Dissident theologians opposing the beatification of Pope John Paul II have issued an appeal urging Catholics critical of the late pope to tell the Vatican if they also think he should not be made a saint.

The Rome diocese has opened a beatification cause for the Pope. Church officials have asked all Catholics to come forward with personal experiences or evidence of possible miracles that could support a reputation for holiness.

The Group of dissident theologians presented their views in a press conference hosted by the Italian agency ADISTA, in order to foster public backing against the beatification process of Karol Woytila.

One of the best-known signatories was Jose Maria Castillo, a Jesuit professor who has taught theology at the University of Granada. Another was Italian theologian Giovanni Franzoni.

"We invite such persons (critical of the late pope) to overcome their shyness and timidity and formally express, with gospel freedom, facts which according to their consciences and convictions should be an obstacle to beatification," they wrote.

The dissidents presented seven points according to which, John Paul II should not be canonized.

 While the theologians acknowledged John Paul's papacy had "positive aspects", their seven-point appeal included criticism of his rigidly conservative stand on issues such as contraception, limitations on the role of women, and of scandals in the Church. His rebuttal to discus seriously and in depth the the condition of women in the Church,

It included the sexual abuse scandal that swept the United States in 2002, when it was discovered that priests who had molested children were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to authorities.

The appeal criticised what it called a lack of control over some of the Vatican's "murky financial manoeuvres", specifically naming the Holy See's relations with Italy's Banco Ambrosiano, which went bankrupt in 1982.

More in Europe

The theologians said the Church's saint makers should also consider the "repression and alienation" inflicted on some theologians by John Paul, a reference to his moves to discipline promoters of Latin America's "Liberation Theology," which he felt was too close to Marxist social analysis as a way of helping the continent's poor.

Nevertheless, contrary to what they expected, the critics were listened to carefully by the Vicariate in Rome, in charge of the beatification process. The reason is simple: any canonization process requires the audience of any person that oposses the process, and up until this day, It had been almost impossible to find critics of the late Pope.

Last May, Pope Benedict put his predecessor on the fast track to possible sainthood by dispensing with Church rules that impose a five-year waiting period after a candidate's death before the procedure that leads to sainthood can even start.

One miracle is required after John Paul's death for the cause to move on to beatification, the last step before sainthood. The miracle must be the result of prayers asking the dead pope to intercede with God.

Another miracle would be necessary between beatification and eventual sainthood. Miracles are usually a physical healing which doctors are at a loss to explain.