I missed this January event in San Francisco. A Catholic church there, the Star of the Sea, decided to stop allowing girls to be altar servers. Existing girls who are serving can continue but new ones will not be accepted.
Imagine how you would feel if you were one of those "mistake, oops" girls! To allow them to continue doesn't patch up the rejection.
But it's all perfectly fine, because there are parents in the congregation who like the idea of boys-only (in a church of male-priests-only) and because the priest behind this "innovation," one Joseph Illo, argues that the change is great for male bonding and makes sense as being an altar server could be the first step to becoming a priest and -- duh -- girls cannot become priests ever. The logic is beautiful and very clear and in my divine opinion backwards.
The same Joseph Illo raised a few feathers more recently:
The Rev. Joseph Illo recently banned the use of altar girls at school and parish Masses at Star of the Sea, a decision opposed by some parents and staff.
Illo also upset families when he decided that non-Catholic students could no longer receive blessings during Communion, a decision he reversed after complaints from the school community.
And this week, parents revealed that Star of the Sea students as young as those in second grade received a pamphlet about confession late last year that referred to sexual topics such as sodomy, masturbation and abortion.
That was a mistake, Illo said Wednesday.
“Among the 70 items for reflection, some were not age appropriate for schoolchildren,” Illo said in a statement. “We apologize for this oversight and removed the pamphlet as soon as this was brought to our attention by the school faculty in December.”
You want to know what those pamphlets contained?
They asked questions such as, “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication and sodomy)?” and, “Did I practice artificial birth control or was I or my spouse prematurely sterilized (tubal ligation or vasectomy)?” as well as, “Have I had or advised anyone to have an abortion?”
Riley Brooks, an 11-year-old student at the school, explained how he and his sixth-grade classmates responded to the material: they were “really grossed out.” “There was something about masturbation,” Brooks told the Chronicle. “Pretty sure abortion was on there, but I can’t remember. And sodomy. I don’t know what that means.”
Put all that together and Illo, a presumably celibate man in power inside a church which assigns most power to celibate men, comes across as someone who just may have a slight problem with women and women's sexuality. The irony in that is more than I can quite absorb.
And no, I don't really care what theological arguments could be used to support his views because the game in all three major Abrahamic religions* is rigged against gender equality, what with their roots in two-thousand-year old shepherding tribal communities. The gender roles literalists find supported in the Bible and in the Koran are those that were deemed appropriate in such tribal settings by those who had the power to leave us their words and thoughts.
These backward steps are not unheard of (though Illo's church is currently the only one in the archdiocese of San Francisco which is not going to let girls mess up things any longer). The Southern Baptists, for example, decided to get rid of female pastors in 1980s, though a few individual churches may still have them.
These occasions of backwards-sliding need to be noted. Otherwise we will see more of them.
*In their most extremist forms, naturally.