A closeup of Benedict XVI on the balcony of the papal retreat
ARLINGTON, Va. (WUSA) - Over the years, many Catholics have left the church because of its strict stand against contraception, abortion and homosexuality. But not those affiliated with Catholic Organizations for Renewal, or COR.
"I'm a married lesbian mom who's a Roman Catholic," says Marianne Duddy-Burke who understands that some people will see that as a contradiction. She is the executive director of Dignity USA, which is a voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.
Her organization is one of 15 that make up COR, which is meeting in Arlington this week...just as the Vatican conclave of 115 men meet to elect a new Pope. Duddy-Burke says it's a conclave that does not represent the people it serves.
"There are lots of people who are not being represented in this conclave. And we need to have other ways to have our voiced heard. The voices of women, the voices of young people, the voices of the poor, the voices of people from developing countries. All of those are not echoing in the Sistine Chapel right now," said Duddy-Burke.
The Group Catholics for Choice, a member of COR, says the continued exclusion of women from any meaningful decision making reflects badly on the church.
Duddy-Burke says the Church calls her homosexuality a "disorder" and it says homosexual relationships are evil. Yet, despite insults and name-calling, she's holding firm to her religion. She says she won't leave the Catholic Church because of her deep faith in Jesus and the religion. She considers herself a part of the Catholic Church even though her congregation worships in an Episcopal church because they're not wanted in the Catholic Church.
"I think it's our responsibility to speak the truth as it lives in our soul, in that still quite space within us. And eventually we'll see the Church be what it needs to be," said Duddy-Burke.
She says the Church is not buildings, the priests, the bishops or the Pope, but the people who believe.
"There are a lot of us out there, and we are Catholic. We are the face of Catholicism as much as Father Steve or Sister Mary," said Duddy-Burke. She says there are 150 women priests leading unofficial Catholic congregations throughout the country. "That split between the people and the hierarchy gets wider and wider," she said.
Magdalena Lopez, director the international program for Catholics for Choice says the Church needs to help women worldwide, by stopping its stand against contraception and abortion and let women make their own decisions about their health.
Lopez says she sees changes. She says she has known official priests who've supported women who made the difficult decision to have an abortion, "Sometimes you get lucky and get a priest who understands."
Lopez points to the Catholic Church's defunct commission on contraception that was started, as hopeful, even though is was abruptly shuddered. "Catholics believe in miracles. And I do believe that change can still happen. And change can only happen if we work from within"
COR says the first order of business for the new Pope should be to deal with the sexual abuse crisis... the problems with accountability and the cover-up.