by Timothy Elphick THERE has been mixed reaction in Catholic countries far and wide to last week's Church of England decision to ordain women priests.
The most enthusiastic response came from Catholics in Belgium, where a survey showed that a majority of believers welcomed the change and would like to see similar reforms in the Catholic Church.
By contrast, Latin American Church leaders expressed dismay at the General Synod's vote, reflecting the Vatican line that it presented a "grave and serious obstacle" to future ecumenical relations with the Anglican Church.
The Belgian poll, published in the French-language newspaper, Dimanche Marin, revealed that most of the country's 8.7 million Catholics would favour a Vatican about-turn on the issue of women priests. The survey also showed that most of Belgium's church
goers wanted to see the emergence of a married clergy.
But the Belgian reaction was far from typical. Surveys in a number of Latin American nations showed the opposite view. In Colombia, for example, two out of three lay Catholics responded to an opinion poll on women clergy by saying they would rather forfeit absolution from their sins than confess their sins to a woman priest.
Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis of Bogota, the Colombian capital, said that "resistance to women's ordination is evident not only among the clergy, it is rooted in our people and culture.
Churchmen throughout the continent also echoed the Vatican line. The secretary general of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, Bishop Mario del Valle Moronta Rodriguez of Caracas, said that the Anglican vote made "the process of ecumenical dialogue more difficult than before and distresses the Church's unity".
In Mexico the executive secretary of the bishops' social communications department, Ana Maria Gutierrez, said she believed Jesus had deliberately delegated the priesthood to his male apostles, and not to women. But that did not mean that women were "relegated to a lower status" by the Church. "They have other roles with the same dignity," she said.
• Australia's Anglican General Synod voted on Saturday to allow women priests. The decision, carried by a single vote, is expected to lead to the first female ordinations within months. The move was condemned by conservative churchgoers.
• There will be few reverberations from last week's Church of England's vote on women priests in the Church of Ireland, according to Church representatives. The Church of Ireland voted to accept women priests in 1991.