ATLANTA — Women will not be allowed to participate in Holy Thursday foot-washing rituals at Roman Catholic churches here, Archbishop John F. Donoghue said in a letter to the archdiocese's priests.
Donoghue told the priests that only 12 men at each parish should be selected for the ritual, which represents Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.
Donoghue, his staff and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops refused to comment on the issue Tuesday.
However, the conference's website states: "It has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite of recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the church and to the world."
Catholic churches in Atlanta, where Donoghue has been in charge since 1993, have included women in the foot-washing rite for years.
Several women said they plan a protest at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, where the archbishop will preside over Holy Thursday Mass.
"We'll stand in solidarity, and we'll sing and we'll pray," said Lalor Cadley, who organizes Catholic retreats and workshops.
Donoghue sparked a similar protest 15 years ago when he banned women from foot-washing in Charlotte, N.C.
Several priests in Atlanta did not immediately return messages left at their offices by Associated Press requesting comment on the issue.
Priests are bound by a vow of obedience to follow their archbishop's orders and generally are prohibited from openly criticizing those orders.
"A shepherd who cares only for the rams won't have a flock for very long," said Kathleen Pruitt of Bremen, Ga., who attends several Catholic churches in the area.