Austrian women defy ban to become priests


The Catholic Church is threatening to excommunicate a group of women who plan to be ordained as Catholic priests tomorrow, according to Austrian bishops.

A dozen women from Austria, Germany and the US plan to be ordained by an unnamed bishop in a private ceremony which breaks the Church law that "the sacrament can only be administered by a baptised man".

According to the media, the ordination will be carried out by Bishop Ferdinand Regelsberger (68), who was himself ordained bishop in a ceremony contested by the Vatican and Austrian church authorities.

The former Benedictine monk was ordained by Bishop Romulo Braschi, an Argentine bishop who styles himself a "warrior of the soul" and a specialist in "karma", a dogma which really belongs to Hinduism.

Austria's bishops are fiercely opposed to the women's ordination, which they say goes against Catholic law.

The progressive wing of the Austrian Church, which is in favour of women priests, has also distanced itself from the group.

The female priesthood candidates have said they will hold a press conference after the ceremony.

The controversy comes as Austria faces a crisis in its priesthood. Last year just 23 priests were ordained in a country which officially counts six million Catholics in a population of eight million.

In the 1970s 75 priests on average were ordained each year, according to Church statistics.