* Call for dialogue on role of laity, women
* Group criticizes "medieval system"
* Archbishop says meeting supports dissent
By Scott Malone
DETROIT (Reuters) - Members of a liberal group of
U.S. Catholics called Sunday on Church leaders to open talks
with their members on controversies ranging from the ordination
of women to allowing priests to marry.
Members of the American Catholic Council, meeting in
Detroit, said they had grown concerned that the Church
hierarchy was not listening to its members on issues such as
the role of women, married clergy and the treatment of
The meeting comes as the Roman Catholic Church in the
United States is struggling with a sexual abuse crisis, loss of
membership and a dwindling number of priests.
"When in God's name are the conversations going to begin?"
asked Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who addressed the
meeting of about 2,000 people -- part of a liberal wing that
represents a minority in the 1.2 billion-member Church.
She likened the structure, with bishops and archbishops
answering to the pope in Rome, to "a medieval system that has
now been abandoned by humanity everywhere, except by us."
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron had warned before the
meeting that any members of the clergy who attended the group's
mass would be at risk of being defrocked.
"All of the invited keynote speakers have manifested
dissent from Catholic teachings or support for dissenters," the
archdiocese said in a posting on its website.
Robert Wurm, a retired priest from Ferndale, Michigan, who
officiated at the closing mass, said he was not worried the
archbishop would take action against him.
"He was careful about that. He said they could be
defrocked, not that they would," Wurm told reporters.
Under Church law, an archbishop has authority over all
masses held in his area. A spokesman for the archdiocese
declined further comment.
The group's "Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities"
reads like a list of grievances against the conservative
leadership of Pope Benedict, who has frustrated liberals by
ruling out the possibility of women priests or a married clergy
and putting pressure on dissenting theologians.
"Few people realize how powerful the pope is," Swiss
theologian Hans Kueng told the meeting through a video
presentation. "We have to change an absolutist system."
Some of the people attending the meeting said they were
frustrated by local bishops' unwillingness to discuss their
views on issues including the treatment of women.
"They refuse to talk about married priests and the
ordination of women," said Edward Ruetz, an 85-year-old retired
priest who traveled to the meeting from Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The question of who may be ordained has become a practical
concern for many U.S. Catholics as the local Church has faced
dwindling numbers of priests even as the Catholic population
has expanded, thanks partly to Hispanic immigration.
The country's number of priests stood a bit below 40,000
last year, down by one-third from the end of the reforming
Second Vatican Council in 1965, while the Catholic population
has risen 43 percent to 66 million over the same period.
These liberals are a minority in the world Church now, but
similar groups exist in some other countries, especially in
Benedict's native Germany and neighboring Austria.
"They have to listen to us, we want to have an open
dialogue," said Henk Baas, 58, who traveled to the meeting from
the Netherlands, part of a European delegation that included
visitors from Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The Catholic Church in the United States and Europe has
been rocked by revelations that large numbers of priests
sexually abused minors and in some cases were protected by the
A report commissioned by the Church and released in May
found nearly 6,000 U.S. priests -- about 5 percent of the total
-- were accused of sexual abuse in the past 50 years.
The U.S. Catholic Church has paid out about $3 billion to
settle sexual abuse lawsuits, resulting in the bankruptcies of
some diocese, including San Diego; Wilmington, Delaware; and,
early this year the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
(Reporting by Scott Malone, additional reporting by Tom
Heneghan in Paris; Editing by Eric Beech)
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