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Vatican police ask women priest campaigners to leave

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Campaigners say women could have helped prevent abuse by priests
  • Thousands say they were abused by Catholic clergy
  • Pope has vowed to seek justice for victims
  • Vatican refuses to ordain women priests because Jesus's disciples were men

Vatican City (CNN) -- Activists campaigning for the Catholic Church to ordain women as priests were asked to leave the Vatican on Tuesday.

They argue that women in the priesthood could have helped lessen the impact of the child abuse scandal sweeping the church.

"We believe that if women had a say in the church, if there was more accountability and more transparency, that the men would have been held more accountable," said Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the U.S.-based Women's Ordination Conference.

The half-dozen campaigners had unfurled a banner and were handing out leaflets when Vatican police asked them to go.

They left peacefully, returning to Italian soil from the small patch in Rome controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican police regularly ask protesters to leave.

The activists were trying to draw attention to the church's refusal to allow women to be priests, bishops or deacons, they said.

One woman who was ordained in 2002 -- and was excommunicated as a result -- said the child abuse scandal was partly a result of the church's disrespect for women.

"If women and children were respected -- and that includes if they respected us enough to ordain us -- then that would set a different tone," said Mary Ann M. Schoettly.

"Any abuse of children or women or the pedophile crisis itself probably would have been mitigated," she said.

Thousands of people have come forward in the United States, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Pope Benedict XVI's native Germany saying they were abused as children by Catholic clergy.

The crisis has particularly shocked deeply Catholic Ireland, where three government-backed investigations have uncovered physical and sexual abuse stretching back decades.

Critics charge that the Vatican systematically covered up abuse around the world by shuffling abusive priests from one parish to another or quietly pushing them to retire.

The pope has met with victims in the United States and Malta, and vowed that the church will seek justice for the victims.

Schoettly rejects her excommunication and acts as a priest for a congregation of 40 to 70 people, she said. She has performed baptisms, and will officiate at her first wedding next month, she said.

"The Catholic people have accepted us. Many priests accept us," she said of women priests, adding that there were now more than 100. "We are not going away," she said.

Therese Koturbash, a Canadian lawyer and the international coordinator of the campaign, said her group was seeking "dialogue" with the Vatican hierarchy.

"Obviously, our church leaders aren't showing us leadership and dialogue. So if they are not doing it, we are here gracefully showing leadership, coming, knocking at the door year after year," she said. "Please, we want to talk about this."

The Catholic Church has traditionally not ordained women, noting that all of Jesus's disciples were men.

CNN's Hada Messia contributed to this report.