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Uproar as San Francisco church plans to

A decision by a?Catholic?church in San Francisco to ?phase out? girl altar servers has sparked outrage among its parishioners.

Father Joseph Illo, the pastor at Star of the Sea Church in?San Francisco, explained the decision, saying that girls may be a ?distraction? to male altar servers and that ?boys usually end up losing interest, because girls generally do a better job.?

In his?blog, he said the single sex programs were more ?effective? to ?develop the leadership potential? of boys. Also, the position does not make ?sense? for girls because it is training for the priesthood, a role girls will never qualify for because of their gender.

In an official?statement?on the policy, he says: ?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 (because God makes us worthy). The news media has portrayed our decision as discrimination. It is not. It is simply giving boys a role they can call their own, and more importantly recognizing the priesthood as a specifically fatherly charism rather than a motherly charism.?

Female altar servers were authorized about 20 years ago by the church?s canon law but the decision is ultimately left to the local bishop.

Some parishioners of the San Francisco church have left to join other parishes,?Huffington Postreports.

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

Grace Cooley, who acted as an altar server at Star of the Sea in the early 2000s, told Huffington Post: ?My initial reaction was one of disbelief. I'm having a hard time understanding why the presence of girls on the altar is all of a sudden unacceptable.?

?It was fascinating to see the inner workings of a mass, and I hate the thought of other girls missing out on that experience ? I definitely think this is a huge step backward.?

?The age when a student becomes eligible for altar serving is also around the same age that girls start to lose their confidence,?