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Bishops Extend Foot Washing Ritual To Women

March 4, 1987 GMT

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A ruling by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops permitting women to take part in Holy Thursday foot-washing was praised by lay women, nuns and priests who defied an order last year banning them from the ritual.

″I feel real good that the women who were included at our parish last year will also be included this year,″ said the Rev. Jack O’Malley of St. Mary Church in Pittsburgh, who defied the order and washed women’s feet in last year’s service.

″Women are probably doing most of the ministries in the churches and the washing of feet is so symbolic of service,″ he said Tuesday.

Pittsburgh Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua banned women in last year’s rituals because he said church law mentions only men in connection with the rite, which recreates Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples. Women had been included in the ritual here and in many other dioceses for years.

But as protest over his decision swelled, Bevilacqua asked the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy to clarify the law’s language.

The committee recently concluded, in part, that the Holy Thursday liturgy ″depicts Jesus as ‘Teacher and Lord’ who humbly serves his disciples by performing this extraordinary gesture.″

In a letter Bevilacqua wrote to pastors Monday, he said ″Catholic communities may wish to develop other forms or gestures which will express the concept of universal Christian service and at the same time allow for the participation of all the members of the community.″