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)