Belfast Telegraph

Catholic Church urges parishioners not to boycott Mass over women's rights

By Ralph Riegel and Colm Kelpie

The Catholic Church is urging people not to boycott Sunday Mass as part of a protest over women's rights.

The move came after a pensioner, Jennifer Sleeman (80), asked people to support a one-day boycott of Sunday Mass because of what she believes is the church's unfair treatment of women.

Mrs Sleeman -- who lives in Clonakilty, Co Cork -- said the church had effectively been treating women as second class citizens.

She argued that a one-day boycott -- to be staged on September 26 -- could underline to church officials the true scale of anger over the treatment of women and prompt long-overdue reforms.

"I do feel that I have right on my side -- I do not feel that it is just me. I have felt that a lot of women are angry," she explained.

"They have been doing their own way of protesting. It all seems so spread around and it would be great if we could concentrate all this, so it just came to me. I'm beginning to wonder is there a holy spirit and did it put the idea into my head," she said.

The pensioner's eldest son, Simon, is a monk in the Benedictine's Glenstal Abbey in Limerick -- and, she claims, supports her call for reform.

"He thinks it is brilliant," she explained.

However, the Catholic Church responded to the matter yesterday by reminding people of the vital importance of attending Mass -- though the statement did not use the word "boycott".

"The Mass is a community sacramental celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus," the statement explained.

"We would encourage people not to absent themselves from the Eucharist where we re-enact the Last Supper and the Paschal Mystery, following the command of Jesus, 'Do this in memory of me'.

"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," it said.

Mrs Sleeman -- who celebrates her 81st birthday on September 23 -- said she had become increasingly concerned about a number of issues relating to the church's treatment of women, including the ongoing refusal by the Vatican to countenance female priests.

The pensioner -- who is a convert to Catholicism -- said she understood that her call for a boycott might upset some people, including the clergy.

But she said she hoped that the majority of people would support her stance as a gesture towards vital reform of the church.

Irish Independent

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