An 81-year-old woman named Jennifer Sleeman organized a boycott of mass in Ireland last Sunday, in protest at women’s lowly place within the Church. The Church authorities claimed that it had no appreciable effect on mass attendance, although priests told a different story.
As it happened, I was due to sing in the choir at my local church (we sing every second Sunday from autumn through spring, and I usually go along; those are the only times I attend mass). I stayed away to support the boycott.
Today I read an article in the Irish Times that showcases rather starkly what women have contributed to the Church, and how they have been treated by its exclusively male power structure. Sister Mary McKillop is to be canonized by the organization that excommunicated her in her lifetime.
In Adelaide in 1871, McKillop, an Australian nun who founded the Sisters of St Joseph, exposed the activities of an Irish paedophile priest (how dispiriting that such creatures existed even then) named Patrick Keating. The upshot was that after a campaign by another Irish priest, McKillop was excommunicated by the local (Irish) bishop, and turned out on the street with no money. She was reinstated four years later, and beatified in 1995; various miraculous intercessions have been accredited to her – hence the canonization (which the more cynical might see as a sop to Australia and/or women).
Can there be any doubt that McKillop would have made a better bishop than Laurence Shiel, who banished her from the Church? Can any plausible excuse be made for the continuing woeful anachronism of an all-male priesthood and hierarchy, given that women form the Church’s backbone in most of its heartlands?
I hope that Jennifer Sleeman’s admirable campaign will continue and flourish. A movement for positive change in the Church is badly needed.