The Canon Law Society of America, made up largely of Roman Catholic priests, has endorsed measures to enhance women's rights in both church and state.
At the group's convention here, members endorsed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and urged U.S. Catholic bishops to intercede with the Vatican to allow women to serve as judges in church courts.
The society, in a close vote, also sought "faborable decisions" on petitions from priest who want to be released from their vows and become laymen. Pope John Paul II reportedly has refused to act on any of the petitions, which have numbered about 3,000 a year since he took office a year ago.
The resolution on the ERA followed two years of study and ardent debate. The membership rejected a task force recommendation that the society remain neutral on the ERA and voted 123 to 100 to endorse it.
The resolution calling for women to be allowed to serve on church tribunals was adopted by a voice vote. The Rev. Martin P. Lavin, a committee chairman who teaches canon law at Catholic University, explained that the proposed canon law revision states that an associate judge on three-member marriage tribunals "may be a layman." The other two must be priests.
Some canon lawyers argued that the resolution should be broader and take into account other restrictions on women in church law.
But Lavin countered that the stand should be made over the law barring women from church tribunals since it was "the most discriminatory law against women on the books," and a "clear-cut" case.