cross.jpgTHIS weekend in Rome a married teacher will become Italy's first woman priest when she is ordained in a church not far from the Vatican.

Maria Longhitano, 35, is a member of Old Catholic Church, an order that broke away from the main body of the Catholic Church in the 19th century.

The ordination will not be recognised by the Vatican. But Mrs Longhitano hopes it will help to shatter the stained-glass ceiling by breaking down "prejudice" in the Roman Church.

Having a woman ordained in Rome is interesting timing in what has become a fierce fight.

During the week, the Catholic archdiocese of Chicago denied burial in a Catholic cemetery to an American woman ordained as a priest. Janine Denomme was a priest for five weeks before she died of cancer. She was ordained by a group called Roman Catholic Women Priests.

The Pope is opposed to women as priests. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, even banned official discussion of the issue.

But demands for equality won't stop. As more Protestant denominations ordain women - even homosexual women - the Catholic Church's teaching on the all-male priesthood has come under renewed attack, with some leading lay Catholics claiming the ordination of women is a matter of simple justice. They also argue banning women priests is against Biblical doctrine.

This month, a group of Austrian Catholic bishops urged the Vatican to rethink the issues of celibacy and women priests. They called for discussion of "broad reforms".

Bishop Pat Power, the Catholic auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Canberra-Goulburn, recently wrote that reform in his church would involve much more than just "tinkering around the edges".

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