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Sex (as in gender) and altar servers; reflections on a WaPo story

November 23, 2011

I’m slow on posting this. Such is life with two children 2 and under. But those children — both girls — are part of the reason I find this WaPo story so distressing.

Michelle Boorstein explores the reactions among parishioners at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Virginia where the pastor, the Rev. Michael Taylor, has banned girls from serving as acolytes, or altar servers. Jennifer Zickel, a mother of two girls, was outraged and pulled her family out of the church. But, as Boorstein notes, many Catholics support the boys only rule. In this case, even girls who are grandfathered are made to demonstrate that they aren’t the real deal:

 Girls who had already trained as altar servers at Corpus Christi were allowed to continue, but they cannot wear the new black, priestlike robes the boys began wearing. People who oppose girl servers see the task as priest-like and note that the church teaches priests must be male because they model Jesus.

Of course, the task is priest-like. And of course serving in this capacity could be early training for the priesthood. I still don’t understand why women are banned from *that* either, so I guess I’m going to struggle mightily with the notion that sex should be a factor at the acolyte level.

And we are talking about sex. Or gender. Whatever you prefer. And one has to ask what sex has to do with modeling Jesus. Seriously. How does the sexual identify of Jesus factor in the Gospels?

Now, not surprisingly, the folks at Get Religion had something to say about this piece. Mollie Hemingway argues here that the story lacked balance and should have featured comments from those who support male-only altar servers and male acolytes themselves. And yes, it would have been nice to hear from those people. Boorstein tried to interview the pastor, but he didn’t return calls. Surely, though, she could have found other conservative voices (aside from the links to Catholic writers who oppose girls on the altar). In that way, this story felt rushed and unfinished.

STILL …. it’s an important piece, one provokes questions all Catholics should ask themselves. Why are girls (and women) not allowed to participate in certain aspects of the church? What does sex have to do with a person’s ability to serve a priest during Mass or to lead a congregation? What message is the church sending its children — especially its girls?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2011 11:24 am

    Great post Eileen.
    I thought church was supposed to unite people, in an effort eliminate the impediments and the layers between man and God in order to bring them closer to God, not add barriers to them (like subdividing the congregation).

    I wonder how accepting parishioners would be if you were to substitute the words ‘no girls’ for ‘no Blacks’ or ‘no Hispanics’ – would some of them be just as accepting of the new rule?

    Interestingly enough, I find religion is often infused with the politics and secular concerns of human beings. One example is the Mormon church and it’s restrictions over the years with regards to women and minorities serving in higher positions within the church hierarchy. I have to give the Mormons credit for adapting – many of these restrictions were updated/altered to reflect the changing circumstances and new practical realities brought about with the expansion of the church into foreign cultures (Notably when they made forays into countries with significant multi-racial populations like Brazil, where they discovered that many of the authorities they’d appointed as high officials in the church had black blood in their family lineage).

    I found this quote from the article interesting:

    “Some experts on U.S. Catholicism say this is because many liberal Catholics have left the church in recent years.”

    Sadly, while it’s great of people like Barnes and her family to stay and fight the good fight–if only with their presence–the concentration of traditionalists may mean that these types of judgements may be present in the Catholic Church for a long while.

    • eeflynn permalink*
      November 23, 2011 12:25 pm

      Excellent observations, Valerie! This has been troubling me for quite some time — not only in the Catholic Church but in other denominations, including some of these hip, young, culturally savvy congregations that are springing up around the country. Every time someone tried to explain the male-only argument for ministry, I kept thinking how they would never in a million years suggest people be excluded based on race. And, as you point out, we have seen that kind of racism in churches, something most church leaders now find shameful. Yet they don’t seem to recognize the misogyny they are perpetuating. They just chalk that up to God’s plan for men and women to have different roles.
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Jack Wirtz permalink
    November 23, 2011 2:07 pm

    “MY people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” saith the LORD.

    Rome can (and does) anything it wants. Their departure from the
    faith of Christ is legendary; especially so when in 1054, they
    declared the Bishop of Rome, Papa, the Pope, infallible.

    Roman Catholicism is a business in the name of religion, they
    have done, and do whatever, in their minds, serves the best
    interests of the Church.

    Rome’s tolerance to variances is as variable as their total
    word-wide support will allow; and right now women in
    public service is not seen as a “fair wind”. It weakens
    their political clout.

    When Christians hold fast to Scripture, women in public
    service is not a moot point. But in salvation, “There is neither
    Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is
    neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    (Galatians 3:28)

    “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority
    over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was
    first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was
    deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into
    transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:10-14)

    But the reality is, “Christianity” is not copyrighted, if you don’t
    like what you see, start your own church, Eve did, and so is
    the origin of most of the Churches, you can do anything you
    want and answer to no one, that is, except Yahweh,
    the GOD and Father of Jesus Christ.

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