as servers. Let me quickly add that there are many other issues that leap to mind and not all good as I type that line… I resist the urge, I consciously resist the urge to change it.

    I find myself wondering about the female altar servers at all the other Phoenix parishes and those parishes themselves… Is everyone just supposed to be a wee bit diminished in those places as a result of this? *deep sigh*

    Misogyny – full on, Phoenix style. Very sad for a church that calls us to the basic centrality of the dignity of the human person. Or at least some of them…

  7. John Drake says:

    So I guess Blessed Mother Teresa is a misogynist?

  8. Todd says:

    Important disctinction: calling an idea misogyny is far different from labeling a person a misogynist.

    Case in point: you misread a donation receipt and deduct a misfiled 2009 item on your 2010 taxes. The error is unintentional, and maybe you even catch it, shrug, and keep going, knowing you missed it for the previous year and you deserve a few pennies’ break.

    You broke the rules, but are you a rule-breaker, a tax cheat, and a perpetrator of fraud? I would draw the line at “broke the rules” and be done with it.

    Molly labeled the pastor and Michael went very close to a label without actually getting there. But we all condemned the policy pretty strongly. I think a strong case can be made that not only won’t this policy have the desired effect, but that its likely counterproductive from a view of baptism, liturgy, and ministry.

    It’s a lazy step, but I don’t know that Fr Lankeit is lazy. The exclusion of females from influencing and fostering priestly vocations and formation is misogynistic, and counterproductive. One might even say it moves against the workings of the Holy Spirit. But personally, I draw the line at calling Fr Lankeit a misogynist. He might be. He’s probably not. There’s not enough information for me.

    I would welcome his comments on this thread, though.

  9. Liam says:

    The decision smacks of a classic getting-in-your-own-way type.

    Right now, boys are not restricted in participation in the ministry of altar server. Boys who might track to a priestly vocation are fully able to participate if they are willing.

    If the reason they are not willing to participate is because of the presence of girls in that ministry, then a pastor is at the very least taking an imprudent approach in pandering to that unwillingness in this way.

  10. Ken Macek says:

    “the gulf between middle school and one’s adult choice of vocation…1951 and 2011”. I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head. So futile a move on so many levels…

  11. Neil says:

    Did the rector inquire with the young women, or did he act in a rather autocratic manner? Because he has certain rights as a pastor doesn’t mean that all his decisions need to be made autocratically? After all, a pastor is also a father to a community, not the dictator of it. Frankly, placing the young women’s actions back in the sacristy translates into, “Ladies, get back in the kitchen!” His actions might be misguided but those actions orginate in a belief system and personal attitudes about women and their ecclesial roles. Sorry, Holly, but your argument that there aren’t misogynistic elements to this decision act doesn’t really fly with me.

    • Jimmy Mac says:

      It is one of the ironies of a celibate priesthood is that when you deprived a man of one satisfaction you sharpened his appetite for others, and power gives a very spicy taste to the mouth.

      • Jimmy Mac says:

        Sorry for the fractured grammar! Sister Rosanne would have boxed my ears if I turned such stilted copy into her.

  12. Liam says:

    An image comes to mind:

  13. frank says:

    I’m surprised by the tone of many here. The rector has the right to do what he did and I for one applaud him. To come to the conclusion that he somehow disrespects women is ridiculous.

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