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).

Clarification of Thought: New Gay Marriage Ruling in California

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker (AP Photo)

This week, in the nation’s first federal trial on same-sex marriage, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection (Judge Strikes California’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage, Proposition 8).

Judge Walker’s ruling is very important for further study. I found his legal brief to be extremely cogent. Whether you are “for” or “against” gay marriage, it is worth the read to gain deeper understanding in what the state’s interest is in marriage – and how that interest has changed over time.

If you are involved in faith-based political organizing, I would also highly recommend reading the brief. There were more than 1700 religious organizations allied in support of Proposition 8 and the judge makes very clear that their arguments were insufficient when it came to the law. There is much in the case that’s instructive on what is the proper role of religion in society and what is not. It explores the narrow area where church meets state.

If you want to know why gay people want to get “married,” rather than just getting “domestic partnerships” or “civil unions,” the testimonies of the witnesses are very compelling.

If you think that “loving the sinner and hating sin” has no negative repercussions, then read the section on how religion is a leading indicator in hate crimes against gays and suicide by gays.

Below I’m including a series of excerpts that I found worthy of further study. As many continue to weigh, test, study, and form our consciences on this issue, reading this ruling will aid in what deeper clarification of thought. (You can read the original ruling here or scroll to the very bottom.) Let me know what you think.

Religious Beliefs and the State
“The state’s interest in an enactment must of course be secular in nature. The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose.” – U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, on unconstitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (4 August 2010)

State’s Interest in Marriage
“The court posed to proponent’s counsel the assumption that “the state’s interest in marriage is procreative” and inquired how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. [Doc. 228 at 21.] Counsel replied that the inquiry was “not the legally relevant question,” [ID]but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.” [ID at 23.]

Continue reading “Clarification of Thought: New Gay Marriage Ruling in California”

‘Las Novias’: Same-Sex Marriage in Mexico City

Mexico wedding portrait
Jesusa Rodríguez and Liliana Felipe

I love Mexico. And now I have a reason to love it even more. Tomorrow, Mexico City will be the first in Latin America to put into effect laws legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption. (Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions back in 2007.) There is, of course, sharp criticism and hand-wringing from my beloved Catholic Church hierarchy and social conservatives — but with a 50 percent approval rate for gay marriage among regular Mexicans (89 percent of whom are Catholic), I’d say that the laity are once again leading the way.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s Washington Post article:

On Thursday, [Mexico City] this sprawling megalopolis will catapult to the front lines of gay rights in Latin America when a city law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption goes into effect. … Mexican actress Jesusa Rodríguez will marry her partner, Liliana Felipe, after 30 years together. “The important thing is that this law grants equality,” Rodríguez said. Many marriage-minded gay couples are preoccupied by concerns about the security of their loved ones. Reyna Barrera, 70, had a breast removed two months ago, and although she is weak from chemotherapy, she is busy planning her wedding to her partner of 36 years, Sandra Ponce. “This way, she is protected. She will get my pension, our house, everything from the life we built together,” said Barrera, a literature professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

The Legislative Assembly passed the gay marriage act by a broad majority in December, as activists cheered and PAN representatives looked on in dismay. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD leader, signed the bill into law — a first in Latin America. … Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions in 2007; they also are recognized in Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, but advocates for gay rights say only marriage can protect the rights of families in such matters as property and custody. … An opinion poll by El Universal newspaper in November found that 50 percent of Mexico City respondents accepted gay marriage and 38 percent opposed it. Residents ages 18 to 39 were more likely to be supporters.

Read the whole article here.