For more of the story, click here. The article incorrectly noted that girls have been allowed to serve at Mass since 1983. Actually, such permission was not given until 1994.
At any rate, girls now function as altar servers everywhere in the United States, except in the Diocese of Lincoln and a handful of more traditional parishes scattered throughout the country.
Of course the decision to prohibit girls from serving at the Phoenix cathedral has drawn criticism from dissident quarters, such as this rant from a blogger for the National Catholic Reporter.
The issue is raised here not because of the controversy, but because of the clear motive for the decision: the assertion that having boys serve at the altar helps to foster priestly vocations. Certainly the Diocese of Lincoln is not hurting for priests, and the Holy See, in allowing girl altar servers shortly before reiterating the Church’s doctrinal teaching on the all-male priesthood, noted:
“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.”
So on the one hand, there is the positive of fostering more vocations to the priesthood (with the assumption, verified by experience, that fewer boys aspire to service at the altar when girls are also allowed to serve). On the other hand, there is the permission granted by the Holy See, which acknowledges the fact that there is no doctrinal reason to prohibit girls from serving.
It seems to me that this issue would be well served by statistics that demonstrate the actual effect of allowing girls to serve at Mass. I’m not at all sure that this can be done with much precision. However, without such hard “evidence,” this discussion will continue to be more of an ideological battle than an objective search for what is best for the Church right now.
For my part, I’m going to assume that the pastor in Phoenix has nothing against girls (who by the way are encouraged to serve as sacristans), and has taken this action in good faith to promote vocations to the priesthood–a most worthy objective indeed.