Altar servers in recent times in Catholic Masses have been allowed to be girls. This has created in many parishes, a reluctance by boys to altar serve as it's seen to be a girly activity. I have sons who altar serve and it's only been since we've moved to a parish Mass that has a tradition of mostly male servers that they wanted to altar serve.
Now, when the new Catholic Archbishop in Tasmania, Julian Porteous, is seeking to reverse the trend back to boys only past primary school age, the state government considers that turning away teenage girls from altar service at Catholic Masses might be discriminatory and therefore potentially not allowed.
"Altar servers, generally speaking, are primary school age, around that age, and so there's always been a tradition of having altar boys around that age and so girls can also be at that age," he said.
"When you move into high school I think it's more appropriate that we have men, young men who are serving on the altar."
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference says there's no national policy on altar servers.
But Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner is suggesting the Archbishop's position on women as alter servers may not comply with the Act.
Robin Banks says there is an exception to the Act that allows religious institutions to discriminate based on gender but it may not apply in this case.
"There's a defence that says a religious institution can discriminate on the basis of gender if it's required by the doctrines of the religion," Ms Banks said.
"It gets down to the question of is it consistent with the doctrines of the religion to exclude people on the basis of gender. If it's not then the exception wouldn't apply."
Altar service is part of the way for boys and young men to discern whether or not they might have a vocation to the priesthood. A male only priesthood is consistent with the doctrines of Catholicism, and so is the Bishop's prerogative as to whether or not he allows female servers. If the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner tries to take on the Catholic Church on this issue, she'll have a fight on her hands, which she will lose.
Related link: New Archbishop says no to women in altar role ~ Australian Broadcasting Corporation