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Reacting to the Vatican's decision to approve altar girls, spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls last week downplayed the matter, saying it was a "not a major innovation."

Not a major innovation?

Why, then, the 14 years since the U.S. bishops first made the request? Why the seeming Vatican timidity and fear? Efforts to down-play innovation appear aimed at feigning a kind of church consistency on all matters, as if any change is an admission of error and a sign of weakness. Properly viewed, change should be seen as a sign of life, of adaptability, a sign of strength.

Add to this the fear factors: Vatican fear of women and what they might represent in a church that really included them in decision-making. The timidity comes into focus.

And then the denial, an unwillingness to see things as they are, or as others see them. Said Navarro-Valls, the decision "has no connection with the church debate over ordained ministries." He could not force himself to say women's ordination. Navarro-Valls appears to protest too much.

Women's ordination is at the heart of the issue because it would institutionalize fundamental change, in decision-making and the way power is wielded in the church.

With news last week of slaughter in Rwanda and bombings in Bosnia, emphasis given to girls around the altar seems misplaced. To outsiders, such appears to be the case. However, to many Catholics who believe Christian justice and compassion is vital and has something to say to what is happening in Rwanda and Bosnia, then establishing consistency and justice within the Catholic church is a critical matter. Without it the gospels ring hollow.

Finally, there is parenting. For untold millions of Catholic parents who have attempted to raise their children as Catholics, the exclusion of their daughters from the altar has been nothing short of an impediment to faith. We have dried the tears.

For career churchmen, 14 years is but a moment in history. For many parents it has been every moment of their children's span of faith formation, every Sunday morning Mass before their daughters grew up - and left the faith. Echoing church teachings, we raised our children to quest for justice, to live for it, only to watch them reject the male-dominated liturgies of our faith.

The Vatican announcement is an acknowledgement that the Roman Catholic Church can adjust to prevailing values and cultures while knowing and enhancing the essentials of faith. It is too bad this time it took 14 years. Next time let us hope, we will be spared the pain this unnecessary procrastination has caused.
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Title Annotation:Vatican approves female Mass acolytes
Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 22, 1994
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