As I drove to work last Wednesday, I was delighted to hear on the radio that a protest against the attitude of the Catholic Church to women is being organised, for 26 September.
Finally, I thought, women are getting angry.
I have been angry for quite some time at the treatment of women by one of the world’s largest organisations. We in the West tend to look down on Islam for its perceived subjugation of women, but in this case we are almost certainly living in glass houses.
And the woman who got angry? Step forward ‘the monk’s mother’. So named by the Irish Times, Jennifer Sleeman from Clonakilty (who informed Morning Ireland that, in fact, she has five other children), is very angry, and hurt.
She has cause to be angry. A former Presbyterian, she is one of very few people in Ireland to have actively chosen Catholicism. The rest of us simply accepted it as our birthright.
Well, most of us do. Some don’t – quite a number of Irish people have registered on the website www.countmeout.ie, which formally removes a person from the Catholic Church, and many more are practicing Catholics only insofar as they marry in churches, baptise their children and send them to Catholic schools, whether by choice or not.
But back to Ms Sleeman. At the age of 80, she is the only woman I’ve heard of trying to organise a response to the increasing disregard for women the Catholic Church, under Pope Benedict XVI, is purveying. She is asking women not to attend Mass on Sunday 26 September.
I have heard French women and American women being interviewed on Irish radio about this issue – mostly on Newstalk, funnily enough – RTE doesn’t seem that interested. But I have heard no Irish Catholic woman, before this, speak out on the issue as if it was one they wanted to do something about.
Could it be that the majority of us believe the Church has done us such a grievous wrong that there is no going back? Or, worse, could it be that so many see the Church as an irrelevance, something anachronistic that has no import on our lives?
For those who are believers, the most recent betrayal of women by the Church – proclaiming the ordination of women with paedophilia as equally serious sins – must have been devastating.
Leaving aside the terrible revelations about sexual and physical abuse, the mismanagement of these scandals, the suffering of women in the Magdalen laundries and other issues which have arisen in relation to the Church, this latest blow on its own was bad enough.
For women who have worked all their lives for the Church as cleaners, sacristans, flower arrangers, altar decorators, tea makers, choir mistresses, singers, housekeepers and all the hundreds of small, menial jobs the organisation requires to keep going – largely unpaid – it is nothing less than a slap in the face. They have not been given robes, homes or livelihoods by the Church. They are not adored; they do not have titles.
And now, they are discovering that they do not even have the respect of a religion many have devoted their lives to.
I have great admiration for Jennifer Sleeman. She loves her religion and wants to make it something worthy of that love and respect. While I am not myself religious, I hope that those who are will join her in her protest and make its deafening silence reach all the way to Rome.