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Send the flock fleeing

Why do leaders of organized religion work so darn hard to alienate their flock• Specifically, I refer to the new draft rules by the Vatican that diss altar girls in favor of altar boys . Certainly, “estrangement” must be the new synonym for “religion.”

I am not Catholic. But I married one and we have raised our two girls in the Catholic church. And when I do attend services — at St. Winifred’s on the Castle Shannon-Mt. Lebanon border — I thoroughly appreciate the homily, especially if Father Jerry O’Shea is in the pulpit. Seldom is his pulpiteering bully, in the modern, politically pejorative sense; usually his dissertations on faith are thought-provoking and inspiring.

I am, however, a heathen Methodist.

As little boys in rural Ohio, my three brothers and I attended Sunday school and church every week. Between memorizing the Apostles’ Creed in confirmation class and crinkling the hard candy wrappers that earned the Mom Death Stare in the fourth-row center pew, my religious education and internship in Sunday hijinks was thorough.

But I distanced myself from the church after my mother died in the early 1970s. Not because of her death but because we discovered church leaders had diverted money earmarked for a scholarship fund. It was established by my dad in my mom’s memory to help pay the tuition of Methodist seminarians.

From that point forward, I’ve always been suspicious of organized religion, in a Menckenian sense. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as saying, as the late contrarian did, that “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”

But ornery Scotsman that I am, I would say my belief system somewhat resembles H.L. Mencken’s remark that, sometimes, “Religion is so absurd that it comes close to imbecility.”

Which brings me back to the altar of boys versus girls as servers in the Catholic church.

The Washington Post reports that the Vatican wants to crack down on “mass” Mass “abuses.” Girls could serve at the altar only when there is a “just pastoral cause.” Just what “just” is isn’t spelled out. But the proposal, not yet formally presented to Pope John Paul II, adds: “Priests should never feel obligated to seek out girls for this function.”

Smack!

Girls have been serving as altar “boys” for nearly a decade, with the Vatican’s blessing. As the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and editor of America magazine, told The Post, the change was made in 1994 because of “a whole generation of girls and women angry that they could not be servers at Mass.”

The proposed rules changes also include prohibitions against dancing and applause during Mass. Not for a particularly moving homily, as I once witnessed. Not after weddings or baptisms, which I thought was standard, and not even as an apropos send-off at the close of a funeral Mass.

With all due respect to the crowd at the Holy See, you’re all sounding like a bunch of old Southern Baptists to me.

Indeed, rules are important to the integrity and success of any organization, including religion. But inane rules such as these — at a time of great struggle within the Catholic church, at a time when the flock is fleeing — can lead only to mocking risibility and an ever more-rapid rush to the exits.

A heathen Methodist’s advice to the pope• See the light.


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