Priests' Group Says Boycott Well Supported

By Carl O'Brien
Irish Times
September 28, 2010

THE ASSOCIATION of Catholic Priests has insisted that a campaign to boycott weekend Masses received substantial support.

The newly formed group also criticised statements by the Catholic hierarchy which claimed Mass numbers had not been affected as unhelpful and "bordering on triumphalism".

Jennifer Sleeman (81), from Clonakilty, Co Cork, had called on women to stay away from Mass in protest at their treatment as "second-class citizens" by the church.

In a statement on Saturday the Catholic Communications Office urged people to attend Mass as normal and pointed out that lay women contributed to all aspects of church life.

In a follow-up statement on Sunday, a spokesman said numbers attending Mass had held steady and, in some places, were up on recent weeks.

Yesterday, the Association of Catholic Priests said it acknowledged that the position of women in the Catholic Church was a difficult and often divisive issue.

But it said the issue needed to be faced and discussed as openly and calmly as possible.

"Jennifer Sleeman's initiative this past weekend did not meet with universal approval, even among women. But it did receive substantial support," the association said.

"We believe that neither of the hierarchy's statements over the weekend was helpful."

It said Saturday's statement regarding women's involvement in the church missed the point that women are at present excluded from many ministries and from all forms of decision-making.

"Unless we acknowledge the reality progress will not be made. Yesterday's statement, saying that Mass attendance had not been affected, bordered on triumphalism," the association said.

The group, which held its inaugural meeting earlier this month, said it knew of a "certain number of committed Catholic women who did not attend Mass this past weekend. It is crucial that we remain in respectful dialogue with such women".

Ms Sleeman said yesterday that she was pleased with the feedback she had been getting from neighbours in Clonakilty, Co Cork, regarding the numbers participating in the boycott.

She said her boycott campaign was prompted by an upsurge in the number of women who wanted to be equal in the church.

Ms Sleeman added she was planning to return to Mass as normal today and would be reading at her local church.

The Catholic Communications Office's statement on Saturday had encouraged people not to absent themselves from Mass.

"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," the statement said.

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