Background information on the beginnings of

Roman Catholic Womenpriests

Despite Pope John Paul II’s ban on women’s ordination Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger of Linz, Austria began thinking about a training program for women for ordained ministries in the Roman Catholic Church. She took the initiative and developed a voluminous program.

The program is not an alternative to a full theological study. Rather it is a "training on the job". A theological education is a pre-condition for participation in the program. The program begins with the conviction that the ordination of women to the priesthood will be possible in the Catholic Church some day.

A group of women discussed the first draft thoroughly. Then a refined version was brought to a plenary session of We Are Church Austria. This initiative is seen as a service to the church, and dioceses are invited to participate.

When the program was recently announced about 40 women declared their interest in the training course. Five groups, four in Austria and one in Germany, were formed. The course is designed for a period of about three years and is part-time since most of the women hold full-time jobs and have family responsibilities. Most classes are held in Vienna on weekends, but some applicants may have to follow parts of the course by correspondence. The graduates might then be ordained as deacons, a first step towards the priesthood.

So far the Austrian bishops have been silent regarding the program but several priests and theologians have volunteered to help with the course. Project organizers plan to follow church rules and not advise women to "shop around" for a bishop who is ready to violate the church’s canon law by ordaining them despite the Vatican ban.

Registered Sunday Mass attendance among Austria’s Roman Catholics, who nominally comprise 77 per cent of the total population, dropped during 1998, according to a church communique, and was accompanied by a fall in baptisms, marriages, confirmations and funerals. In 1997 ordinations to the priesthood also fell by a third to just 49 nationwide.

Planners of the program are moving ahead on the assumption that some day it will be possible to ordain women – first as deacons, then as priests – and that those who feel a vocation for the priesthood should not be found unprepared. They hope this initiative will be some encouragement to all women who share a voation to the priesthood, as well as, to their supporters.

For further updates, read the following articles printed in NewWomen, NewChurch, WOC’s quarterly publication:

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