In a recent interview with the New Emangelization Project, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke stated that the inclusion of altar girls reduces the participation rates of boys which ultimately reduces vocations to the priesthood.

Cardinal Burke also suggested that among the complex set of reasons for the Catholic “man-crisis”, radical feminism has had a corrosive effect on society and the Church, pitting women against men.

While His Eminence’s comments about the negative impact of radical feminism (note, please, the modifier: radical.  His Eminence said nothing about the suppression of legitimate aspirations of women) represented less that 1/5 of His Eminence’s interview, a large portion of the response has distorted and sought to denigrate the Cardinal for misogyny.

Ironically, the radical feminist reaction that distorted, confused, misinterpreted, slandered and lied about His Eminence’s comments, prove his point:  Radical feminism is corrosive in the world and on the Church.

What’s been lacking from much of the reporting has been both charity and reason.  A charitable and reasonable person, a person not blinded by their ideology, can actually assess statements such as the Cardinal has said for its accuracy.  Charity gives the benefit of a doubt, with gentleness and kindness, without compromising a healthy skepticism.  Reason allows an honest and objective engagement in what is actually being stated and applies facts, analysis and logic to assess a point of view.

So, charitably, what can reason tell us about the impact of altar girls on boys and priestly vocations?

Brian Williams over at the Liturgy Guy has done a good job at pulling together an analysis about the impact of altar girls on the participation of boys in altar service and how altar service for young men are linked to vocations.  To be clear, this is not the be-all, end-all analysis, but it is what is available now.  Not opinion, not hysteria, but facts and analysis. The application of reason.

Side note: open invitation to those who can charitably offer other facts/analysis.

Top line according to the Liturgy Guy?:  Cardinal Burke is right: Altar Girls do reduce Priestly vocations.

Here’s what the “LiturgyGuy” has to say (by the way, Liturgy Guy, congrats for using both charity and reason to make your points):

Next year will mark twenty years since the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments formally permitted girls to serve the altar at Mass. There are few topics which can generate as much discussion and debate as this one. 

For years the faithful have been told that altar girls do not negatively impact priestly vocations. Indeed, far to many have approached this simply as a matter of “gender-equality” for young girls. Some even argue that the Church has spoken and it is time to accept this decision and move on. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Born Out of Dissent

First we need to clarify that this is strictly a discussion of Church discipline and not an issue of doctrine. As with several other contemporary crisis, the practice of girls serving the altar was born out of dissent. Despite clarifying statements from Rome in both 1970 and again 1980 the liturgical abuse still continued. With the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983 the opportunity for change presented itself.

From the point of view of liturgical law, an official interpretation of Canon 230, Paragraph 2, of the Code of Canon law…led to a 1994 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments clarifying that girls may serve at the altar. But bishops are not bound to permit them to do so…
(Zenit News Agency. “Female Altar Servers”. 3 February 2004)

It is also important to note, however, that the same 1994 letter from the Congregation also stated that:

(T)he Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations.
Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.

Much like the excessive use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, which I have blogged about previously, it is astonishing just how quickly altar girls serving at Mass became the norm. To date only the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska has never implemented the use of altar girls at Mass in the United States.

Priestly Vocations

Regardless of what anyone contends this is not an issue of gender equality. Indeed, no one has a right to serve at the Mass. As a father of five, four of whom are girls, the equality argument rings hollow to me. To discuss altar girls under the banner of equality is to impose a false, secular, notion of participation into the sacred and eternal realm of the liturgy. We all participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, regardless of what our role is or isn’t.

There are two vitally important questions that we need to be asking:

First, shouldn’t we do all that we can to assist young men discern a possible calling to the priesthood? 

Secondly, if we determine that young men are more likely to discern a vocation to the priesthood by being an altar server, shouldn’t we seek to increase their participation?

See the balance of the article here.

See here if you have an interest to read more about the negative impacts on vocations.