PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent
AN 80-YEAR-OLD woman is organising a one-day boycott of Sunday Mass “by the faithful women of Ireland” next month.
Jennifer Sleeman from Clonakilty in Cork said she wants “to let the Vatican and the Irish church know that women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens”.
She has called on the Catholic women of Ireland to “join your sisters on Sunday, September 26th. On that one day boycott Mass. Stay at home and pray for change. We are the majority. We may have been protesting individually but unremarked on, but together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews, will be noticed”.
She said: “Whatever change you long for, recognition, ordination, the end of celibacy, which is another means of keeping women out, join with your sisters and let the hierarchy know by your absence that the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over.”
She told The Irish Times she had chosen the date of September 26th as her 81st birthday was three days previously, on the 23rd.
She said she looks at her “children and grandchildren and see no future for the Catholic Church. Some of the grandchildren go through the rites of sacraments but seldom, if ever, visit a church afterwards. Some of my children are actively looking for a meaningful spiritual life but they do not find it in the Catholic Church.” But, she said, “I must except my eldest son who is a monk in Glenstal Abbey, another place that helps me keep some shreds of faith.”
She noted her son, Fr Simon, was supportive of her in her action.
Over recent Sundays, Ms Sleeman had been to the Church of Ireland in Clonakilty, to Mass in Knocknaheeney, and back to the Catholic Church in Clonakilty. “I felt so welcome in the first two and just wondered what I was doing in ‘my own church’ [Clonakilty],” she said. “Since then I have been to the celebration of the Methodist Church’s 150 years in Clonakilty, another joyful and welcoming occasion.”
A former Presbyterian who converted to Catholicism 54 years ago, she said: “I am not a cradle Catholic. I chose to join as an adult helped by meeting a wonderful priest . . . but I now wonder did I do the right thing?” She has found that “somehow I have grown up but the church has not”.
The sexual abuse scandals “horrified me. I find I belong to an organisation that seems caught in a time warp, run by old celibate men divorced from the realities of life, with a lonely priesthood struggling with the burden of celibacy where rules and regulations have more weight than the original message of community and love”.
Fair play to her, she reminds me of my own Grandmother who with the women’s solidarity walked out of the church and boycotted a priest in their parish who refused confession to a woman who was not sleeping with her husband under drs orders as another pregnancy too soon was too dangerous to her health.
They stayed away from the church and mass until he was moved. Those who still have faith need to take back their church, for as their lord and saviour said “where ever two or 3 are gathered I am there”. The Catholic church in Ireland needs change it as to come from the laity and it that means it’s no longer the Roman Catholic Church and it goes back to being Celtic Catholicism as it was before then that surely can only be a good thing.