Thursday, August 19, 2010

No fool like an old fool

I'm sure you've heard about this one already:

AN 80-YEAR-OLD woman is organising a one-day boycott of Sunday Mass “by the faithful women of Ireland” next month.

Jennifer Sleeman from Clonakilty in Cork said she wants “to let the Vatican and the Irish church know that women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens”.

She has called on the Catholic women of Ireland to “join your sisters on Sunday, September 26th. On that one day boycott Mass. Stay at home and pray for change. We are the majority. We may have been protesting individually but unremarked on, but together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews, will be noticed”.

She said: “Whatever change you long for, recognition, ordination, the end of celibacy, which is another means of keeping women out, join with your sisters and let the hierarchy know by your absence that the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over.”

Poor Mrs. Sleeman. Once upon a time, perhaps thirty or forty years ago, perhaps, she must have met some revolutionary feminist Catholic women. It is possible that one of them was an American, or that they were influenced by Americans. Whoever they were, they told her--or she read, in their books--that just as soon as the old hidebound stuffy male-dominated Church evaporated, a new, progressive, light-filled, female-led Church of priestesses and poets and ecologically sound avant-garde female artists would emerge. Perhaps this vision of female empowerment so entranced Mrs. Sleeman, a convert to Catholicism, that she has been waiting with baited breath ever since to sing this new church into being. After all, the revolution was coming! Any day now! It was right around the corner!

Meanwhile, thirty or forty years passed.

And the revolution most unaccountably continued to fail to happen. And, while the Church has experienced real, significant problems, almost no one who is actually a practicing Catholic (non-practicing Catholics who spout off to the media, or who are in the media, or both don't count, here) pretends that the very real and significant problems in the Church are going to be solved by letting a bunch of rather dippy women dress up in unspeakably ugly tie-died "vestments" and set sail on various incongruous boats to proclaim themselves Roman Catholic lady-priests (since "priestess" is apparently impolite) and to commence to embarrass themselves at every conceivable opportunity by demonstrating just how wise the Church has been all these years to stick to Christ's example and ordain only men.

Jennifer Sleeman disagrees, of course--and in the grand tradition of women who disagree with the Church about something, she has boldly summoned her fellow women (can I say that?) to her grand vision of resistance: Commit a Mortal Sin Sunday! Of course, she isn't calling it that, though as a "faithful Catholic woman" she certainly knows that if she, or anyone else, skips Mass on Sunday without illness or another grave reason to do so, they are, objectively speaking, committing a mortal sin.

When you think about it, Mrs. Sleeman isn't much of a revolutionary. If you're going to host a Commit a Mortal Sin Sunday! event, at least you could come up with an interesting or entertaining mortal sin. I mean, you're risking your immortal soul here, Mrs. S--don't you think merely sleeping in lacks the proper revolutionary spirit? I don't know what I'd suggest as an alternative--except that I would definitely not suggest naked liturgical dancing, because I've seen the liturgical dancing crowd, and though they might be sinning by such an act they would also be inflicting an act of involuntary penitence upon their unfortunate audience--but I digress. The point is that as an act that's supposed to Make a Point and Ruffle Feathers and Shake Up Things at the Vatican, merely not showing up leaves a lot to be desired.

There is nothing quite as sad as seeing the spectacle of an elderly woman who still believes in the progressive vision of the future church--as articulated and outlined back in 1960 and 1970. It is still, alas, a fairly common spectacle, and here in America we have dozens of Sleemans--Mrs., Ms., or Sister--ready to clutch their guitars and tambourines and hope once again for the day when Father will be a woman, and the Church will magically become a land flowing with justice and peas, whatever that means.


Anonymous said...

I will pray for Jennifer, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. See you at church!

Michael said...


As Larry D reported on this, it gets even worse. Why, she has the full support of her son in this boycott. Why does that matter? Her son is a priest. Oy. Nothing like encouraging Mum to commit a mortal sin to prove your bona fides as a priest who cares for all souls.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Here is my dispassionate thought as a Protestant who respects the right of the Roman Catholic church do make its own decisions in matters of faith and doctrine:

Jennifer Sleeman is, or has been, a Roman Catholic. She finds herself in opposition to a teaching of the church. She has three choices. She can submit, she can protest as a Roman Catholic, risking excommunication, or she can voluntarily leave the church.

The church can ignore her, excommunicate her, or accept what she is doing or advocating as a legitimate exercise for a faithful daughter of the church.

Sleeman has obviously made her choice.

What the church does in response depends in part on how many Irish Roman Catholic women share Sleeman's concern. Will the church risk losing half the women of Ireland? If it really is only a loud-mouthed handful, will the church even bother to respond?

Purity is good, but the church is an institution that has survived in part by adapting to the times. It survived the Reformation by launching the counter-Reformation. It survived the loss of its Papal states, armies, and political overlordship in Europe by relying on moral persuasion. It was an enemy of democracy, until it found that it had no other ally against communism.

Will the church have to accept women in the priesthood? Not if most women in the church think and feel as Erin Manning does. In fact, even if the church finds it prudent to make concessions to Sleeman and the battalions of women she hopes to set in motion, there will be some who will go off in the opposite direction, establishing a smaller but purified traditional church.

What is truth? God knows. The reason the Protestant Reformation happened was, ultimately, that we simply can't all agree on every point. And we, being imperfect, don't know for sure. God knows.

LarryD said...

Will the church have to accept women in the priesthood?

It's not a question of whether or not the Church will "have" to accept women in the priesthood in order to survive, or remain relevant, or for any other reason. The simple truth is, the Church does not have the authority to ordain women. Sadly, many many Catholics do not recognize the distinction.

If you're interested, Siarlys, may I suggest reading Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, an apostolic letter written by Pope John Paul II.

Again, it's not a question of choosing not to do it - it's a condition of not being able to do it.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

That is a spiritual argument Larry.

It may be true that, e.g., IF those in positions of authority within the church DID go through the motions of ordaining women, it would be NULL AND VOID in the eyes of God.

However, they could, physically, do such a thing, and they might, if they did, still have a thriving, well-funded, institution, with solid attendance at mass, while a woman got up and presided over the rituals, also delivering the homily. It could, in an earthly sense, happen. In your eyes, it would be an abomination.

I won't be spending time reading the document you refer me to, because it has no significance to me. My loyalty to the Protestant Reformation is not about the arcane details of faith and good works, but simply that I believe, with John Wycliffe, that man has no earthly spiritual overlord. It is a direct line from me to God.

However, you have every right to subordinate yourself to the Bishop of Rome. You may even be right. But I doubt it.