BY Axons MAC.DONALD THIS WEEK'S HISTORIC ordination services for women in the Church of England were marked by a dramatic demonstration of the divisions over the issue within the Catholic Church.
At Bristol Cathedral, where the first batch of 32 women priests were ordained in a televised service on Saturday, a full-blown ecumenical incident threatened to erupt after a Belgian Catholic priest was permitted to make a short, apparently unscheduled prayer in which he called for an end to the "ossified and discriminating legislation" against allowing women priests in the Catholic Church.
A spokesman for the Catholic Media Office described the intervention by Belgian priest Pr Marc Cornelis as "most regrettable", adding that it sounded "more like an ecclesiastical political statement than a prayer".
Meanwhile, outside the cathedral, a 30-strong group of women from Catholic Womens' Ordination (CWO) held up banners proclaiming "Catholic women next" and "Equal rites". Sheila Birtchnell of the Bristol branch of CWO told the Catholic Herald: "We hope that our Church will be next. The issue has been broken open in our Church already, and now it's just a matter of time._ ". There was little or no sign of the threatened demonstrations by groups opposed to women priests.
Fr Cornelis, an army chaplain from Flanders, had been invited to Britain by the liberal campaigning group Catholics for a Changing Church (CCC) as part of an unofficial Belgian delegation. His initial offer to take part in the cere
mony was declined, but he and his delegation were offered official seats inside the building.
During the extended sign of peace towards the end of the 2-hour service, Bishop Barry Rogerson, who was conducting the service, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to let Fr Cornelis read out a prayer.
He said: "Let us pray also that the Roman Catholic Church may overcome ossified and discriminating legislation, and allow women to be ordained and lead the way in preaching God's word, in celebrating Eucharist and in showing ways for the community of faith to go."
Meanwhile in Rome, a Vatican spokesman re-iterated the Catholic Church's view Anglican ordination of women created "a serious obstacle" to unity. Vatican spokesman Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the ordination services "cast a shadow" over the ARCIC negotiations of the 1980s. "By not taking into account the ecumenical and ecclesiological dimensions of the question, the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion casts a shadow on the agree
ment reached," he said.
The flow of Anglicans defecting to Rome is expected to increase now that the ordinations have taken place.
In London, a Catholic bishop met a group of 400 lay Anglicans who are considering becoming Catholics. Bishop Vincent Nichols, area bishop in Westminster, answered questions at the meeting, organised by the umbrella group for those opposed to womens' ordination, Forward in Faith. It was believed to be the first meeting of its kind specifically for Anglican laity.