Boycott Fails to Dent Mass Numbers

By Kitty Holland
Irish Times
September 27, 2010

Numbers attending Mass held steady today, and in some places were up on recent weeks, despite a call for a boycott, according to priests and bishops who spoke to The Irish Times .

Catholics were urged not to go to Mass today by Jennifer Sleeman (81), from Clonakilty, Co Cork, in protest at the Church's treatment of women.

Ms Sleeman said she wanted to let the Vatican and the Irish church know "women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens" and she 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.

"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."

Though difficult to gauge support for her stance, given that protesters were by definition not at Church gates today, those that had sympathy with Ms Sleeman said the Mass was not the right forum for registering protest.

Epitomising the view many arriving for Mass at the pro cathedral in Dublin today was Yvonne Egan from Kilkenny. She agreed priests should be allowed to marry. "But I am sure there are better ways of protesting than missing Mass. Catholics should not be missing Mass," she said.

Ms Sleeman said people who did not want to miss Mass could still protest by wearing a green armband to Mass. No armbands appeared to be on display at the pro cathedral.

Martin Long, Director of the Catholic Communications Office said the Church encouraged people not to absent themselves from Mass, no matter what their views.

"The celebration of the Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is essential to the practice of the Catholic faith as the Sunday Eucharist is a pivotal aspect of the spiritual lives of Catholics."

One woman who did absent herself from Mass was Nuala Kernan, a regular Mass-goes in Limerick. She said she made the decision "not lightly".

"We have been trying, women in Ireland, to be heard a long time. It's 40 years since Vatican II and one way or another we have been using every possible opportunity to [be heard]. We wish to contribute; some women ache to contribute, in meaningful ways. "

She told RTÉ radio the Bishops' assertion that women were included every day in decisions in the Church did not "match" her experience.

"The change has been so token." She asked why the ordination of women as priests could not be discussed by the Catholic Church adding "the very least" she could do was to support Ms Sleeman's call.

Mr Long said feedback he had been getting today indicated "if anything there was an increase in numbers at Mass".

"That could be due to a number of factors. It could be the pleasant weather, it could be the fact that it's September and people are back from summer holidays or it could too be that people are making a point and saying Mass is just far too important to be using it to make a point."

Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford, said he had heard no discussion of the boycott during the week or today.

"There was no talk of it and I don't think it had any impact. There numbers at Mass were the same as usual."

Fr Vincent Sherlock, communications spokesman for the Diocese of Achonry, which takes in parts of Co Mayo and Co Sligo, said there had been "no disruption" to Mass. "I was in two parishes over the weekend and I heard no mention of a boycott, no absolutely not."

Rev Edward McGee, of St Patrick's Church, Lisburn in the Diocese of Down and Connor, said there "was no discernible impact" on Mass numbers.

Msgr Sean Killeen in the Diocese of Killala, said he saw no change to numbers. "If anything the numbers at Mass were even better than usual. There wasn't a word about the boycott."

In the Diocese of Raphoe, Msgr Daniel Carr said he could only speak for the churches he attended yesterday, at St Baithin's and St Johnstown in Inishowen, Co Donegal. "Speaking for them attendances were as normal. There really was no boycott that I could see."

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