NEW YORK — Leading dissidents in the Roman Catholic Church warned Wednesday that the spectacle of adoring crowds around Pope John Paul II during his U.S. visit will be part of a well-constructed facade to mask deep conflicts within the church.
Swiss-born theologian Hans Kung, 59, speaking at a news conference with other prominent church dissidents, said the Pope will give "prefabricated" speeches written for him by Americans, avoid "hot topics" like celibacy in the priesthood and the ordination of women, preach human rights but ignore "human rights in the church" and listen only to presentations that have been approved in advance by the Vatican.
"What you see in this papal visit will be a facade of the church and not the reality of the church," Kung said, adding the visit has been designed to be "good for the Vatican" and to "give the impression that everyone is in favor of his policy."
John Paul II will visit nine U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, from Sept. 10 to 19.
Wednesday's news conference, organized by a liberal Catholic group, was held to promote a soon-to-be-published book by church dissidents and to draw attention to what one called an unusual period of "repressive" scrutiny under John Paul II.
A young woman who identified herself as a representative of the New York archdiocese sat in the audience and tape-recorded the session for church authorities.
Two of the speakers, Kung and theologian Charles Curran, are priests who have been censured by the Vatican for expressing views that conflict with church teachings. The Vatican stripped Kung of his official status as a Catholic theologian in 1979 because he publicly challenged church doctrines, including a church teaching that the Pope can speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals.
Curran, 53, who had taught at Catholic University of America in Washington, was suspended from his job at the Vatican-controlled college for arguing that contraception, homosexuality, premarital sex, abortion and masturbation can be morally acceptable in some cases.
Kung said the Vatican has displayed an "arrogance of power" in trying to stifle leading dissidents, whose views he said many Catholics espouse. "I don't believe that we are extremists at all," Kung said.
Kung, a professor of theology and director of an ecumenical research institute in West Germany, said he was pleased that John Paul II met with world Jewish leaders on Tuesday and said the Vatican should establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
"The acknowledgement of the state of Israel cannot be avoided, and the Vatican should not be the last, but the first, to acknowledge the state of Israel," he said.
Kung also called for democratic church reforms, including election of bishops at the local level, and complained that some of the bishops "imposed" by the Vatican are "the most stupid people you can find."
The Vatican should have strategies for giving "more voice" to local church, Curran agreed. He said that the kinds of conflicts that exist in the American church also trouble the church in Asia, Central America and Africa and that the "danger" is that the church has no structure for resolving such tensions.
Feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, a major force behind a movement to revolutionize the church's polices on women, predicted that the papal visit will do nothing to resolve church tensions, including those over the role of women, even though church critics are better organized than they were during the Pope's last pastoral visit in 1979 and will be protesting in larger numbers.
"I don't think the Pope is going to respond to them," said Ruether, 50. "This is (a) trickle-up church, not a trickle-down church, and it will get to the Pope last. The papacy will be the last to acknowledge what is already increasingly becoming reality."