An extremely well-publicized and media-promoted boycott of Mass by Ireland's Catholic women was almost universally ignored yesterday. The boycott was originally called by 81-year-old Jennifer Sleeman, who hoped the boycott would “let the Vatican and the Irish church know that women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens.”
Sleeman claimed that the empty pews at Mass yesterday would show the Church's hierarchy that “the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over.” From what I saw at our parish yesterday and from what I read on Twitter and in the newspapers today attendance at Sunday Mass was unaffected by the boycott. Even a last minute appeal to those women who didn't want to miss Mass that they wear green arm bands was totally ignored. The boycott/protest was an abject failure.
The child abuse scandals in the Church that have dominated the headlines here for the past decade or more have seriously dented the Church. There is no denying that. However, the failure of Sunday's boycott's demonstrates that the Church in Ireland is far from dead, despite the fact that the media has pronounced its demise frequently.
The Irish media may not accept it, but they were seriously beaten this past weekend. Sleeman was the media's proxy in its war against the Church and this weekend Ireland's Catholics showed that despite all the problems in the Church they were not going to adhere to the agenda set by the editors and prominent opinion-makers in Ireland's newsrooms.
Yes, yesterday constituted a 'vote of confidence motion' in the Church and by any measure the media's hoped for empty pews failed to materialize.
If my parish is anything to go by, this weekend may even prove to be a significant positive for the Church. If anything, the congregation at Mass was younger than usual and there was no hint of any no-shows among women, young or old. The people voted with their feet – by attending Mass they voted against the no-confidence motion.
What this weekend proves is that the Irish Catholic Church may have hemorrhaged numbers in recent years, but a fairly large percentage of Catholics remain committed to the Church.
Problems remain, including a final reckoning for the child abuse scandals and a steep decline in vocations, but the decline may be at or at least near an end. The new Church will be smaller, no longer the dominant institution in Irish life that the old Church was was in decades past. However, this new Church will also be a strong counter-weight to the cynicism and liberal agenda beloved of the media.
Demands for change led by those inimical to the Church will be ignored. That doesn't mean that those who remain will be docile. Far from it. There will be a demand for better management and the laity will expect and be expected to take a more active role as the number of priests declines.
Change is coming, but it won't be the change desired by those whose dream is to see the end of the Catholic Church in Ireland.