Italy ordains first woman priest

Maria Vittoria Longhitano (l) is embraced by Bishop Fritz-Rene Muller during a mass in which she was ordained Mrs Longhitano says Catholicism is crippled without women

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A married teacher has become the first woman priest to be ordained in Italy.

Maria Vittoria Longhitano, 35, who belongs to a breakaway faction of the Catholic Church, received the holy orders at an Anglican church in Rome.

She belongs to the Italian Old Catholic Church, a congregation that broke away from Roman Catholicism in the 19th Century.

While the Vatican is opposed to women priests, other Christian groups have long accepted female clergy.

Mrs Longhitano, who will now be known as Mother Longhitano, said she hoped to break down what she described as prejudice in the Roman Catholic church.

"We are talking about an extremely hierarchical system; a male caste with a strong instinct of self-preservation," she said.

"And this is why there is this general attitude against ordaining women in the Church."

The Roman Catholic Church says it obeys the directives of Jesus Christ, whose 12 Apostles were all men.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome says some commentators have argued that having more women in the Church may have helped prevent the priest child-abuse scandal of recent years.

Having women ordained in Italy from a fringe Catholic group will not be as divisive as women bishops has been in the Anglican communion, our correspondent says.

For now, its impact is likely to be more symbolic than anything more profound, he adds.

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