When a Vatican spokesman last July compared the inclusion of women in priesthood to pedophilia, an 80-year-old Irish grandmother called for Catholics all over Ireland to skip Mass on Sept. 26.
On Aug. 11, The Irish Times reportedJennifer Sleeman as saying, "Join with your sisters and let the hierarchy know by your absence that the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over."
So this Sunday, Sept. 26, Portland Catholics are expecting 1,000 people locally to heed Sleeman's call and pass on morning Mass. Instead, they will attend "a prayerful public witness event" at Shemanski fountain in the Park Blocks at Southwest Park Avenue and Salmon Street at 9:30 am in lieu of Sunday morning services at the Portland area's almost 40 Catholic churches.
If the demonstration attracts 1,000 people, it would be one of the larger gatherings of Portland Catholics this Sunday, since the largest Catholic church in Portland can get just under 1,000 people, according to figures provided by the Portland Archdiocese.
One protest organizer, Sarah Granger, says she wants a church where her 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter can achieve equal roles. Unlike some Protestant denominations that allow women to serve as ministers, the Catholic Church bars women from serving as priests.
"From a community organizing standpoint, this is a miracle," says Granger, a 34-year-old parishioner in Northeast Portland's St. Andrew's Church, the city's most liberal parish. "We have been able to put together something because the timing is right...people are ready to act."
Granger, along with fellow St. Andrew's parishioners Mary Ann Dickey and Gayle Bache, has spent about a month urging priests and other parishioners to take up the cause. Event organizers say anybody may attend, but that women will wear red to highlight their presence.
Among the demonstration's backers are St. Andrew's own pastor, Charles Lienert, and Downtown Chapel's pastor, Steve Newton. Both Lienert and Newton will conduct Mass in their parishes but support the demonstration.
"We support anything anybody would do to involve themselves more in their faith," Newton said in a phone interview.
Unsurprisingly, the demonstration is opposed by Archbishop John Vlazny, head of the Archdiocese of Portland that oversees about 410,000 Catholics in western Oregon. Archdiocese spokesman Bud Bunce says it's unlikely the priests backing the demonstration will face discipline. But Bunce adds that church officials are unhappy if any parishioners are skipping Mass to make a political statement.
"If they're choosing something rather than attend Mass, then that is disappointing," Bunce says. "These events aren't equal to the Eucharist."
Marylee King, a 64-year-old parishioner at Resurrection Parish in Tualatin, counters that it's important for her to get together with hundreds of sister Catholics unhappy about church leadership.
"I'm fed up with inequality and injustice by the church hierarchy," King says.
There are an estimated 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide.