(St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, 4 March 2005/Tom Heneghan)

Members of a liberal group of U.S. Catholics called on 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 homosexuals.

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.