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Representatives from over 15 dissident Roman Catholic groups gathered Friday near Washington, D.C. to share their hope that a new pope would accommodate their call for sweeping change. (photo: Jeff Walton/IRD)

Representatives from over 15 dissident Roman Catholic groups gathered Friday near Washington, D.C. to share their hope that a new pope would enact sweeping change. (photo: Jeff Walton/IRD)

By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)

When Roman Catholic Cardinals select a new pope early next week, they should select a pontiff who embraces legalized abortion, ordination of women to the priesthood and affirmation of homosexual and transgender persons, according to a coalition of liberal Catholic dissident groups.

“I want a pope who listens with a big heart,” announced Linda Pinto of CORPUS, a group that advocates overturning the required discipline of clerical celibacy. While Pinto and other gathered representatives articulated a desire for sweeping change within the church, they acknowledged it would take a “miracle” for leadership that held their views to reach the highest levels of the Vatican.

Meeting Friday morning just outside of Washington, D.C., Catholic Organizations for Renewal hosted a press conference in which the Roman Catholic hierarchy was described as “punitive,” “over-centralized,” and “out of step with the people of God.” Attendees also decried a now-retired pope who made overtures to conservative Anglicans and “wants to get back schismatics who reject Vatican II,” while excommunicating women who believe they are called to the priesthood.

“We appreciate this opportunity for the majority of U.S. Catholics to be heard,” asserted Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of the homosexual advocacy group DignityUSA. “If the Catholic Church is to carry the Gospel into the future, much needs to change.”

While Duddy-Burke did not claim that the assembled groups’ membership included most Catholics, she and others expressed confidence that their views were more in line with U.S. Catholic churchgoers than many teachings of the church were. Others asserted that they were restoring the church to a more egalitarian era, citing “substantial evidence in archaeology” of women holding co-equal roles in the church during its first centuries. Uniformly, the groups’ calls were made in the name of social progress rather than faithfulness to scripture or the traditions of the church.

Among the groups represented at the gathering were abortion rights organization Catholics for Choice, social justice lobby Call to Action, organizations advocating the overturning of clerical celibacy requirements and egalitarian groups such as Roman Catholic Womenpriests, the Women’s Ordination Conference and the feminist coalition Women-Church Convergence.

“We’ve had a church of fear and control,” charged Bill Slavik of Pax Christi Maine.

Asked why they stayed within an institution whose leaders they were so at odds with, the group, which was predominantly white women of retirement age, said most were reluctant to give up on a church that they love.

“Many of us are cradle Catholics,” explained Gloria Ulterino of the women’s ordination group RAPPORT, who praised the richness of Catholic tradition. “The secret we are trying to uncover here is that Catholics are not out of step [with American society].”

Others described an institution that was “dysfunctional” in their view, but a faith that was not, bemoaning U.S. bishops “in the thrall of the Vatican,” since Pope John Paul II.

“If we cannot have a public dialogue, our efforts are futile,” surmised Joe Boyle of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC). “Right now we don’t have that.”

While representatives of the organizations also decried sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and the troubled Vatican Bank, sweeping social changes formed much of their agenda. A woman already ordained in a parallel organization and a handful of aspiring younger female clergy asserted that U.S. Catholics “have been ready for women priests for some time.” Previewing her pilgrimage to Rome next week, one aspiring clergywoman announced that her group would lift pink smoke into the air during a Tuesday vigil at the Vatican in order to bring awareness that no women are involved in the conclave.

Update: Catholic blogger Deanna Olsen was also present for the press conference and has made it available on YouTube. Unexpectedly, Olsen was requested to stop taping the press conference at one point (despite the presence of a camera crew from the local CBS affiliate). This is the first occasion that I have seen someone being asked not to tape a public press conference.