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29 Jul, 2009 06:37

Woman priest struggles for acceptance by Roman Catholic Church

She suffered public humiliation in front of her fellow Catholics - all because she wants to be a priest. Still, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger is persistent in trying to change the Roman Catholic Church’s ways.

For the past 7 years, Mayr-Lumetzberger has been something of a renegade.

In 2002, an independent bishop ordained her and six other women along the banks of the River Danube. The church did not recognize her holy orders and excommunicated her.

Undeterred, Christine was ordained as a bishop in a secret ceremony in 2003.

She and her husband believe that for Catholicism to survive it is essential that it evolves, something which her actions can help.

“I want to have change in the Roman Catholic Church and this is one of the reasons I want to stay in the Roman Catholic Church. It is like a family,” she said.

But her ‘family’ does not seem to be ready to accept her. Recently, Christine was refused communion at a local church.

So with no radical changes imminent, Christine is limited to carrying out her priestly duties within the confines of her own private and purpose-built chapel.

She said she is regularly called on to perform baptisms, weddings and even funerals.

Christine says it is precisely because she is a woman that people are drawn to her. She can offer a more empathetic face for what many regard as a distant and increasingly out-of-touch Catholic Church.

She dreams of the times when male and female priests serve together and a woman can become Pope. Christine says that she appreciates the support of forward – thinking Catholics.

“Change is absolutely necessary for Catholicism. We need to reorganize our entire approach to pastoral care. My hope is that the church will learn to see and react on sight to the needs of the people,” said Bishop Rafael Ferdinand Regelsberger.

But within the gilded cloisters of one of Vienna’s oldest and largest cathedrals, the rules and traditions of canon law that stretch back centuries are clear – that women are equal in the eyes of God, but that Jesus conferred the priesthood only on to the shoulders of men.

"The Catholic Church has survived so many difficult situations in the last 2000 years. I think it will survive difficult situations in the next 2000 years,” said a spokesperson for the Vienna Archdiocese Erich Leitenberger.

“I think that in the next hundred, 200 or 300 years we will not have women bishops or women priests inside the Roman Catholic Church or inside the Orthodox Church," he added.

It was at St Peter’s Parish Church that Christine was refused communion. A public humiliation that she insists she has never suffered anywhere else.

Her reaction was to simply lean over and take the wafer, or host as it is known, herself. It was a bold and controversial move but one that she hopes will send out a message of the need for wider acceptance and reform within the Roman Catholic Church.