Saturday, August 14, 2010

Are Girl Altar Servers Having a Bad Effect on the Priesthood Or is Contraception Hurting the Priesthood?

As a someone who used to be a girl altar server and who is proud of participating or helping in the Mass, I must say that women altar servers could be hurting the priesthood. But one must take into account several factors when trying to answer this question. Has there been a decline in births among Catholics over the years? Has there been a decline in the number of Catholics who follow the Magisterium? Has there been a population decline in the Church as a result of Catholics leaving the Church, either for another church or because of those who are fallen away and don‘t attend church period? What are the reasons behind this?

In 2006 there was a survey of Catholic women asking whether they took birth control or not. The poll revealed a stunning and quite horrifying reality - that 9 out of 10 Catholic women have used birth control. If this poll merely asked “Have you used contraceptives?‘ this needed to be deconstructed a little further since contraceptives do have alternative therapeutic uses. People, like myself, may have resorted to use contraceptives at one time or another to treat such female diseases such as endometriosis, so saying “using contraceptives is always immoral or is always intrinsically evil” seems to be an overstatement since the qualifier “always” wouldn’t allow for the therapeutic (and non-contraceptive) use of a substance often prescribed as a means of birth control. But then if a substance isn’t being used to contracept, but for some other legitimate benefit (e.g., treating a disease), then in that case the substance isn’t a contraceptive. Thus, while contraception may be intrinsically evil, a certain medication might not be intrinsically contraceptive, but only contraceptive in relation to those using it in that conventional way. One might say that if a woman uses “contraceptives” to contracept and to purposely avoid procreating or creating life, then that is always intrinsically evil. But, regardless this astounding result is way, way too high among Catholics, and is a serious problem that must be addressed through better education in the Catholic sphere. On this distinction between legitimate and sinful uses of substances that are conventionally used as birth control, I have no statistics, but my intuition is that there could not be nearly that many women with conditions that would call for the medicinal use of such medications.

From the National Catholic Reporter, there are two items that are noteworthy:

‘First, for the first time this year, the female altar servers in attendance outnumbered the males. According to organizers, the balance was roughly 60-40 in favor of females. The official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, pointed to the turnout as a symbol of “the massive entry in recent decades of girls and young women into a role once reserved exclusively to males.”’

“Second, Vatican sources seemed eager to bill the gathering of tens of thousands of devoted young Catholics with Pope Benedict XVI as a kind of counter-point to the sexual abuse scandals of recent months.”

It seems like there are simply less Catholics, at least in part due to contraception, and therefore less boys, less altar boys, which ultimately has led to a decline of priests. Maybe, more of those who are faithful Catholics are simply having more girls than boys? Could a backlash against girl altar servers inevitably produce more dissent among those girls later in life, as they become mature women? Shouldn’t we encourage participation among women also instead of stifling it? I believe as long as it is made crystal clear that altar girls can NEVER become priests then it is okay for girls to be altar servers and assist the priest in the Mass.

It is my conclusion that the allowing girls to serve at the altar is not the primary cause for the decline of men entering the priesthood. I also believe that even if the presence of altar girls are having a negative effect that is discouraging young men from becoming priests (which I doubt since most traditional Catholics encourage young men to consider the priesthood as a vocation and one would think that a girl altar server‘s family would most likely be traditional and adhering to the Magisterium), the effect is minimal and miniscule in comparison to the negative effect that contraceptives have had in the past and are having on the decline in vocations to the priesthood.


Christopher - Conservative Perspective said...


I being male and brought up in the Roman Catholoic tradition also served as an 'Alter server' for about 4 years?

I have no clue what contreseption has to do with that subject? I do however understand the true bias of the Vatican and the subsequent subjugation of women within the Chuch. This situation comes NOWHERE close to that of Islam but far short that of Judaism of which Jesus Christ was born into.

All that stated, I believe that most do not fall away from Catholosism due to Faith but that of the Vatican rule by decree itself.

You see that, I and others hold the Faith at the Highest level, and that being much as the U.S. Constitution holds that all men (read men and women) are created equal which in the case of women to this day the Vatican refuse to admit or allow.

Change Ronald Reagans quote to read; I did not leave the Church, the Church left me.

Teresa said...

Very good. I served even before it was affirmed in 1994 that it was okay for girls to serve as altar girls. It was actually never prohibited according to Canon law.

I never said that contraception was related to altar servers. I related both contraception and female altar servers (separately) to the problems in the Church today, e.g. priestly shortage. I argued that the use of contraceptives and the prevalence of the contraceptive mentality has been much more to blame for the shallowness of the pool of prospective priests than the presence of altar girls. That argument I develop now further: the rise in the numbers of altar girls has, in part, been a filling of a vacuum left by the decline in the numbers of altar boys, and that is due to the decline in traditional Catholics having large families (large enough for there to be a priest or two amongst a number of siblings without this leading to a danger of there being no one to carry on the family name).

As to your allegation of the Church not recognizing the equality of the sexes in the same sense that the U.S. Constitution does, I think you are comparing apples and oranges. Equality as persons before the law is a requirement of justice, but it does not change the fact that men and women are different. In the Church, there are some roles that only women can fulfill, and there are some that only men can, because of this difference, not because of some abstract “inequality”. If you are fretting over the all-male priesthood because you see priesthood as synonymous with ecclesial power, I submit to you that you don’t really understand what priesthood means. Priesthood is mediatorship through sacrifice, and no one can be a priest unless he is chosen by God. Priesthood symbolizes fatherhood, and priests stand in for God the Father (not meaning God the Male, but meaning God the Transcendent Begetter of Life). In sacraments, symbol is all-important, because it is in the symbol that God makes the reality miraculously present through grace. The Church can no more ordain women to serve as symbolic fathers than She can deem it permissible for priests to use Oreo cookies and Kool-Aid for the Eucharist rather than the sarifice of bread and wine. She has no authority to radically change the meaning of the sacraments that much. But priesthood is not about power, and power is hardly an all-male privilege in the Catholic Church. On the level of parishes and even dioceses, lay women and nuns exercise a great deal of power, in some places bullying and bossing the priests around. Power gravitates to purse strings, not to spiritual authority. Who, for a long time, had more power in the Catholic Church in America than Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, who could fire priests and who publicly lambasted bishops with impunity?

Nora said...

For the record, NFP is birth control, and is allowed by the Church. NFP can also be used with a "contraceptive mentality".

So if you're going to say it's unfair to ask who has ever used contraceptives because some women do use the pill to treat various conditions, then it's also unfair to ask who uses birth control when the Church is perfectly fine with one form of birth control.

And then, of course, just because the Church is fine with NFP doesn't mean it can't be used with the same intent as someone using the pill so they can have it off with whomever whenever.

Statistics don't tell even close to the whole story.

Also, priesthood is a vocation. One is called by God to the priesthood, not donated by parents who happen to have a lot of "extra" kids lying around. Family size doesn't have anything to do with the decline in priestly vocations unless you think God is told what to do by people, as in, "we only had one son and one daughter and we need heirs, so no priests and nuns for you!"

Teresa said...


Do you think that it would be a sacrifice for you or or any other person that may be in a committed relationship to abstain from engaging in sexual relations? NFP is a natural way to either avoid pregnancy or achieve pregnancy that is approved by the Church. When a couple uses contraceptives and takes part in sexual relations they are using a chemical to block or stop God's Will from being done, creating a child or not, and not sacrificing themselves so as to follow God's will, but in fact acted in a selfish manner while partaking in corporal pleasures.
I have just described a basic difference between how NFP is used and how artificial birth control is used. It is that difference that is very hard to reconcile with what you have rightly cited as "a 'contraceptive mentality.' You seem to find it plausible that NFP could be used with the same intention as the pill. I find that highly doubtful. Do you have any real world examples of people who use NFP in order to fornicate and engage in promiscuity? If not, I suggest that you consider the possibility that the great differences between the way these different kinds of "birth control" are used reveal a radical difference in their meaning and the intention with which they are applied.

Anonymous said...

Theresa, I am a married woman with five adult children. I have never used any method of birth control, including NFP. However, I am well aware of how NFP works.

NFP can not only be used with a contraceptive mentality, it can be used with an idolatrous mentality as well.

My in-laws are a classic example of both -- they have a long list of financial, early retirement, vacation-home-owning, bigger-boat-owning goals, and they do not want children until _they_ feel the time is right. They also believe that, as long as they're using NFP to put off having children in order to accomplish their goals, their choices are perfectly in keeping with Church teaching.

It might be more difficult to pursue a promiscuous lifestyle using NFP, but it is not impossible. To assume the mere use of NFP blesses any sexual behavior is idolatrous. NFP is merely a tool and can be just as easily abused as any other tool.

But that's neither here nor there -- that's not what I was taking issue with.

You assert that religious vocations are on a decline because familes are smaller as a result of the development and use of birth control (which would include the use of NFP, btw). First of all, you'd have to work out the percentages in order to prove vocations are on a decline -- if the ratio is static, then there may be fewer vocations, but vocations may not be on a decline. That smaller number of vocations may represent the same percentage of vocations only among a smaller population.

Also, you assert that we had more vocations when people had "extra" children -- more children than needed to preserve posterity. That's positively medieval in thinking. Our socioeconomic model no longer revolves around that sort of thing. Also, the Church no longer accepts donations of extra children like they did in centuries past. Actually, they warn against the practice of pushing people into the religious life if they are not truly called, or using the religious life as a refuge or assisted living center, or whathaveyou. I don't think any of us need to be reminded of what happens when people who don't belong in the religious life end up there...

According to Church teaching, a vocation to the religious life is a call from God. Why would family size have anything to do with who and why God calls any one or any number of people to the religious life?

You seem to think we can manipulate and control God awfully easily -- we can thwart His will via the pill and we can thwart His will by having fewer children, etc. Maybe that's the sort of god you believe in, but it's not the God I have faith in. I give God more credit than that. I don't believe God can be manipulated, controlled, put in a box, doled out by the God-brokers to those they and they alone deem worthy of God, and so on.