California Catholic Church priest bans girls as altar servers

(Photo: REUTERS / Amr Abdallah Dalsh)An altar girl receives communion from Priest Philip Najim during Sunday service in Saint Fatima Church in Cairo August 18, 2013. Egypt's Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of its 85 million people, have coexisted with the majority Sunni Muslims for centuries. Violence erupted periodically, especially in the impoverished south, but the attacks on churches and Christian properties in the last week are the worst in years.

A Catholic priest in San Francisco has banned girls from acting as altar servers at Mass, a decision that sets his parish apart from all others in the archdiocese.

The Rev. Joseph Ill who arrived at the Star of the Sea Church in August, said he believes there is an "intrinsic connection" between the priesthood and serving at the altar - and because women can't be priests, it makes sense to have only altar boys, SF Gate reports.

"Maybe the most important thing is that it prepares boys to consider the priesthood," he said.

The Richmond District is now the only parish in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to exclude girls from serving at the altar. Such a decision is "a pastor's call," said archdiocese spokesman Chris Lyford.

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The decision has irked some people at the church and its school, where some, but not all, parents and students disagreed with the move, said parent Nancy Bye, who serves as liaison between the school and the parish.

"I think it is a few people," Bye said. "I think a lot of the people who are upset are not parishioners."

Currently, only adults assist the pastor during the church's regular Masses. Altar boys and girls are used during the Masses held for the students at the parish's Star of the Sea School.

Girls trained to be altar girls will be allowed to continue serving, with the use of females phased out. Illo said he wants to get an altar boy program running for all Masses, as part of a larger father and sons program at the church.

He said an altar boy program would be a male bonding experience, one that helps them socialize and develop their leadership potential. Girls would still be allowed to perform readings during Mass.

Females were authorized by canon law to be altar servers some 20 years ago — or "not that long ago" in the 2,000-year tradition of the Holy Eucharist, Illo said.

This is not the first time Illo has drawn national attention to his parish. In 2008, as a Modesto priest, he said that voting for Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights, necessitated a trip to the confessional.

"Voting for a candidate who promises 'abortion rights,' even if he promises every other good thing, is voting for abortion," Illo wrote in a letter to parishioners. "It is a grave mistake and probably a grave sin."

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