Mass boycott woman says she's stunned by support
Complaint over how church treats women makes international news
Published 15/08/2010 | 05:00
A CORK octogenarian who called for a one-day boycott of mass to protest the Catholic Church's treatment of women has been "totally overwhelmed" by support for her campaign.
Jennifer Sleeman, 80, from Clonakilty, initially wasn't certain what response her protest call would attract when she went public in the media last Tuesday.
However, Mrs Sleeman -- who converted to Catholicism from Presbyterianism -- has been deluged with messages of support from Ireland and overseas as well as positive reaction via radio and newspaper articles.
"It has all been a bit overwhelming," she told the Sunday Independent.
"The phone hasn't stopped ringing all week. There has been the odd person saying: 'You should be going to mass more, not less.' But the majority of people have been very kind and very supportive of the idea."
Internet blogs have also attracted thousands of messages of support for her stance.
Her boycott call even generated headlines in the UK, the US, Italy, Germany and France.
"I had the BBC on the phone just a little while ago," she added.
Now, Mrs Sleeman's one-day mass protest on September 26 isn't likely to be restricted to her home town in west Cork as she originally presumed.
Mrs Sleeman urged Irish people to support the one-day protest because of what she said was the church's unfair treatment of women. She said the church had effectively been treating women as second-class citizens for decades -- and that church officials urgently needed to appreciate the true scale of anger on this issue.
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"I am not like the Catholic Church in that this isn't an order -- it is merely a suggestion to stay away from mass for one day to show the depth of anger that is out there," she said. "I think this might give people who perhaps feel voiceless in the church a voice. There are lots of women who feel very strongly about being able to do more within the church but are simply not being allowed to do so."
This, she added, would also help spur reforms.
"I do feel that I have right on my side -- I do not feel that it is just me. I feel it is so many people that would think the same way as I do. I have felt that a lot of women are angry," she explained.
"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," she asked?
The pensioner's eldest son, Simon, is a monk in the Benedictines' Glenstal Abbey in Limerick -- and, she claimed, fully supports her call for church reform. "He thinks it (her stance) is brilliant," she said.
But Mrs Sleeman is adamant that if further protests are to be mounted they will have to be organised by others.
The Catholic Church responded within 24 hours of Mrs Sleeman's boycott call being publicised. In a statement last week, the church reminded people of the vital importance of attending mass.
"The mass is a community sacramental celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus," a church spokesperson explained.
"We would encourage people not to absent themselves from the Eucharist where we re-enact the Last Supper and the Paschal mystery, following the command of Jesus, 'Do this is memory of me'. The celebration of the mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is essential to the practice of the Catholic faith."