The following comes from a Jan. 29 story by Jim Graves on Catholic World Report. See California Catholic Daily Jan. 27 story on Father Illo and altar boys.

….CWR: The CBS news story interviewed several people besides yourself, all of whom were opposed to the altar boy-only policy. It has a clip of you saying parish income is up, and then cuts to a parishioner saying that that is a “shallow argument.” Did this story strike you as biased?

Fr. Illo: It was biased. What’s going on is that we have two entities: a parish church and a parish school. The 1,000-seat church draws about 100 to 130 for each Sunday Mass. It’s a big, empty city parish. Our contributions cover about 40% of our operation; we survive by renting out the empty buildings we don’t use any more. It’s a dying parish we hope to revive.

Those who attend the church are, for the most part, fine with it. Most of the people complaining about the altar boy decision have left.

The school is thriving, but not as a Catholic school. Like Catholic universities who want to be independent of the bishops, many parish schools like to be independent of their pastors. Of its 150 families, about three attend the church. The school is only 40% Catholic. Most of the people CBS interviewed are school people from whom you heard the objections.

I must admit, the disjunction between the parish church and school and the vehemence of the school’s opposition has been surprising to me. In other parishes I’ve served at, the school loves the parish priest. When I’d go over, they’d run over and want to talk to me, or if, say, I were walking by a basketball court they’d hand me a basketball and want me to play. It’s not the case here. The priest is ignored. The school is lacking in Catholic identity.

CWR: Is this the first time you’ve had such a policy in the parishes in which you’ve served?

Fr. Illo: Yes. In my last parish we did not recruit girls, but would not deny them if they applied. Hence, we had few girls serving at the altar.

When we arrived at Star of the Sea four months ago there were hardly any servers, so we decided to only have a boy’s program. We’re the new administration, we’re building from zero, so we thought we’d start by implementing our vision.

CWR: An internet search on CBS San Francisco and Catholic news turns up headlines such as “Vatican reviewing Catholic stance of gay marriage, contraception; calls for being ‘less judgmental’”, “New S.F. archbishop riles gay rights advocates”, and “San Francisco Catholic high school apologizes for snubbing tuxedo-wearing girl’s portrait”. Is the San Francisco secular media pretty hostile to the Church?

Fr. Illo: [laughing] Of course. The media and liberal Catholics are on edge because of the new archbishop. One of the emails I received from one such person lamented, “This is the beginning of the end.” I do hope it is the beginning of the end of cultural Catholicism in the Bay area.

San Francisco is an amazing city in many ways. It has a rich history and is beautiful. But it is very secular and is a battle zone for faithful Catholics. One of our biggest problems is that it is so expensive to live in the city, that we have few families with children here. And where you don’t have families, you don’t have the Catholic Church!

At our Masses, you hardly see any children. I was speaking to one parishioner and she was crying, telling me it was so hard to raise children Catholic in a culture that is so secular. She’s afraid they’ll be brainwashed.

CWR: What have your fellow clergy said to you about the altar boy policy?

Fr. Illo: The archbishop is supportive, but it is not a big topic of discussion between us. I just saw him. He said the negative press coverage was par for the course for this kind of announcement, and we expect it to just be a flash in the pan.

Some of the priests I’ve spoken to have been supportive, but others probably think I’m crazy.

CWR: Do you wish you’d taken a more low-key approach?

Fr. Illo: If you have the support of your bishop, I think it’s better to be clear. It’s a moment of evangelization, and I think it’s great that we’re getting all the media attention. It helps us define the mind of the Church.…

CWR: You came to San Francisco to establish the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. How has it gone, and do you have any big plans coming up?

Fr. Illo: It is going well. We have two priests, and we have accepted two men as applicants. They’re living in our community now, and will be going to seminary in the fall. They’ll be going to St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park during the week, and spend the weekends at our house.

We have three key things we’re looking at doing in the near future: 1) We have a big empty convent on the grounds; we want to bring in a community of sisters to fill it up. 2) We want to start a perpetual adoration chapel; right now, there is not a single one in the City of San Francisco. We need people to keep this going, though. 3) We’ve hired a music director, and we want to start a music program to teach Gregorian chant and polyphony. We’ve talked to the archbishop about this; we want it to be a model for parishes and schools….