Boston Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley has decided to wash the feet of both women and men during this year's Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual, a year after angering Catholic women by washing only men's feet.
O'Malley's decision, which came after consulting with the Vatican, drew immediate praise from advocates for a greater role for women in the Catholic Church.
"I really applaud his flexibility and his willingness to interact with the Vatican over this and to reflect on the needs of the archdiocese," said Lisa Sowle Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College.
The foot-washing ritual imitates Jesus' washing of the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper and has been part of Holy Thursday liturgies since the 13th century.
The Roman Missal, a book containing liturgical instructions, uses a Latin word for man when describing participants in the foot-washing ceremony. But the U.S. bishops conference in 1987 declared that it had become customary for both sexes to participate in the ritual.
O'Malley's practice of washing only men's feet upset some Catholics last year, in part because Holy Thursday came just days after a homily in which O'Malley cited feminism as a factor making it difficult for the church to reach baby boomers.
O'Malley had said at the time that he did not wash the feet of women because "the liturgy is a teacher of our doctrine and should not be tampered with."