Bishop `ordained woman as Catholic priest'

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The Independent Online

Religious Affairs Correspondent

Roman Catholic bishops ordained women as priests in Czechoslovakia during the communist years, according to a Czech woman who served as deputy to a bishop in the clandestine church and who now claims that she was herself ordained in the early Seventies.

Ludmila Javorova, 65, confirmed to the Austrian church magazine, Kirche Intern, rumours that the Catholic Church's official line against female priests had been breached under the stress of Communist persecution.

The decision to ordain her was taken by an underground synod convened by Bishop Felix Davidek of Brno in 1970. All the participants, she told Kirche Intern, had to promise in writing not to reveal that they had even discussed the ordination of women. One group objected to the subject, walked out, and was excommunicated by Bishop Davidek (who died in 1988).

The ordinations of several other women followed soon after, although she would not say exactly when and where. Such acts would have breached canon law, which states as the first requirement for a valid ordination that the candidate be a baptised man. Pope John Paul II has frequently fulminated against the ordination of women and last year issued an encyclical ordering Catholics not even to discuss the matter.

However, Ms Javorova said that she knows of other female priests now living in Slovakia and working as nurses or teachers, since their ordination cannot be recognised by the new church authorities.

One reason for ordaining women, Ms Javorova said, was to ensure that imprisoned nuns could receive the sacrament.

However, Nicholas Coote, the assistant general secretary to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said: "The one thing you can't do is to ordain a woman. It's just not possible."