Jennifer Sleeman Mass Boycott: Can Protest be an Ecumenical Matter?

image Jennifer Sleeman, an 80-year-old mother of a monk, has called on women to boycott mass this Sunday, September 26. Her proposal is in many ways old news, having been debated in various media for the past month.

As I’ve written previously on this blog, it annoys me when Sleeman’s critics claim that she doesn’t know what she is doing. They imply that her proposal means she isn’t really taking Jesus seriously. Further, her critics say she is ‘playing politics with the Eucharist,’ which they see as especially naïve and even dangerous.

As a Protestant who attends a Catholic church fairly regularly, I am subjected to an involuntary boycott of the Eucharist.

Joint communion or shared Eucharist is one of those issues that laypeople are regularly told they just don’t understand, so it is best to leave it to those in charge to tell us when we can and can’t actually commune together like Christians.

But the symbol and substance of not being welcome to partake of the Eucharist speaks loud and clear:

It says to me that Protestants are second-class Christians. That, to me, is the Catholic Church playing politics with the Eucharist.

I haven’t heard the issue of shared Eucharist mentioned as something that Sleeman wishes to draw attention to in the boycott. She has focused mainly on the position of women in the Catholic Church, and the handling of the abuse scandals.

But when I thought about whether I might boycott Catholic Church this Sunday, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my regular experience of involuntary boycott.

For me, this raised a question about ecumenical matters in light of the recent scandals in the Catholic Church:

Can ‘other’ Christians play a constructive role in contributing to healing and reconciliation in the Catholic Church?

I would like to think so, but have to admit I am at a loss as to what this might look like.

But I do think that the ability of ‘other’ Christians to protest against the Catholic Church is severely limited.

Take, for example, the refusal of the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr Norman Hamilton, to meet the Pope after attending an ecumenical prayer service in Westminster Abbey.

I don’t think that this kind of action even registers on the Catholic Church’s radar screen, even if it is surprising that it came from someone like Hamilton, who has a long record of ‘cross community’ work here in Northern Ireland and has made it his mission, as moderator, to put community relations and a ‘shared future’ at the top of his agenda.

It is too easy for Protestant ‘boycotts’ like Hamilton’s to be lumped together with the fundamentalist protests of the Paisley-ites or the Dawkins-ites. Even the protests that come from within, like Sleeman’s proposed mass boycott, may ultimately be ignored.

(Tuesday’s Irish Times carried a ‘rite and reason’ column by Sleeman explaining her action. There is also an interesting post including an interview with Sleeman and reflection on the meaning of the boycott on Rose Marie Berger’s blog)

Photo of St Peter’s Catholic Church Belfast sourced on flickr,by xsphotos)

2 thoughts on “Jennifer Sleeman Mass Boycott: Can Protest be an Ecumenical Matter?”


    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Kristine Ward,, 937-272-0308,

    The United States based National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) supports the Sunday, September 26 Mass boycott in Ireland and calls upon Catholics in the United States and around the world to boycott in solidarity.

    NSAC takes this action because the boycott is rooted in a response to the sexual abuse scandal and justice for women.

    The coalition does not take this action because we do not understand the value of the Mass or the Sunday obligation. We do.

    The Irish boycott was called by Jennifer Sleeman, an 80 year old Irish woman in Clonakilty, Cork, who is the mother of a monk and 54 years a convert to Catholicism. Her call to action came after the release of the Murphy and Ryan reports in Ireland through which horrible revelations of abuse of children came to light along with the protection of abusers by bishops and religious superiors.

    NSAC’s founders know that there is aversion by Catholics in the pew to raise their heads above the water line to take any visible actions against priests and bishops even when the cause is just and right.

    We don’t understand this aversion but we acknowledge its exists. We also know the weight of it contributes to continued suffering by the survivors and buttresses a hierarchy’s deflection of responsibility. Sexual abuse is a crime. There has never been an hour, a day or a year when it was right for the innocent and vulnerable to be raped and sodomized.

    No one should know this better than Bishops, the Pope and the Vatican Curia. Yet it has taken massive news coverage on three continents and investigations by two civil governments to provoke even the weakest of responses from the Church. To add insult to injury the weak response is touted as major reform.

    Pope Benedict XVI has more than 20 years of experience in seeing the very reports of sexual abuse that the people of Ireland and the rest of the world have come to know in the news media revelations. His knowledge comes both from being the Archbishop of Munich and heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is against this backdrop that the boycott is called.

    This Sunday presents an opportunity for Catholics in a quiet, private absence from their pew in their Catholic parish to open a slit for the piercing of the darkness. No rabble rousing is needed only silence.

    By standing in solidarity with the Irish boycott we hope for its success that in the emptiness Wisdom may enter in.

    We encourage our readers, women and men, to re-arrange this week’s usual encounter with the Lord at Mass to leave a visible openness in their usual pew in their usual parish.

    Out of the void, God created.

    —-Kristine Ward, NSAC Chair

    NSAC is a volunteer organization of practicing Catholics and men and women of goodwill working to educate and reform the Church and society about sexual abuse and its consequences. NSAC sent an envoy, Mike Coode, to the United Kingdom to bear witness to the need for justice and reparation for the survivors during Pope Benedict’s UK trip and to search for advocates. NSAC envoys have also been sent to Ireland and Germany.

  2. If a person wants to receive the Blessed Eucharist, one must become Catholic. The choice is a personal one; whether to remain Protestant or to become a Catholic who holds to the entire catholic faith, not picking and choosing what to believe and what to reject.

    As an aside, I was at a faith course at the weekend. There were 24 women and 9 men. And this, in a ‘male-dominated’ Church. Sure. As anyone who is closely involved in the Church will confirm, women are doing everything apart from consecrating the Host.

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