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.