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Reform group seeks changes in US Church

At its first national meeting on Saturday, a US lay reform group born out of the clergy sex abuse scandal, called for drastic changes in the way the church is governed.

An estimated 4000 Voice of the Faithful members from 35 states and seven foreign countries signed a petition urging Pope John Paul II to endorse reform policies that US bishops approved in June.

In a statement, the group vowed to find ways for lay Catholics to "actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church."

Included among proposals under discussion were policy-making power for lay church members, and giving parishioners a role in the appointment of bishops and pastors.

Fr Thomas Doyle, keynote speaker and an Air Force chaplain in Germany, said the abuse scandal resulted from "the delusion that the clergy are somehow above the rest," as well as some clergymen's "unbridled addiction to power."

The word "democracy" strikes fear in many clergy, he said, but ordinary lay Catholics need to shed "timidity or fearful deference to the very structures that have betrayed us."

Catholics must also "stop enabling through financial support the power structures" responsible for the "horrific consequences" of the scandal and cover-ups, he said.

Panelists at the meeting included Thomas Arens of Germany, an organiser of a petition drive in the mid-1990s urging the Church to accept married priests and women priests, and lay theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill of Boston College.

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22 Jul 2002