Jennifer Sleeman Speaks Out on Sept. 26 Mass Boycott

“Women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.”–Jennifer Sleeman

Jennifer Sleeman, Cork, Ireland

On Tuesday, the Irish Times ran an op-ed by Jennifer Sleeman, the Irish woman who has launched Sept. 26 as the “Sunday Without Women” in support of respectful recognition of women in the Catholic Church. (See my interview with Sleeman.)

Women (and men) around the world (check out the map) are preparing for Sunday.

Marie from Portland, OR, articulated the intent well: “Our goal is equality for women to hold positions of decision-making on all levels in the church. We want dignity and respect for women who work for parishes, schools, and archdiocesan offices. There are many stories of womens’ gifts and skills not being respected and taken seriously.”

Sept. 26 is an opportunity for faithful Catholics and those who care for us and our church to enter into prayerful dialogue about shared authority, the celibate priesthood, church teaching, lived experience, and “the sense of the faithful.” Read Jennifer Sleeman’s commentary below:

I did not have a Catholic childhood and I have been amazed, talking to Irish friends, at how their early experience of religion was one of fear: fear of God and fear of the church. There were rules, and you broke them at your peril. Maybe I was lucky.

I embraced Catholicism in my 20s. My husband was Catholic and I saw he got great comfort from it. Then I met a wonderful priest who gave me instruction and received me into the church.

I lived happily with my decision. However, with the horrifying sexual abuse revelations, cracks began to appear for me, and I started wondering and talking to other people about the church in the reality of the 21st century.

I had often questioned the fact that only men could be ordained. There was also the rule of celibacy. I discovered that many women and men were also concerned and working towards having their voices heard.

It seemed there were organizations and people protesting all over the place, and the idea came to me of a boycott of Mass for one Sunday (September 26th) to draw all these voices together. Let empty pews give the powers-that-be in the church the message that women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.

The support for the equality of women in the church has been massive: lovely letters and cards, and phone calls have come from Ireland, Australia, the US and Canada, from men and women.

Neighbours and strangers have come up to me in the street to congratulate me and tell me I have “hit a spot”. It is time for the focus to move from me to anyone and everyone who realizes the church needs to change, and what they can do to bring this about.

There are those who support women priests but would not miss Mass. They have other ideas to get the message across.

There have been a few angry letters, and some of them have been more in sorrow – that people would boycott Sunday Mass. I understand. Many of my friends have said they support me – but they could not miss Mass.

Others have come up with different ideas to reveal their dissatisfaction to the hierarchy. I hope they carry these ideas out.

One compelling reason for the ordination of women is the shortage of priests. The average age of priests in Ireland is 65, and as far as I know very few young men are entering the seminaries.

Already there must be tired, lonely and aging men celebrating Masses, attending to weddings, funerals and Baptisms, with no time or energy for visiting their parishioners – or indeed for themselves. There are wonderful priests out there ministering with courage and compassion, some of whom have given me their support. They are heroic, but how long can they last?

There are nuns doing demanding and sometimes difficult work, brilliantly. Why is the church so afraid of women, and especially their ordination? They constitute half the population of the world and at least 60 per cent of Mass-goers. They minister very well in other churches, for example in the Church of Ireland.

I see celibacy as another way of keeping women out. Is the fear that the church might become gentler, more in touch with the reality of family life in the 21st century, a safer haven for the scared? I think the church has changed since children grew up in fear – and I hope it has the courage to change again.

My hope is that empty pews on September 26th will move the hearts and minds of those in charge, that change will happen, and that the church will emerge invigorated by the equality of all.

In the wake of Pope Benedict’s elevation of John Cardinal Newman to the position of “blessed” and as we approach Sunday, it’s worth recalling what Newman was most known for:

Church teaching, he argued cannot be a top-down enterprise, a one-way street. It must be the result of a conspiratio, literally a breathing together of the faithful and the bishops. It is the first responsibility of the episcopacy and papacy, he said, to listen carefully before teaching doctrine (see “Robert McClory’s article).

3 thoughts on “Jennifer Sleeman Speaks Out on Sept. 26 Mass Boycott”

  1. Hi,
    I support Jennifer’smotives completely. I too feel frustrated and resentful at our church’s attitude to women. Why should I and my female friends be treated as second class and kept at the periphery of the church? Why should we put up with it??
    However, I think we should try another tactic – withdraw our donations – both on Sundays and in other ways. I bet that will make them sit up!!!

  2. God himself rendered an opinion on Marie and other protesters in Portland Oregon this morning- a heavy torrent of rain fell on their protest.

  3. NSAC ANNOUNCES SUPPORT of IRISH SUNDAY MASS BOYCOTT SEPTEMBER 26

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Kristine Ward, http://www.nsacoalition.org, 937-272-0308, KristineWard@hotmail.com

    The United States based National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) supports the Sunday, September 26 Mass boycott in Ireland and calls upon Catholics in the United States and around the world to boycott in solidarity.

    NSAC takes this action because the boycott is rooted in a response to the sexual abuse scandal and justice for women.

    The coalition does not take this action because we do not understand the value of the Mass or the Sunday obligation. We do.

    The Irish boycott was called by Jennifer Sleeman, an 80 year old Irish woman in Clonakilty, Cork, who is the mother of a monk and 54 years a convert to Catholicism. Her call to action came after the release of the Murphy and Ryan reports in Ireland through which horrible revelations of abuse of children came to light along with the protection of abusers by bishops and religious superiors.

    NSAC’s founders know that there is aversion by Catholics in the pew to raise their heads above the water line to take any visible actions against priests and bishops even when the cause is just and right.

    We don’t understand this aversion but we acknowledge its exists. We also know the weight of it contributes to continued suffering by the survivors and buttresses a hierarchy’s deflection of responsibility. Sexual abuse is a crime. There has never been an hour, a day or a year when it was right for the innocent and vulnerable to be raped and sodomized.

    No one should know this better than Bishops, the Pope and the Vatican Curia. Yet it has taken massive news coverage on three continents and investigations by two civil governments to provoke even the weakest of responses from the Church. To add insult to injury the weak response is touted as major reform.

    Pope Benedict XVI has more than 20 years of experience in seeing the very reports of sexual abuse that the people of Ireland and the rest of the world have come to know in the news media revelations. His knowledge comes both from being the Archbishop of Munich and heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is against this backdrop that the boycott is called.

    This Sunday presents an opportunity for Catholics in a quiet, private absence from their pew in their Catholic parish to open a slit for the piercing of the darkness. No rabble rousing is needed only silence.

    By standing in solidarity with the Irish boycott we hope for its success that in the emptiness Wisdom may enter in.

    We encourage our readers, women and men, to re-arrange this week’s usual encounter with the Lord at Mass to leave a visible openness in their usual pew in their usual parish.

    Out of the void, God created.

    —-Kristine Ward, NSAC Chair

    NSAC is a volunteer organization of practicing Catholics and men and women of goodwill working to educate and reform the Church and society about sexual abuse and its consequences. NSAC sent an envoy, Mike Coode, to the United Kingdom to bear witness to the need for justice and reparation for the survivors during Pope Benedict’s UK trip and to search for advocates. NSAC envoys have also been sent to Ireland and Germany.

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