Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Gay Catholics & Others Call For More Liberal Pope

Have I made my agenda clear now???


by Richard Ostling, Associated Press

Posted: April 5, 2005 11:02 am ET

(New York City) Whether they want recognition of gays, women priests, more say for the laity or a return to the Latin mass, Roman Catholic interest groups are sending their varied messages to Rome - attempting to exert some small influence on the selection of the next pope or at least get more attention for their causes.

``You can't exactly penetrate the conclave from the outside,'' Sister Maureen Fiedler of Catholics Speak Out in Hyattsville, Md., an organization that supports women's ordination among other changes. Fiedler also is a leading voice in the international We Are Church group.

``All we can do is put the message out there and hope these folks get it and respond,'' she said.

A similar lobbying phenomenon occurred prior to the two conclaves of 1978, and there's no discernible evidence that it had any impact on the outcome.

Still, the global focus on Catholicism and its most pressing issues provides a rare chance for often-ignored groups to get a moment in the spotlight.

We Are Church, a loosely knit federation of 147 liberal organizations, has been looking toward this moment since 1999, when it issued a manifesto titled A Pope for the Time to Come that demands radical changes under the next pontiff.

It has reaffirmed the statement with John Paul's death, and plans to get a copy in the hands of every voting cardinal. The group is also planning media briefings on Catholic issues in Rome next week.

Meanwhile, the Illinois-based Call to Action, another liberal group, and Massachusetts-based Voice of the Faithful, which wants a greater say for lay people in how the church is governed, will each be issuing statements about the type of pope the church needs.

And the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a sharp critic of the church hierarchy during the clergy sex abuse crisis, intends to send appeal letters to each American cardinal in Rome.

Inevitably, most activists descending on Rome will be promoting liberal reforms but some will be arguing that John Paul's reign was too liberal.

Michael Matt, editor of the Remnant newspaper in Wyoming, Minn., said he or others might hold Rome briefings to contend that the next pope should ``undo many of the changes'' from the Second Vatican Council on liturgy and church teachings.

Fiedler said We Are Church wants the next pope to continue John Paul's policies on matters like friendly relations with Jews, opposition to wars and executions, and concern for the world's poor.

But the group's manifesto also calls for married priests, and proposes other items that range from highly unlikely to impossible: women priests, more openness to gay clergy (the statement doesn't indicate whether they should remain celibate) and the summoning of a Universal Christian Council representing Catholic and non-Catholic churches.

Also on the dream list is a call for prominent lay participation ``in the election of all church leaders,'' including the pope. The group believes popes should retire at a set age rather than serving for life.

The manifesto also says the next pope should ``restore a church that values dialogue'' in its ranks, encourages academic freedom for theologians and gives local churches more freedom.

An AP-Ipsos poll released Monday found that the majority of Americans agree with at least some of the reformists' agenda: About two-thirds of those polled said priests should be allowed to marry and almost that many said they want women in the priesthood.

We Are Church originated with complaints against bishops in German-speaking Europe. Eventually more than 2.3 million Catholics in many countries signed a protest petition that was presented to the Vatican in 1997.

Other U.S. participants in We Are Church include FutureChurch of Cleveland; Catholics for a Free Choice (which supports liberal abortion laws); CORPUS (favours married priests); Dignity USA (gay and lesbian caucus); and Priests for Equality and Women's Ordination Conference (advocate women priests).

A conservative observer, Philip Lawler of www.catholicworldnews.com, thinks ``these sorts of lobbying efforts are obviously aimed at the media, not the cardinals _ if they're not deluding themselves.''

``We don't know who the next pope will be but we know he'll be a Catholic,'' Lawler said, ``which means upholding the traditions of the church.''

©Associated Press 2005

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