LISBON (AFP) - Gay and lesbian Catholic groups are holding an international congress in Portugal this week as they seek to make their voices heard by the Vatican.
Opening on Monday in the southern resort of Portimao, the three-day event aims to formally federate some 30 associations representing homosexual Catholics from around the world.
Together they intend to press for an "urgent change of attitude from Catholic authorities" towards gay parishioners, said Jose Leote whose group Rumos Novos (New Directions) is organising the event.
Their congress coincides with an extraordinary synod which began at the Vatican on Sunday to review the Church's attitude to marriage, cohabitation and divorce.
Fifteen to 20 delegates will meet in person in Portugal, with the same number joining in by videoconference, to draw up a statement to send to Pope Francis and the nearly 200 bishops meeting for two weeks in Rome.
"Jesus began with 12, and look at what that has become," said Francis DeBernardo, head of the US-based "News Ways Ministry" which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics.
DeBernardo intends to act as a bridge between the congress and the synod that opened Sunday in Rome, where he will also be holding a seminar on the place of gays in the Church.
The US group wrote to the pope a few months ago, thanking him for his openness to discussing LGBT issues and urging him to go further.
"I think this will be a major question of the synod," said DeBernardo. "The topic of homosexuality is so widespread in so many societies and it affects so many people, not only those who are LGBT, but their families, friends, co-workers." The Catholic synod could potentially lead to change in attitudes to marriage, cohabitation and divorce.
While the Roman Catholic Church is certainly not about to embrace gay marriage, it could send out a signal of compassion by making it clear priests should be ready to baptise the children of same-sex couples.