- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A Roman Catholic church in San Francisco has become one of a handful around the country to prohibit girls from being altar servers, a decision that has disturbed some parishioners.

The Rev. Joseph Illo decided to train only boys to assist him at Mass after he was assigned to Star of the Sea Church last year because he thinks the primary purpose of altar service is preparation for the priesthood, which women are ineligible to join, Illo told television station KPIX (https://cbsloc.al/15EzJPn ).

“The specifics of serving at the altar is a priestly function,” Illo said. “And the Catholic church does not ordain women.”

Illo said in a statement posted on the church’s website Sunday that boys often lose interest in altar service when the programs are co-ed because “girls generally do a better job.”

“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,” the statement said. “It is simply giving boys a role they can call their own, and more importantly recognizing the priesthood as a specifically fatherly charism.”

Existing altar girls will be allowed to continue carrying the cross, washing the priest’s hands and performing other duties of altar servers until they are phased out through Star of the Sea’s new boys-only program, Illo said.

Girls and women have been permitted to serve Mass alongside priests since Pope John Paul II approved the practice in 1994. But a mixed-gender altar service is not a requirement, and the decision is usually left up to local bishops. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone authorized Star of the Sea’s move to only having altar boys.

Some churchgoers told KPIX they were unhappy with the change.

“Those who can or cannot serve based on gender, that is discriminatory,” parishioner Dunstan Alabanza said.

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