Jennifer Sleeman, an 80-year-old mother of a monk, has called on women to boycott mass this Sunday, September 26. Her proposal is in many ways old news, having been debated in various media for the past month.
As I’ve written previously on this blog, it annoys me when Sleeman’s critics claim that she doesn’t know what she is doing. They imply that her proposal means she isn’t really taking Jesus seriously. Further, her critics say she is ‘playing politics with the Eucharist,’ which they see as especially naïve and even dangerous.
As a Protestant who attends a Catholic church fairly regularly, I am subjected to an involuntary boycott of the Eucharist.
Joint communion or shared Eucharist is one of those issues that laypeople are regularly told they just don’t understand, so it is best to leave it to those in charge to tell us when we can and can’t actually commune together like Christians.
But the symbol and substance of not being welcome to partake of the Eucharist speaks loud and clear:
It says to me that Protestants are second-class Christians. That, to me, is the Catholic Church playing politics with the Eucharist.
I haven’t heard the issue of shared Eucharist mentioned as something that Sleeman wishes to draw attention to in the boycott. She has focused mainly on the position of women in the Catholic Church, and the handling of the abuse scandals.
But when I thought about whether I might boycott Catholic Church this Sunday, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my regular experience of involuntary boycott.
For me, this raised a question about ecumenical matters in light of the recent scandals in the Catholic Church:
Can ‘other’ Christians play a constructive role in contributing to healing and reconciliation in the Catholic Church?
I would like to think so, but have to admit I am at a loss as to what this might look like.
But I do think that the ability of ‘other’ Christians to protest against the Catholic Church is severely limited.
Take, for example, the refusal of the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr Norman Hamilton, to meet the Pope after attending an ecumenical prayer service in Westminster Abbey.
I don’t think that this kind of action even registers on the Catholic Church’s radar screen, even if it is surprising that it came from someone like Hamilton, who has a long record of ‘cross community’ work here in Northern Ireland and has made it his mission, as moderator, to put community relations and a ‘shared future’ at the top of his agenda.
It is too easy for Protestant ‘boycotts’ like Hamilton’s to be lumped together with the fundamentalist protests of the Paisley-ites or the Dawkins-ites. Even the protests that come from within, like Sleeman’s proposed mass boycott, may ultimately be ignored.
(Tuesday’s Irish Times carried a ‘rite and reason’ column by Sleeman explaining her action. There is also an interesting post including an interview with Sleeman and reflection on the meaning of the boycott on Rose Marie Berger’s blog)
Photo of St Peter’s Catholic Church Belfast sourced on flickr,by xsphotos)