SA Nun Takes On the Vatican

Johannesburg, South Africa - A SOUTH African nun is leading a silent feminist revolution in the Roman Catholic Church. Dr Patricia Fresen, 65, is ordaining women as priests despite vociferous disapproval from the Vatican.

Yesterday Fresen, who is one of three Catholic women bishops, presided over the ordaining of the first Swiss and three American women priests in Switzerland.

She is also lobbying for the appointment of married individuals to the priesthood.

This week she spoke of her struggle for reforms in a church that not only doesn't recognise women priests but has banned discussion on the issue. She compared her struggle to fighting apartheid: "Breaking unjust laws is not against God. [Fighting] gender discrimination is not very different from fighting an oppressive system."

She said she became a nun at 17 but felt the call to priesthood only some 22 years later when she was sent by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference to study theology in Rome. She stayed there for seven years and watched as men were ordained, leaving her behind.

Back in South Africa, Fresen obtained a doctorate in liberation theology and taught. But her resolve to become a priest eventually led her to Barcelona, Spain, to be ordained by the Danube Seven, a group of women who'd been ordained in Austria amid bomb threats in 2002.

After her ordination in 2003 the Dominicans released her.

She was then offered her current post training would-be women priests in Germany. "When I came they were seven and now there are 120. It just shows how people have been waiting and waiting."