'The boycott itself is irrelevant because the message is out'


PROTEST LEADER:THE 81-YEAR-OLD grandmother, who called on women to boycott Mass at the weekend in protest at the Catholic Church’s treatment of women, spent yesterday at her home with her family while also taking some time in private, praying for change within the Catholic Church.

In a campaign that became a major talking point in the church, Jennifer Sleeman from Clonakilty in West Cork called last August for a weekend boycott of Mass by women “to let the Vatican and the Irish church know that women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens.” Ms Sleeman, a convert to Catholicism from Presbyterianism 54 years ago, absented herself from Mass in Clonakilty yesterday.

She agreed to speak to The Irish Timesfrom her home on Saturday night but said she would not do any media interviews yesterday.

Of the expected success of the campaign, she said: “I have no way of measuring it. I loved a letter in The Irish Timeswhere someone said, the boycott will be a failure because so many people will go to church to see how many people didn’t go – I thought that was lovely.

“I actually think the boycott itself now is irrelevant, the message is out there so loud and clear so that whether people go to Mass or not, I don’t think really matters very much now – I don’t think it really matters in terms of numbers.”

She said she was hugely encouraged by the letters and messages of support she had received over the past six weeks or so from as far away as America and Australia and she noted men as well as women had supported her call for change.

Ms Sleeman said she was glad to hear that prayer groups supporting her call for greater involvement of women had started in Dublin and Waterford and said she hoped the focus would now shift from her to others who share her views.

“I hope the powers that be in the church have listened and heard because without change, I fear the church will diminish and I think a lot of people feel that way because they’ve just got stuck in a time warp – as Newman said, ‘To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often’.”

Clonakilty parish priest Mons Leonard O’Brien yesterday declined to discuss whether many women heeded Ms Sleeman’s call for a boycott. “I don’t discuss parishioners with anybody and the two are intermingled and connected,” he said.

A single green band in support of Ms Sleeman’s campaign for an improved role for women in the church was worn at 8.30am Mass in Clonakilty. A female minister of the Eucharist sported the only green band to be seen at the Mass, usually attended by Ms Sleeman, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

A healthy congregation of over 150 attended early Mass, while parishioners said they did not notice any great change in the numbers in attendance.

The lone bearer of the green band, who did not wish to be named, said she would like to see women priests ordained because of what they can offer the church. “It’s women who promote prayer in the home and women are much more sincere, I think. They have an awful lot to offer and they should be ordained priests.”

Former Clonakilty curate Fr Gerard Galvin, who in 2005 refused to read out a letter from bishops on child sex abuse because he believed more should be done, said he hadn’t noticed any significant number of women absent from Mass in his new parish of Durrus and Kilcrohane.