I don't often address the same topic in consecutive blog posts. Every now and then, however, an issue arises which is deserving of such attention. The "altar girl scandal" at Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco is one of those issues. The more I think about it, and the more I discuss the situation with others, the more I realize that these types of dictatorial decisions by clergy will only continue to happen if we, meaning those of us who fall into the "mere lay people" category, allow them to happen.
The pre-Vatican II passivity of the average parishioner, one which has embraced a "Yes, Father,…. whatever you say, Father" mentality, must end. It's time to compassionately remove the clergy from the pedestals upon which many Catholics have place them, and upon which many clergy have placed themselves. Priests are ministers, not Messiahs. Their role as an ordained minister of God is to serve the People of God, not to impose their personal preferences on entire communities of people.
I'm well aware that the Catholic Church is not a democracy, but that doesn't mean the laity are powerless to affect change. In fact, the laity are powerful beyond understanding. It seems that most parishioners feel powerless to challenge the sometimes moronic dictates of a pastor. And some pastors seem to believe that their preferences are sacrosanct. Perhaps the time has come for the people in the pew to cast their ballots. How do we do this? With our checkbooks, of course!
Yes, money talks. It's a sad reality, but it's absolutely true. Catholic parishes are dependent upon the generosity of parishioners for the financial stability of the parish. I believe in the concept of stewardship. I believe in supporting one's parish. I also believe in letting arrogant members of the clergy know that we are not as uninformed as they might think -- and that we have a choice whether or not to financially support a parish governed by someone who makes it clear that he has no respect for a significant segment of the parish population.
So Father Joseph Illo at Star of the Sea Parish thinks he can unilaterally decide that girls are not welcome to serve the parish community as altar servers? Well, he's right. Pastors do seem to have such authority,… unfortunately. But that does not leave the Star of the Sea Parish Community powerless. Those who attend this parish should send a clear message to Fr. Illo... with their checkbooks. If they are in the practice of using Sunday envelopes, they should write a check each week for exactly 2¢. And since Archbishop Cordileone apparently approved Fr. Illo's shortsighted decision, perhaps all parishioners in the Archdiocese of San Francisco should do the same for the bishop's annual appeal. And, of course, the 2¢ donation would be most effective if accompanied by a brief note explaining one's reason for the minuscule amount of the donation.
Money talks! The laity, perhaps the most informed and well-educated laity in the history of the Catholic Church, can and must let their voices be heard. As Pope Paul VI reminded us in his 1971 encyclical Octogesima Adveniens, we are all called to action. We are the Church!