Rev. Joseph Illo, a pastor at San Francisco's Star of the Sea Church, has decided that from now on, only boys – and not girls – are allowed to be altar servers during Mass. At the moment, both boys and girls are used as altar servers in school Masses at the Star of the Sea School. Regular masses at the church have adults – both male and female – as assistants to the pastor, but Illo has indicated that he plans to set up an altar boy program to handle all Masses.
Illo's planned altar boy program will be part of a larger scale father and son program at the church. He envisions it will serve as a male bonding experience that will help the boys to socialize with peers and to develop leadership potential, and perhaps encourage or prepare them should they decide to become priests in the future.
In an SFGate report, Illo explains that there is an "intrinsic connection" between priesthood and serving at the altar, and that it does not make sense to have girls as serving at the altar as women can't be priests.
"Maybe the most important thing is that it prepares boys to consider the priesthood," he shared.
In the meantime, girls currently trained as altar servers will still be allowed to serve at Mass. As time passes, however, girl altar servers will eventually be phased out. Girls will still be allowed to perform roles such as gospel reading during Mass.
Father Illo's parish is the only one in the San Francisco area that has banned altar girls. Chris Lyford, a spokesman of the San Francisco archdiocese, commented that such decisions are left to individual pastors. In the past only men could be altar servers, but a canon law established in 1983 finally allowed the use of altar girls. However, the priest in charge of a church is not obligated to avail of the updated law.