Patience running thin for Church in Ireland

The writing is well and truly on the wall that the female ordination issue will be a major bone of contention between the Church and its faithful in Ireland, and opposition to the stalemate now seems to be springing from within the ranks of the Church and the faithful itself.

The Irish Examiner reports yesterday that a campaigning nun from Fermoy (Co.Cork) is challenging the Church's no-go stance on ordaining female priests.

"People are looking for change now," wrote Sr Louvenagh Heffernan in the Cork-based daily, "and that means the priesthood has to change."

But Sister Heffernan is just the latest figure within 'the fold' to criticize the way the modern Roman Catholic Church is run, and to take issue with the notion that the issue of female ordination isn't up for discussion.

Jennifer Sleeman, from Clonakilty, also in County Cork, has attracted international media coverage by leading a boycott of Sunday Mass in protest at the same issue.

What's surprising, though, is that besides strong layperson support for the boycott, which took place last Sunday, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) insisted that the boycott had been well supported, which sounds like a statement of implicit support for the move.

But if the Priests' Association came out with that statement, the Bishops had something very different to say.

A spokesperson for the bishops' 'hierarchy' told RTÉ news that the boycott had been a flop, and that attendances were actually better than usual last Sunday, when the boycott went ahead.

Such a division between priests and bishops shows that the issue could be divisive even within the the hierarchies of the Catholic Church itself.

Whether or not attendances dropped at churches around the country last Sunday, though, isn't the main point.

What matters - at least to those lobbying for greater female representation at Mass - is that Sleeman and co have made a point, that the Church seems to have noticed, if not listened, and that this could well prove to be the beginnings of a Church-led policy of dialogue with - rather than monoloogue to - its faithful.

And if the Church hasn't noticed the growing sense of alienation felt by both the secularists as well as the weekly mass-goers, then it should start reading the newspapers (and internet blogs!) a bit more.

Sleeman told the media that the boycott gave rise to an 'upswelling of women who want to be equal in the church.'

If that is indeed the case, the Vatican-led policy of no dialogue on this issue seems only increasingly doomed to failure.


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