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Peeved Parishioners Leaving SF Catholic Church Over Ban On Girls As Altar Servers

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A Bay Area church is now under fire over a controversial new policy saying only boys can be altar servers.

The new practice is making waves at the century old church Star of the Sea. Since the '70s, they've used altar girls during masses.

The well-known Richmond District church also has a school serving about 230 kids. When the new priest banned girls from being altar servers, it generated outrage among parents and parishioners alike. The priest admits some parishioners even left the church.

"It's disturbing," said churchgoer Connie Porciuncula.

Star of the Sea School parent Tara Widmer agrees. "They're definitely taking a step in the wrong direction," she said.

Father Joseph Illo took over five months ago and decided to train only boys to be altar servers. He said he has no choice but to exclude girls because the future of the church is at stake.

"The specifics of serving at the altar is a priestly function," Illo said. "And the Catholic church does not ordain women."

But many parishioners and parents criticize the new practice saying it sends the wrong message.

"It just kind of makes me feel that I'm not good enough because I'm a girl," said a 7th grader at the school who wishes to stay anonymous.

Some have left this church, others are threatening to leave.

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

Illo said he believes the new practice will help promote priesthood. He admits some people have left, but thinks this decision will actually bring in more parishioners.

"We have seen an overall increase in numbers and the income is up," Illo said.

But Alabanza disagrees. "If that's their argument," he said, "that's very shallow."

Shallow, and some say, discriminatory.

"I feel kind of insulted," the 7th grade student said.

Illo said he did get permission from the San Francisco Archbishop to train only boys to be altar servers. KPIX 5 found out so far this policy only applies to the Star of Sea Church.

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