Bp. Dewayne (D. Venice): male feet only

Appropos the liturgical abuse that regularly occurs on Holy Thursday in so many places… this is in from the Herald Tribune in Florida.

His Excellency Most Rev. Frank Dewayne of the Diocese of Venice in Florida has told priests that if they are going to wash feet, they must be male feet.

My emphases and comments.

A gender debate on foot washing

By Todd Ruger

Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 29, 2010 at 11:14 p.m.

SARASOTA COUNTY – In a move that brings a national debate home to Southwest Florida Catholic churches, Bishop Frank Dewane has reminded priests that only men should have their feet washed during a pre-Easter ceremony.

Many Catholic priests in Southwest Florida have customarily [Perhaps they also want to claim it is okay because it is a "custom".  But it is contrary to the Church’s repeated rubrics and clarifications.] washed the feet of male and female parishioners on the Thursday before Easter in a symbol of humbly serving others.

Dewane, who became bishop in 2006, has garnered a reputation for bringing a more hands-on and conservative interpretation of church rules than his predecessor to his role as shepherd of 250,000 Catholics in Southwest Florida.

In the past, he has banned speakers on abortion from his churches, and last month he threatened to ex-communicate Catholics who went to a ceremony to install women as priests[Did he?  Good for him!]

Dewane sent his "Rules of the Road" [is that what it is really called?] letter to churches on Friday for the series of Masses and events leading up to Easter, and it included the foot washing clarification, the diocese said.

"The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve.’ This tradition should be maintained," the letter read, quoting church rules.

The letter goes on to explain that women were included once, [and should not have been] but that was a special case and does not indicate a change in policy.

In response, some priests called the bishop with concerns about having to change their church’s ritual and exclude women, the diocese said.  [I bet they did!]

Dewane’s letter was sent in response to questions about church policy on the washing of feet, and was not meant as an edict "from on high," diocese spokesman Bob Reddy said[It is just a clarification of what has already come from on REALLY High.]
"It does not tell them they have to use men only, this week or ever," Reddy said. "It’s just saying, priests want to know what the rules are, this is what the rules are."  [HUH?   Is there a special school that diocesan spokesmen go to for this?]

The bishop’s letter further fuels an ongoing national controversy over the inclusion of women in the foot-washing ceremony.

[Now… pay attention to this profoundly blinkered view of the issue, noting especially the enormous winged canard…] "I don’t know why men’s feet are more worthy than women’s," said Alice Campanella of Voice of The Faithful in Boston, [embarrassing, isn’t it?] where Archbishop Sean O’Malley upset many Catholic women in 2005 by inviting only men to participate in the Holy Thursday ritual[Perhaps upset many women who are less than clear about their Catholic identity?  I am sure it wasn’t because the Cardinal was rude about it.  I bet he bent over backward in pretzel-like twists to be kind about it.]

The church rules state that the priest will pour water on the feet of "men who have been chosen" [viri selecti] and then dry them, an imitation of Jesus’s washing of the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.

However, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledges that it is customary in many places to invite men and women to be participants.  [That doesn’t make it okay to do.]

The Vatican told O’Malley he could wash women’s feet, as is the practice of many priests, the Boston Globe reported at the time.  [I doubt that permission has been reiterated, however.  And it was local, and for him.  No?]

Dewane’s letter to his priests Friday referenced that decision, but added that "it was for a particular case and does not represent a change." [Exactly.]

"This letter is not saying they can’t," Reddy said. "He said, if I wanted only men, I would state ‘therefore, I want only men.’"  [HUH?]

The role of women in church practices has been a constant issue for the Catholic church. Polls show that about two-thirds of U.S. Catholics believe women should be ordained, an increase of 20 percent over similar polls in the 1980s[Sorry.]

In a Pew Research Center survey, the treatment of women in the church was cited by 39 percent of former Catholics as part of the reason they left[Thus putting their souls in peril of eternal separation from God.]

Attempts to reach several local priests and officials at local churches for comment were unsuccessful.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mark01 says:

    And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

    “He’s not saying don’t eat of the fruit of good an evil,” Reddy said, “He’s just saying that the rules are don’t eat of the fruit of good and evil.”

  2. TJerome says:

    How horrible. The humanity of it all. A Catholic bishop acting, like, well, a Catholic bishop. What’s next? The Pope insisting that Jesus was the Son of God? I guess for the secular media it’s true that the “only good Catholic, is a bad Catholic.”

  3. KAS says:

    Every year this is done half women half men in our parish and it really bothers me how the clear theology is muddied by this liturgical abuse.

  4. DavidJ says:

    Apparently, we’ve found the densest thing known to man….

  5. Daniel Latinus says:

    Doesn’t anybody see how unseemly it is for a celibate male to be handling the feet and legs of girls and women?

    From what I understand, even those Protestant denominations that believe foot-washing is a sacrament segregate the sexes for the ceremony.

    Maybe what we need is a return to common sense.

  6. Sandy says:

    The priests and bishops who include women in this ceremony probably ignore speaking of the significance of Holy Thursday at that Mass – the institution of the Priesthood (and the Eucharist)! It always makes me sad to see these aspects omitted; to me that’s what Holy Thursday is all about.

  7. Bornacatholic says:

    Bishop DeWayne is a Good Bishop…


    I get to go to a Sung Mass here every other Sunday

  8. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    Can anyone speak to the custom at the Cathedral in their diocese/archdiocese? I’m from Boston, so it goes without saying… but I’m wondering what other bishops and cardinals do personally at the services.

  9. lofstrr says:

    “I don’t know why men’s feet are more worthy than women’s,”

    That is the whole problem. The perception that those being washed are being served rather than being called to service. And that is also the problem behind so much of the call to allow women to be ordained. Why? certainly she can do as well, certainly she is as worthy as a man. Wrong. No one is worthy, and it is precisely those who claim it as their right who should be kept the furthest from it.

  10. Athelstan says:

    His Excellency also insisted that a Yoga practice being held visible to the nave and sanctuary of one parish church in Ft. Myers be halted immediately (usual gnashing of teeth in the local media ensued). Likewise, he has also been a good friend of the traditional liturgy in his diocese, even taking on and overcoming billionaire Ave Maria founder Tom Monaghan to ensure regular celebration of the traditional rite on campus.

    I’d call him the best bishop in Florida right now. And Florida needed him.

  11. lofstrr says:

    Only marginally related. In 2008, when I came into the Church. I was chosen to have my feet washed. Along with 2 other men, 3 women, 3 boys, and 3 girls. /sarcasm It was so wonderfully inclusive. /sarcasm

    For some reason the boys were first in line and then the women, the girls then the men. But at the last minute the RCIA director moved me to the front of the line to lead the way since she figured the boys might get lost. I had no idea what to do since I had never even seen this kind of a mass before but I figured I could fake it. We successfully stumbled though the process and yes, nylons and tights were involved. Not great planning there.

    But the really interesting thing was what happened near the end. When Our Lord was being processed out. For most (shamefully) people were just standing. Our church burned down the year before so we were in the gym and there were no kneelers so even during masses there was precious little kneeling anyway.

    But a few people kneeled and since we were on the front row on one side it seemed only appropriate and even natural to kneel as Our Lord was carried by. So I kneeled. The interesting thing was that the three little boys next to me also hit the floor. And I don’t mean that they looked around and wondered if they should. They were kneeling with in 2 seconds of me. They were watching. I didn’t look at them before hand. I didn’t give any indication that they should follow. They simply did. And as I glanced over at them I caught the first woman in line, after the third boy, looking at them kind of shocked. She is a single mother and she was entering the Church with her 8 year old son, who was the third boy in that line, now kneeling right next to her.

    He didn’t watch to see what his mother did. He didn’t do what his mother did. He followed the led of some man in front of him that he didn’t even know. Boys follow men. It is how they learn how to be men. They are hungry for an example so what you do, someone is probably watching.

  12. lofstrr says:

    That should be “watch what you do, ” there at the end.

  13. pvmkmyer says:

    I’d almost be happy if my parish, St. Philip’s in Pasadena, CA, just had 12 men and women. We now open up the rite to anyone who wants to, so we all get to wash one another’s feet. It completely disrupts the Mass and goes on for an interminable period of time. Just another example of the focus on the congregation rather than Christ’s sacrifice on the altar.

  14. Nora says:

    Our pastor has a brilliant solution to the foot washing issue. He washes the feet of the 12 oldest boys in the Senior Boys Service League (high school age altar servers). No jockeying among male parishioners to get asked; a special time for the servers which they look forward to being old enough to participate in.

  15. my kidz mom says:

    Still waiting for this to change; alas, not this year: “…Recognizing the support of the USCCB and in keeping with the tradition of the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Olmsted allows for the washing of women’s and children’s feet…”

  16. Elly says:

    lofstrr- thank you for sharing that story.


  17. eyeclinic says:

    Visiting here in St. Augustine. We had sex neutral washing of feet. Mass was celebrated with 3 priests, 6 deacons. I was impressed! Holy Communion was distributed by 3 priests and 22(count ’em) EMoHC’s, while the deacons sat and watched. Less than 300 in attendance by my estimate. No rabbit hole intended!

  18. marthawrites says:

    At tonight’s Mass six males and six females each had one foot washed. The pastor announced that this year’s group represented the “increasingly ethnically diverse” population of our huge parish. One of the females, a teenager, wore shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops. She was diverse only in her inappropriate mode of dress. Beforehand, after a very fine homily on the Eucharist, the pastor said, “Actually, we won’t be washing their feet. We’ll just pour water over them and tickle them a bit.” Then he said, “Don’t believe everything I say.” So the window of opportunity to instruct on the significance of this ritual was lost for another year! Sigh…

  19. TomW says:

    I’m sorry to say that at our Mass, there were six males and six females that each had one foot washed. The chosen were comprised of second graders making their fist Holy Communion and those who just received their Confirmation.

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    Yes, lofstrr, thanks for the story.

    Sometimes it’s good just to step out of where you are comfortable and just kneel through the proper parts of a mass that needs it, even if you have to do it alone. Consider it evangelism. People learn by watching.

    Maybe it will help some of these places get used to the new translations easier when they come. I intend to be out there using the right words at several parishes, even if I’m the only one smiling and making the right replies.

    Brick by brick.

  21. GordonB says:

    Women and children’s feet were washed during our Holy Thursday Mass…

  22. catholicmidwest says:

    I can handle misbehavior of laypeople a lot better than hijacks by the clergy. I find that really, really difficult. Foot-washing is one of those clerical hijacks. What do you do while this goes on–get out a paperback book? Make that forgotten phone-call? Play solitaire? Get out your knitting?

    Maybe I should just take a rosary or a bible and work on that, huh?

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    Foot-washing, per se, isn’t a clerical hijack, of course. It’s just the way it’s usually carried out that’s the problem. And I’ve never seen a time when it didn’t overshadow the institution of the Eucharist. Never.

    There’s a reason for that: People focus on physical actions in an animal way. In the same way, there are a lot of people who think hand-shaking is highly symbolic and important in Mass—some people even think it’s more important than Holy Communion. Shocking but true. It’s amazing that people who view this year after year don’t comprehend this. OR maybe they do, who knows?

  24. liz says:

    The mass at my parish tonight had women and children’s feet washed. I kept thinking that many of these “apostles” looked so very… Female! I’m a recent convert and I don’t have a memory of anything different in the Church but it seems so contrary to common sense. I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable, especially b/c of my young ones growing up and seeing this as the norm and the resulting danger of this seeming “right”.

  25. catholicmidwest says:

    Hang in there, Liz. I’m a convert too. You have to always remember to keep the main thing the main thing. I’m celebrating my 25th anniversary as a Catholic this year!

  26. maynardus says:

    “Massachusetts Catholic” et al:

    Got a surprise this evening when I arrived at the Cathedral in Boston to attend the Holy Thursday T.L.M. (in the lower church). The celebrant, who is a friend, had just come from dinner with Cardinal O’Malley and told me that H.E. was going to wash the feet of twelve priests this year! Since the Cardinal’s Mass was of course in the main church “upstairs” I cannot confirm that it actually happenned, but if so, good for him!

  27. Gwen says:

    I just returned home from Mass at our cathedral; the celbrant was the bishop. He washed the feet of six men, three women, and three children (all were people to be baptized Easter Vigil). It made me very uneasy. It was done reverently and did not overshadow the Liturgy of the Eucharist. He did speak in his homily about the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist.

    Other than that, the Mass was beautiful. The bishop sang many of the prayers, some in Latin, some in Spanish, some in English. He also led the procession of the Eucharist into a downstairs chapel and led a very reverent Benediction.

    Boy does he like incense!

  28. Mrs. Bear says:

    It is optional. Our pastor no longer includes it – because the last time he asked 12 men he had a lot of those inclusive type folks’ knickers in a knot.

    Our pastor did have a bunch of magnets & buttons in the vestibule after mass tonight – Oremus Pro Pontifice.

  29. Margaret says:

    A bit maddening– our Holy Thursday Mass, which was otherwise by the book, not only featured at least 50% women getting their feet washed. The real kicker was the priests washed the first two peoples’ feet, then got up. The people with washed feet washed the next two peoples’ feet. And so on, and so on… Yes, perhaps a lovely generic example of service. But we precisely need people to understand with crystal clarity that the role of the priest is at its core a role of service. I think all the nutty women-priest types are proceeding from the false assumption that the Catholic priesthood is about power and bossing people around, and don’t see (or choose to ignore) the Christ-like, deeply humble service aspect of it. I think adding women to the foot washing mix obscures things, but sharing the washing duties obscures things even further… Sigh.

  30. mfg says:

    As usual on Holy Thursday our pastor washed the feet of twelve young men. How’s that for a replication of Christ washing the feet of his twelve apostles. Love liturgically correct. That’s why I’m there.

  31. Norah says:

    viri = adult males not youths not children

    The washing is optional as is the sign of peace.

  32. moon1234 says:

    We had the washing of the feet of MEN at our tridentine Holy Thursday Mass. Father washed the feet of all the men. There was an e-mail that went out from Father asking for volunteers of all ADULT MEN, (emphasis was added by Father) for the washing of the feet.

    It was a wonderful Mass with an outside procession of the blessed sacrament on the way to the altar of repose while everyone sang the Pange Lingua. Once back inside the church at the altar of repose we sang the Tantum Ergo. Just a wonderful day. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

    After Mass we had the stripping of the Altars while father sang the Antiphons. There is so much wonderful symbolism in this Mass. It is so hard to believe that a priest would want it any other way. Such a wonderful teaching moment.

  33. Joan M says:

    Holy Thursday is always a trial for me. It is one of the reasons that I do not attend my geographical parish (the church is so close that, if I was to scale the wall at the bottom of my yard I would be in the church grounds!). That church is small – crowded with 250 people in it, and the altar is in the center of the church, with seating on wither side of it. even at the back of the church you are too close to the action not to feel assaulted by abuses.

    So, I attend the next parish – a 10 minute drive away. While not perfect, it is easier on my nerves!! My husband and I usually sit about 4 or 5 pews from the back of the church, so that we will not be overwhelmed by anything untoward that happens.

    I realized that there would, once again, be women included in the foot washing when I heard a couple of the “green cardigan brigade” trying to persuade a couple of women to sit up front so as to be included in this. As happened in the past few years, those having their feet washed do not go up into the Sanctuary, but sit at the end of a pew (since there are about 20 pews in each aisle in the front half of the church, there is one every 2 or 3 pews on the left and also on the right of the center aisle.

    There were about 4 altar servers with Father as they moved to each person to be washed, so it was difficult for most people to see what was being done, or who was getting washed, so I have no idea what the break-down was, and I do not want to know. I was ready with my response, should I have been approached. As my response would probably have resulted in shock I can only believe that the guardian angels were at work!! (I did intend to be low-key and polite, but my first words would likely have been “under no circumstances” …..

    Sigh. I truly wish all priests would find the faith and courage to be totally faithful and only do and say what the Church wants them to do and say.

  34. Nora says:

    Norah, my understanding of vir is a denotation of male and a connotation of sexual potency, i.e. post puberty. Chronology is not the factor as it is with driving, drinking or voting age as I understand it. Think “virile” as an English derivative.

  35. Scelata says:

    I was fortunate in my proximity last night to a celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, (not even in my own diocese, so it was a rare blessing,) in which the homilist marveled and thanked the Almighty, wondering if any other mere parish church would be able to field such selecti on Maundy Thursday: 6 priests and 6 young men in formation.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  36. scaron says:

    Diocese of Albany: Men and Women, boys and girls at my church. On the way to Mass I was listening to Holy Thursday Mass from St. Patricks on “The Catholic Channel” on Sirius Satellite Radio. The announcer stated that ABp. Dolan was washing the feet of “people selected to represent the entire community”. Set me wondering. However, at one point, I think he said, half under his breath, “he is now washing the men’s feet.” So I wonder, men only? Anybody know?

  37. Geoffrey says:

    “Can anyone speak to the custom at the Cathedral in their diocese/archdiocese?”

    Here in my California diocese, it is a Mandatum “free for all”. At the parish I attended last night, 12 chairs are set up. Men and women sit there, elect and candidates for the Easter Sacraments. The pastor washed their feet, who used the word “custom” for what follows.

    Then the elect and candidates stood and their sponsors took the seats and had their feet washed by the elect/candidates. Then the chairs were opened for anyone in the congregation who wanted to take part, with the condition that if your foot is washed, you must wash a foot, etc. Oh, and the priests and deacons also took part… washing and being washed… yes, I know…

  38. laurazim says:

    Diocese of Madison–Bishop Morlino washed the feet of 12 seminarians, God love them. We are so blessed.

  39. pvmkmyer next year you should go to St Therese in Alhambra (my parish) 12 men, no Liturgical shananigans, reverence, many people kneeling for Communion,

    My parish 12 adult men were chosen, no craziness, no shananigans, just a reverent Mass in the vernacular with no ab libs whatsoever. I was blessed to be able to serve yesterday’s Mass

  40. ikseret says:

    At St. John and Paul’s in Larchmont, NY
    6 Women’s feet were washed by a priest who used to work in the nunciature with Archbishop Sambi.
    Liturgical rot runs deep.

    PS He also equated the prsence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist with His presence in human beings without making the important distinction of substantially different presences.

  41. phyllis says:

    Worcester Diocese in Massachusetts
    Thanks for informing us as I didn’t know this one and frankly had never thought about it. Every year we watch our parish priest wash the feet of males and females of all ages. Perhaps my priest isn’t aware of the rules either! Very sad.

    It’s a topic for another poll Father!

  42. Gail F says:

    Here’s how it’s done on our parish: Anyone who wants to have his/her feet washed is invited to come forward. There are three chairs and three bowls of water. Three people sit in the chairs. Members of parish council and the priest kneel and wash their feet (just one foot, not both). Then the people in the chairs get up, the people who washed the feet go stand to the side, and the next three people sit in the chairs. The people who just had their feet washed kneel and wash the new people’s feet, then they leave and the people in the chairs wash the next people’s feet… etc., until the last people come for each chair — then the original foot washers come back to the chairs and have THEIR feet washed, after which they put the bowls and towels away. It’s actually quite moving and an effective symbol of our willingness to serve each other. But is it a symbol of Christ washing the disciples’ feet? Ah, THAT’S a different question!

  43. RichardR says:

    Is it important that they be young, strong, virile men/boys? Smooth skin,big eyes, perhaps a bit naive, innocent, supple, willing…?

    Or that we remember that God was telling us that He was willing to stoop, like a slave, to care for those who love Him?

    I have been criticized on this site before but it is my observation that Jesus (the Son of God, God incarnate, God with us) kept saying to the Pharisees that the Sabbath (rules) were made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

  44. catholicmidwest says:

    Well, I don’t doubt that you have been criticized before with an attitude like that, RichardR, you so eagerly taking the part of Christ and calling us Pharisees and all that.

    Your description of those strong, virile boys is a bit too chillingly slimy for me. Gee I wonder why?

  45. Mrs. O says:

    There were men, women and children at ours.
    The DRE, female, was to help the priest in washing the feet. He poured, she dried.
    Sometimes I am thankful to sit all the way in back so the kids can’t see.
    I had heard this can be omitted from Holy Thurday’s service.
    I have yet to see priests who were knowledgeable or had the desire NOT to wash everyone’s feet.

  46. frjim4321 says:

    I must say I am not a fan of washing feet of catechumens of either sex. I don’t see the point of including the uniniated in a liturgical role – other that that of participating in the Triduum as elect catechumens. Being one of the elect, or a neophyte, is a big enough role in itself.

    I don’t know what the bishop did at the cathedral, but I doubt there are many parishes in this diocese who include only adult males.

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