PARIS Liberal Catholics have asked to meet Pope Francis to add their views to talks next week on changes in the Church, hoping the conciliatory tone he has brought to the papacy will allow more open decision making.
More than 100 groups of reform-minded Roman Catholics sent the appeal in an open letter to the pope and the eight cardinals he has chosen to help him govern the worldwide Church and reform its troubled bureaucracy, the Curia.
Francis holds his first talks with the advisory board of cardinals next week. It is not yet clear how their talks in Rome on October 1-3 will be organized or whether their policy suggestions will be made public.
"Our fondest hope is that Pope Francis will accept a delegation of our leaders at the Vatican," said Rene Reid of the Catholic Church Reform group, one of the letter's signatories.
"He has been reaching out to atheists, gays and others. He wants dialogue. We want that too," she said in a statement.
The groups come from around the globe, mostly the English-speaking world but also Germany, Austria, France, Poland, Spain and India.
The letter lists reforms that Francis - elected pope in March with a clear mandate for change - might consider and others he has already ruled out. In a wide-ranging interview last week, he showed he wanted to change many Church procedures but not traditional doctrines.
The letter urges Francis, who has said the Church needs more decentralized decision-making, to give local clergy and lay people a say in electing their own bishops, rather than reserving that privilege to Rome alone.
Mismanagement by bishops, especially in covering up for sexually abusive priests, has been a main source of discontent as child abuse scandals rocked the 1.2-billion strong Church over the past decade.
The letter also appeals for divorced and remarried Catholics to be allowed to receive the Eucharist, a reform that Francis has said should be studied, and asks that dissenting theologians disciplined by Rome be rehabilitated.
The groups also call for women priests, although Francis ruled that out in July.
He has been more open to discuss the possibility of married priests, another proposal in the letter, but Catholic experts say that any such reform would take a long time.
The groups also said homosexual Catholics should have "full participation in the life of the Church and its service."
The Church considers homosexual sex a sin. Gays are not supposed to be accepted to become priests and the Church does not perform same-sex marriages.
The letter expresses full support for Francis and his "new style of leadership, less that of a monarch, more as a simple servant-bishop."
"Many around the world - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - hope that your election will mark a turning point in the history of the Church," it says.
The eight cardinals come from Italy, Chile, India, Germany, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States, Australia, and Honduras, indicating Francis intends to heed calls by bishops from around the world to have more say in Vatican decisions.
High on their list will be ideas to reform the Curia, whose last major overhaul was carried out by Pope Paul VI in 1967.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)