|"We've Had Enough': Portland Catholic Women to Skip Sunday Morning Mass over Treatment of Women
By Nancy Haught
September 24, 2010
In August, Jennifer Sleeman, 81, urged Catholic women to boycott this Sunday's Mass in protest of their treatment by the church. Half a world a way, a handful of Portland women responded.
"We had been talking amongst ourselves about how to be a woman and be a Catholic, dealing with that angst," says Sarah Granger, 34, who is active in St. Andrew Parish in Northeast Portland. "Her call struck a chord with us. We needed to do something, to say, 'We've had enough.'" But she and other women from St. Andrew's envisioned a "prayerful, positive public witness," not a protest or a boycott.
Sleeman -- who is from Ireland and the mother of a monk -- said at the time that her call was inspired by a Vatican statement in July that seemed to equate the ordination of women with pedophilia. "One Spirit -- One Call" will unfold at 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland. The 90-minute program calls for prayers, a gospel reflection, and a litany of women saints. Organizers say they hope participants will attend Mass on Saturday night or stay downtown for a special noon Mass at the Downtown Chapel.
"This is not a boycott of the Eucharist," Granger says. "It's an opportunity for women to tell their stories, for our voices to be heard."
Organizers wrote to the archbishop of Portland, the Most Rev. John G. Vlazny, and told him of their plans. He says he is resigned that "One Spirit -- One Call" would go on.
"I'm not happy about it," he says. "Whenever people are disturbed, it's a good idea to get together and pray. But my job is one that tries to promote the unity of the church, to encourage the church in our evangelization."
He says he has good relationships with women in the church. "I've tried my best to treat people with fairness." He understands that the women behind the Portland event have a list of grievances, but he thinks "ordination is at the bottom of it all."
"I have no authority to change that." The Catholic Church does not ordain women to the priesthood. "No other bishop, not even the pope can change that," Vlazny says.
Organizers of "One Spirit -- One Call" say women's ordination is only one concern on a longer list. Women, they say, do not help determine policy within the Catholic Church and are not allowed to serve as deacons, even though they may be as educated and as experienced as many priests. Women fill a number of secondary roles in parishes, they say, completing many pastoral duties but they are not allowed to preach publicly. The fact that the Vatican is investigating communities of nuns and sisters in the United States is another sore point. Church leaders say the goal of the investigation is to assess how religious orders are fulfilling their stated missions. But critics suspect the point is to determine whether women are following church teachings.
"The images of God and the language we use in liturgy are big issues for me," says Katie Hainley, 31, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, also known as the Downtown Chapel. "Our church tradition holds that God is neither male nor female, but God is usually portrayed from a masculine perspective."
Marylee King agrees. "The crux of it is injustice and inequality," says the 64-year-old member of Resurrection Parish in Tualatin. A lifelong Catholic, she has been a Eucharistic minister, a sacristan and taught in religious education programs. "Women are discounted. The hierarchy continuously passes over women. The rest of the world has moved on."
Hainley and King say they have no intentions to leave the Catholic Church. Neither does Gayle Bache, 62, a member of St. Andrew's.
"I love this church," she says. "The tradition of the church gives me great comfort. But the church is missing out on the gifts of incredibly talented women. This is a prayerful public witness. We know that to act out of anger doesn't work."
Mary Lou Stewart, 62, another St. Andrew's parishioner, will speak on Martha and Mary at "One Spirit -- One Call." In the biblical story, Martha complains to Jesus that she's working while her sister, Mary, sits at his feet and listens to him teach. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has "chosen the better part" and adds that it "will not be taken away from her."
"We are supposed to be disciples," Stewart said. "Ordinarily, I like to stay in the background, but there is a terrible responsibility that goes with discipleship, to speak up in the face of injustice."
Organizers believe this is the right time to encourage public dialogue, to reassert the spirit of Vatican II, a 1960s council that proposed many changes in the church. Monsignor Charles Lienert, pastor of St. Andrew's and a supporter of "One Spirit -- One Call," says "at least 50 years of grass root activity" led to the "wonderful renovations" of the second Vatican council.
"Changes in the church have always taken a long time and a lot of voices," he says. "I've been a priest for 40-some years," he said, "and it's apparent to me the pain that women in the church feel many times -- being excluded from different things, not being able to have a real voice in what the church teaches, not being able to participate in all the activities of the church. There is a real reason for their pain."
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