The following comes from a Jan. 26 story on

A Catholic priest, new to San Francisco and no stranger to controversy, 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 Illo, pastor at Star of the Sea Church since 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.

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

The Richmond District parish is now the only one in the archdiocese of San Francisco that will exclude girls from serving at the altar. Such a decision is “a pastor’s call,” said archdiocese spokesman Chris Lyford.

Still, the decision has rankled 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 up and running for all Masses, as part of a larger father and sons program at the church.

….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, required 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.”

Like then, Illo was unapologetic about his stance.

“I think it’s OK for one to just have altar boys,” he said. “We’re a bit more traditional here” at Star of the Sea.

Statement from Fr. Joseph Illo on parish website
On November 7, 2014, Father Patrick Driscoll and I decided to transition the altar server program at Star of the Sea parish from both boys and girls to just boys. Although girls are still serving at the parish, we will train only boys in the future. Girls have been permitted to serve Mass since 1994, but for 1900 years before that generally only males were permitted to serve at Mass. Today this decision is up to the local bishop; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has given Star of the Sea permission to train only boys in the future for service at the Mass.

We are moving to a boys-only program for two reasons.

First, in a mixed altar-server program, boys usually end up losing interest, because girls generally do a better job. A boys-only program gives altar boys the space to develop their own leadership potential. In the past ten years a significant number of schools are returning to single-sex education for this reason, and male-only organizations like the boy scouts or college fraternities exclude female membership to allow the boys to develop specifically male gifts. We support female-only programs like all-girls schools, sororities and the girl scouts for the same reason.

Second, and much more importantly, altar service is intrinsically tied to the priesthood and serve as feeder programs for the seminary. If the Catholic Church ordained women, altar girls would make sense, but the Catholic priesthood is a male charism. Nothing awakens a desire for the priesthood like service at the altar among the brotherhood of young men. At the risk of generalizing, I suspect young men serving with young women might just distract them from the sacrifice of the Mass, and perhaps even from a priestly vocation.

I want to emphasize that we are not discontinuing altar girls because females are somehow incapable or unworthy. Girls are generally more capable and certainly just as worthy as boys (because God makes us worthy). The news media has portrayed our decision as discrimination. It is not. It is simply giving boys a role they can call their own, and more importantly recognizing the priesthood as a specifically fatherly charism rather than a motherly charism. If this altar boy policy bothers us, we must ask ourselves if we have not unconsciously accepted the errors of the current age; specifically, that the differences between men and women have no more spiritual significance than “plumbing” arrangements. Do you think Mary, the Mother of God, would want to serve the Mass or be a priest, and even if so, why did Jesus not include her at the Last Supper? Is it not because she, as a woman, has a distinct, an even more exalted role than the Apostles?

Altar girls is a common practice only in Europe and North America; in countries that have high numbers of vocations and flourishing Catholic communities, girls do not generally serve the Mass. At Star of the Sea many girls read the scriptures at Mass, help prepare the altar before and after Mass, and participate in a girls-only group called the Daughters of Mary. Some parishes and even two U.S. dioceses do not have altar girls, and so we are not that unusual in this regard. We hope that by strengthening the link between altar service and the priesthood, and providing supportive groups for young men and women, we will strengthen our parish community in the long run.