Open Letter on Altar Girls
September 23, 2001
My husband and I were at the Cathedral Mass this morning when you preached on the gospel of the unjust steward. We appreciated the admonition that Christians must be as shrewd in advancing the Kingdom of God as the "children of the world" are at advancing their goals. Thank you for urging us to be the light and yeast for Christian evangelization. Which brings me to the purpose of this letter.
Recently a gentleman who spoke to you at "Theology on Tap" told us you intend to allow female altar servers in the diocese, a move we believe is imprudent and likely to jeopardize future vocations in our diocese. We hope you will reconsider for the following reasons.
First of all, if you examine the history of radical feminism in the Church one of the primary interim goals has been approval of female altar servers. One still occasionally sees a well-weathered bumper sticker distributed by CTA [Call to Action], "Let the Lasses Serve at Masses." (As you know, CTA also lobbies for women's ordination, divorce and remarriage, contraception, approval of homosexual activity, etc.) Several years ago during Bishop Keating's tenure, CTA led a very vocal demonstration promoting altar girls in the parking lot of St. Thomas More during the Chrism Mass. I spoke with "Sister" Bridget Meehan at the time who was one of the ringleaders of the demonstration. Why are they so adamant about altar girls? - because they see it as a foot in the door for women priests and want to develop an expectation among young girls that they should serve at the altar. Lobbying for altar girls is the feminists' fifth column for moving toward priestesses. It is imprudent to allow them. It will not assuage the feminists' demands and will encourage their efforts to radicalize our daughters.
Secondly, every space taken by a girl denies an opportunity to a boy. There are a finite number of Masses and other liturgical events taking place in a parish. We should be encouraging our young boys to serve because it is a unique opportunity for them to see the priests close up and offers many opportunities for priests to encourage fledgling vocations. If a parish has thirty altar servers and half are girls it has lost the opportunity to expose fifteen young boys to a bird's eye view of the priesthood.
Third, every mother and teacher has experienced the reality of youngsters in the latency stage. They want to be with others of their own sex. Even my little grandson, who is not quite two, knows there is something special about his grandfather. At bedtime he goes out to the kitchen and points to the cereal on top of the refrigerator because he wants to do what grandpa does. Eating cereal together is their nightly ritual. Little boys do not want to play with little girls during the latency period. They do not want to do what girls do. Most altar boy programs begin in the third or fourth grade right smack in the middle of latency. If girls are recruited as altar servers, some young boys will not participate. There is no way of measuring the impact, since those boys will not be dropouts; they simply will never join.
Lastly, there is a strong tendency in our American culture to see religion as a "woman's thing." In recent years I'm hopeful this is changing because of the impact of so many Protestant ministers and evangelists entering the Church. Tim Staples, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, Steve Wood, etc. as well as movements like St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers are focusing on men and their duty as spiritual heads of the family. Putting more men and boys on the altar is a shrewd way to encourage greater participation of men and a stronger call to their religious duties. Further feminizing the liturgy frustrates that goal.
Your Excellency, I know the issue of female altar servers is a matter of Church discipline rather than faith and doctrine. And it is certainly "politically correct" in our American culture to allow females to serve. But that is actually another argument against their use because of the likelihood of misunderstanding by some and deliberate distortion by the radical feminist element in the Church. We certainly do not have a shortage in this diocese of young boys who want to serve. Is there really anything to be gained by allowing altar girls? There certainly is much to lose. And if it has a negative impact on vocations to the priesthood it will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo the damage. Nor is it likely to encourage girls to consider religious life. Contact with female role models like the Poor Clares and the Daughters of St. Paul would be more likely to accomplish that.
In 1994 when the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments released the document allowing female altar servers it said, "The Holy See respects the decision adopted by certain Bishops for specific local reasons on the basis of the provisions of Canon 230 2. At the same time, however, the Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue." Please, Your Excellency, maintain "the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar" for our diocese.
In Christ's peace,