Boycotting Mass: Can Monk’s Mother’s Action Make a Difference?

image The ‘Most Read’ story in the online version of today’s Irish Times is ‘Monk’s Mother Calls on Women to Join One Day Boycott of Mass.’ It reports that 80-year-old Jennifer Sleeman from Clonakilty, Co. Cork, is calling on women throughout Ireland to skip church on Sunday, September 26, in protest at the Vatican’s treatment of women and the handling of the clerical sex abuse scandals.

Last month, the Vatican issued new guidelines which declared that people who attempt to ordinate women are to be treated according to the same procedures as those accused of sexual abuse.

It seems to be insults like that which have pushed Mrs. Sleeman, a former Presbyterian whose son Simon is a Benedictine monk in Glenstal Abbey in Co. Limerick, to this point.

The popularity of the story on the Irish Times webpage indicates that Mrs. Sleeman’s action resonates with people. But can it make any difference?

Sleeman notes that except for Simon, her children and grandchildren are drifting away from the Catholic Church. She told the Irish Times that she has recently attended services in Glenstal Abbey, and local Church of Ireland and Methodist congregations, and feels much more at home there.

But something makes her want to stick with the Catholic Church, which she joined 54 years ago. As she told the Irish Independent,

"I have felt that a lot of women are angry. They have been doing their own way of protesting. It all seems so spread around and it would be great if we could concentrate all this so it just came to me. I’m beginning to wonder is there a holy spirit and did it put the idea into my head?"

The clerics and parishioners who participated in the joint Eucharistic celebration in Drogheda a few years ago probably also felt that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. But they were condemned by the hierarchies of their churches.

Mrs. Sleeman’s rallying cry won’t be popular among the hierarchy either, although she told the Irish Independent that her son Simon thinks that what she is doing is ‘brilliant.’

This once again highlights the gap between laypeople and radical clergy, and the Catholic Church’s unresponsive hierarchies in the Vatican and in the upper echelons of the Irish Catholic Church.

Boycotting to gain the hierarchy’s attention may seem like a drastic step. But at the end of the day it’s not as drastic as the thousands of small steps of the formerly faithful, whose decisions to stop attending mass altogether amount to what is a more far-reaching, significant and perhaps permanent boycott.

I don’t think Mrs. Sleeman’s actions will make much of a dent on the consciousnesses of the Catholic hierarchy.

But she could get through to the Irish Catholics who have been on a long-term boycott of their church. They just might be curious enough to ask what keeps Mrs. Sleeman going back the other Sundays in the year.

(Photo sourced on flickr photosharing, by freefotouk)

21 Responses to Boycotting Mass: Can Monk’s Mother’s Action Make a Difference?

  1. Margaret Lyng August 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Jennifer,
    I am so thrilled that you are making a stand for women.
    I have felt so angry at the way we women have been treated and are still been treated by the Vatican and by most of the Irish bishops and priests. Their silence after the Vatican issued new guidlines speaks volumes to me.
    So, you have my full support for the 26th Sept. and thanks again for what you have done.

    Kind regards and wishing you a very happy birthday.

    Margaret (lyng)

  2. Rosemary Quinn August 14, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Jennifer I applaud you, not least because you are speaking as an older woman and I belong to the same category. The Church believes that we older women are happy with the status quo. Not so. I want my grand-daughters to have role models within the ministry and not just in the pews. I love my faith but have felt alienated for a long time. A patriarchal Church is not one that honours women. Let’s rejuvenate it. Thank you.

  3. Maureen Condra August 15, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    I congratulate Jennifer on her stance, I will stay away from mass on 26th Sept. I do believe the current Pope Benedict has no idea of everyday life, trial and tribulation, financial and other worries that people have to cope with, and he certainly has no regard or respect for us women. Oh yes get us to clean the church, collect the money and do the menial tasks, unbefitting his men folks, but the time is up. If we were running the parishes there would not be such scandals, and his latest comments about women was the last straw, I hope all Mna Na hEireann follow you, good luck Jennifer.

  4. Seamus Breathnach August 16, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    I THINK I SHALL FOLLOW MRS SLEEMAN’S RADICAL SUGGESTION AND SKIP GOING TO MASS ON SUNDAY 26TH OF SEPTEMBER, 2010. I MIGHT EVEN GIVE IT A MISS THE WEEK AFTER, AS WELL; AND THE WEEK AFTER. . . AND, WHO KNOWS. . . I MIGHT GET USED TO NOT ATTENDING. INDEED, I MIGHT NOT RETURN TO THE CHURCH OF CAESAR AT ALL!. . . I WONDER WHAT WILL HAPPEN THEN…?

  5. John Lynch August 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    Jennifer, you are obviously not a “serious” Catholic, since you are not boycotting the Catholic Church but Christ Himself. As you should believe, Christ is present on the Altar at every Mass and therefore asking Catholic women to stay away from Mass on September 26th is asking them to boycott Christ, their Lord God and Maker. Many Irish men and women lost their lives down through the years for their love of God and the Mass. If you want to protest, stay away yourself, but do not involve other souls by asking them to join you in your boycott.

  6. Tanya Jones August 18, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Do you think that perhaps it is the seriousness of Jennifer Sleeman’s Catholic faith that makes her action so powerful and poignant? If, as I imagine, she truly believes in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and is prepared to forego its consolation for the sake of the Church and her brothers and sisters, this shows the extent of her generosity and compassion. After all, fasting means very little if we don’t believe in the wholesomeness of food, and the truest celibates are those who acknowledge the holiness of marriage.

  7. Tim Moore August 18, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    These are all very significant comments. I’m glad the story has made the news, having gone around by e-mail in the week or two before the start of the current press coverage. Gladys has pointed out the interest the story initially attracted; the coverage has certainly gathered pace since the above post was initially published.

    Much of the negative reaction to Sleeman’s call for a boycott has been similar to John Lynch’s comment, claiming that to boycott the mass is to abandon Christ and the central act in Catholic practice. I would argue along with Tanya Jones that the dependency on an institution for a spiritual life is what is being challenged. In this case, it is a hugely broken institution which so often fails to live up to its rhetoric on moral leadership and upholding Christlike values. To be a committed Catholic yet volunteer to forego such a major obligation in religious practice is not a decision to be taken lightly, but as Tanya has written, the reasons for doing so on 26 September make that decision very powerful and poignant.

    This makes me feel that the boycott on 26 September will speak volumes, whether it be many or only a few (more) who stay away from church.

  8. michael Eric holly August 19, 2010 at 12:09 am #

    Dear Ms. Sleeman …Keep up the good work. Kind regards … Michael Eric Holly

  9. Rose August 20, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    The “Boycott Sunday for Women” movement has gone world-wide. Check out the map where you can tag the local church you are boycotting. http://bit.ly/b0x5KP

  10. P Limerick August 20, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    Mrs Sleeman
    I am so glad of your suggestion with regards to Sept boycott. What a heartbreaking way to have to make the powers that be listen though!
    I spoke to one of our priests recently and was told that even though it was a regretable move to include us women in the same category as clerical sexual child abusers, that it was really just ‘a tidying away of affairs’. So my dear women we have been tidied away …yet again…..but in very very poor company to say the very least.
    I must also say here that the church which I attend has also recently been reported to Rome for allowing two women to preach during the recent and very popular Novena.
    Such is the extent of the fear of or degradation of women within this very faulty institution.
    I love my church and I do not want to be ostracised for my gender so I will do all I can to help restructure my rightful place within the global community of Catholics.

  11. Veronica Harris August 20, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    I feel very strongly that we need to return to the power of the early Church which was sealed by the Holy Spirit. Followers of Jesus were to be free in obedience to God’s Word. They were all brothers and sisters in Christ. I unite with your call.
    Veronica

  12. maffism August 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    I’m sure that the Presbyterian church will gladly take her back. If you wish to protest, you are a PROTESTANT, so BYE BYE

  13. Tanya Jones August 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    If you wish to protest, you are … St Francis, St Teresa, Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Isaiah, Thomas Merton, St John the Baptist, Bede Griffiths, Jesus … awake?

  14. shane August 26, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    Does she really think that only women are alienated and angry at the scandals? It’s common knowledge that the vast majority of active laity are female including, IIRC, about 80% of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

    Why is there no discussion about the alienation of men from the Church? What is it about the post-Vatican II Church that so repels men from any involvement in the Church?

    After having attended the first exhibition of what was to become the reformed liturgy, Cardinal Heenan prophetically predicted the disastrous results:

    “At home,” he said, “it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children.”

  15. shane August 26, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    Does she really think that only women are alienated and angry at the scandals? It’s common knowledge that the vast majority of active laity are female including, IIRC, about 80% of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

    Why is there no discussion about the alienation of men from the Church? What is it about the post-Vatican II Church that so repels men from any involvement in the Church?

    After having attended the first exhibition of what was to become the reformed liturgy, Cardinal Heenan prophetically predicted the disastrous results:

    “At home,” he said, “it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children.”

  16. Mary O'Regan September 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    As a young Catholic in London, I think this boycott is extremely silly. OK – Jennifer Sleeman wants to change the Vatican’s rules by protesting privately. Private? Well yes, when someone does not go to Mass and does not receive the Most Holy Eucharist, this is a deeply private decision. But she would want to change other aspects of Catholic Doctrine before she embarks on this, because it is still Catholic teaching that to miss Sunday Mass can be an occasion of grave sin. Entering into occasions of sin in order to ‘force’ the Vatican to change sounds to me like she doesn’t believe in the essentials of the Catholic faith.

    I would die for the Most Holy Eucharist, and a call to protest such as this one, would Never stop me from going to Mass on Sunday or any day of the week. Nothing can keep me from my True Love.

  17. Valerie Alexander September 24, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    After much thought, I am supporting Jennifer Sleeman’s call for a boycott of Mass on Sunday 26th September. I believe the shortage of priests could be solved overnight if married priests and women priests were welcomed into Catholicism.

    Instead of attending Mass, I will attend Church of Ireland service at the church of St. Thomas, Fosters’ Avenue.

    I believe it would have been a good idea to have had a petition people could sign online so that support could be measured.

  18. AideenMcGarrigle September 25, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    I fully support your protest Mrs. Sleeman and I agree with above suggestion that a petition to be signed would show just how many women agree with you.

    Well done you are so courageous!

  19. epsilon September 25, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    Hear! Hear! Shane and Mary O’Regan!

    This woman who wants wants wants, and wants it now is typical of people of a certain age. The world has moved on and learnt a hard lesson that the 20th century has taught us.

    How much of Pope Benedict XVI’s profound writings has she read – none I suspect, or if she has, she has a heart of stone.

    May God forgive her for her lack of Faith!

  20. HCC September 26, 2010 at 1:06 am #

    Oh yeah! Swell idea, let’s all commit a mortal sin to become priests. Now that is exactly what the Church needs, more holy priests. You know, the kind that commit a mortal sin to get their way and ask everyone else to commit a mortal sin.

    True holiness!

  21. Martin November 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    According to the Catholic Voice newspaper, this Sleeman lady is a member of the anti-Catholic Green Party. No agenda there then!

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