Today's Roman Catholic Church, priest-centered and "turned in upon itself," is undermining the work of laymen struggling for social justice, a group of prominent Catholics has declared.

The group of 47 lay and clergy leaders criticized present-day Catholicism for its "obsessive preoccupation" with internal issues and for allowing priests to usurp the distinctive role of laymen in transforming political, economic, and social structures.

THe Chicago 47, who signed a document last week called "a Chicago Declaration of Christian Concern," described themselves as champions of "the mainstream of Catholic social thought."

Speaking from this perspective, they took issue with certain features of present-day church life. Specifically, they found fault with:

The permanent deacon program that they said, could lead to "disaster" if it creates the impression that the primary Christian responsibility of laymen is to become involved in churchy, quasi-priestly functions.

The tendency of liberal clerics to "bypass the laity" and "pursue social causes on their own."

The preoccupation of many clergy with internal issues, "albeit important ones, such as the ordination of women and a married clergy."

To reverse the current direction of the church, they argued for a return to Vacan II theology that stressed that the primary responsibility for advancing social justice belongs in the hands of lay men and women in their "ordinary roles as a businessman, a mayor, a factory worker, a professional in the State Department or an active union member."

Among the signers of the document were Russell Barta, professor of sociology at Mundelein College; the Rev. Msgr. Daniel M. Cantwell, pastor of St. Clotilde Church here; U.S. District Court Judge George N. Leighton; Sister Agnes Cunningham, president of the Catholic Theological Society; Edward Marciniak, president of Loyola University's Institute for Urban Affairs; Patty Crowley, founding director of the Christian Family Movement, and Patrick E. Gorman, chairman of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters.