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United States of America
The Pope and his addressing the issue of clergy and sexual abuse by priests.

NEW YORK (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI may not see them or hear them, butaggrieved Roman Catholic activists hope his U.S. visit this week willhelp them draw attention to issues ranging from the ordination of womenand gay rights to sex abuse by priests and the Vatican ban oncontraception.

The groups have planned vigils, demonstrations andnews conferences to press their causes as the pope visits Washingtonand New York. On Monday evening, the eve of his arrival, supporters ofwomen's ordination will host what they are calling "an inclusive Mass"at a Methodist church in Washington, presided over by Catholic women —including two who were recently excommunicated.

"We cannotwelcome this pope until he begins to do away with the church'scontinuing violence of sexism," said Sister Donna Quinn, coordinator ofthe National Coalition of American Nuns.

Participants in theservice will include Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath, who wereexcommunicated last month by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louisbecause they were ordained as part of a women-priest movement condemnedby the Vatican.

"In the face of one closed door after another,Catholic women have been innovative, courageous and faithful to thechurch," said Aisha Taylor, executive director of the Women'sOrdination Conference. "They continue to make a way where is none."

GayCatholic activists, who plan to demonstrate Tuesday along the papalmotorcade route in Washington, have compiled a list of statements byBenedict during his career which they consider hostile to gays andlesbians. These include forceful denunciations of gay marriage and ofadoption rights for same-sex couples.

"He has issued some of themost hurtful and extreme rhetoric against our community of anyreligious leader in history, and we want to call him into account forthe damage that he's done," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executivedirector of DignityUSA.

Duddy-Burke said she hopes the protestswill be coupled with celebration of the gains made by gay Catholics inAmerica in recent years. She cited the growing number of parisheswelcoming openly gay members and the dozens of Catholic colleges thatnow have gay-straight alliances.

Another gay Catholic group, NewWays Ministry, hosted a news conference at which speakers conveyed whatthey would tell the pope if they had the opportunity. The speakersincluded Gregory Maguire, author of the best-selling novel "Wicked,"who along with husband Andrew Newman is raising three adopted childrenas Catholics in Massachusetts, the only state to allow same-sexmarriages.

"We invite you to spend a day, a meal, a weekend withus," Maguire said in his message to the pope. "We don't want to serveas a poster-family for gay Catholics. ... We will just be ourselves, inall our confusion, aspiration, need and joy."

Another divisiveissue being raised this week is the Vatican's ban on contraception. Gayrights groups and others say the ban undermines programs promotingcondom use to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In a conference callMonday organized by Catholics for Choice, four Catholic theologianswill be examining the impact of the 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae,"which defined the Vatican's opposition to artificial birth control.

"Catholicswonder why there's this huge disparity between what the hierarchy sayswe should do in regard to contraception and what Catholics on theground actually do," said Catholics for Choice president Jon O'Brien.

He termed the ban "a great tragedy ... a policy that lacks compassion and understanding."

Asked about the prospects that Benedict might reconsider the ban, O'Brien replied, "I do believe in miracles."

Formany American Catholics, the most distressing church-related issue ofrecent years has been clerical sex abuse. Thousands of molestationallegations have been filed against Catholic clergy, and dioceses havepaid out more than $2 billion in claims since 1950.

DavidClohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abuse byPriests, said his advocacy group would not be mollified even if thepope meets privately with abuse victims.

"Extraordinarily fewCatholics and victims will be moved in any way by gestures, words,tokens," Clohessy said. "It's as plain as day that three years into hispapacy, Benedict has done literally nothing to protect the vulnerableor heal the wounded."

Clohessy said his group will make use ofthe papal visit to press for tough disciplinary action against bishopswho covered up abuses by their priests and to urge pre-emptive steps bythe Vatican against abuse by priests in other nations.

Clohessyexpressed disappointment that the pope was not visiting Boston, wherethe scandal burst into the national spotlight in 2002.

"Showing awillingness to visit the epicenter of the crisis — that would have beenone gesture that might have been effective," Clohessy said.

Voiceof the Faithful, a Boston-based reform group which emerged from thescandal, placed a full-page ad last week in The New York Times, costingmore than $50,000, to air its call for a transformation of the church.

Thead urged Benedict to meet with abuse victims, oust bishops who coveredup abuse and promote a greater role for lay Catholics in running theirparishes.

The extent to which the pope addresses the variedgrievances during his trip remains unknown. But the Vatican's envoy tothe United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, said any dissent that mightarise was regrettable.

"Even in the Catholic church, nobody hasthe right to instrumentalize the visit of the pope to serve theirpersonal interests," Sambi told the National Catholic Reporter. "Theproblem is that there are too many people here who would like to be thepope ... and who attribute to themselves a strong sense of their owninfallibility."


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