A radical call for a boycott of mass on September 26 th in protest at the authoritarian nature of the Catholic church has come from an unlikely quarter. Eighty year old Jennifer Sleeman whose son is a priest at Glenstal Abbey is so horrified at the way the church has dealt with women and the numerous sex scandals that she sounded the call last week to her sisters in the Faith to simply not attend mass on the last Sunday in September. The rebellious octogenarian from Clonakilty in County Cork called on the 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.”
Men are also welcome to participate in the boycott, she said. “It’s not just about Mná na hÉireann. But it’s for them, because they are frustrated.”
Her action comes at a time of general discontent from Catholics at the insensitive and autocratic response from the Vatican in recent months to the gathering storm of sex abuse amongst its clergy in Ireland. Could this be the beginning of a revolution in the pews against clericalism and Roman control of the Irish church. Traditional Protestantism threw off the shackles of Roman supremacy after the Reformation at a time when the Vatican’s image was tarnished by numerous sexual shenanigans and the abominable practice of selling indulgences for suffering souls in Purgatory.
Historians point back to the early Celtic Church which was independently organised without reference to Rome when Christianity became a shining jewel on this island and spread through missionary endeavour throughout the world. Perhaps this boycott call from Jennifer Sleeman may remind us of a time when the early Church looked to the Holy Spirit and God’s word for its guidance and not to the latest Papal pronouncement or Vatican Council. It is interesting to note that the woman at the heart of this controversy is herself a convert from Scottish Presbyterianism, a body committed to church democracy (ruling elders are elected by members of the congregation) and strict adherence to Biblical teaching. What a welcome development if this small step, could for the people of Ireland, be the first in a journey back to authentic New Testament Christianity. As I have said here before the tragedy of modern Ireland is not the disintegration of any single denomination, but the general perception that confuses the excesses of institutional Catholicism with the truth of the Gospel message as announced by Jesus and the Apostles. A return to authentic Christian experience based on the Gospels is really the only effective antidote to the dry bones of ‘religious practise’ which lye strewn about us.