WASHINGTON -- The president of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops told his colleagues Monday that the sexual abuse scandal has caused serious fractures in the church, and that they should beware of people who are trying to exploit those divisions to advance various agendas.
Without mentioning Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action or any other organization by name, Bishop Wilton Gregory took a firm stand against lay Catholic groups that are pushing for major changes, such as ordaining women and allowing married priests.
"As bishops, we should have no illusions about the intent of some people who have shown more than a casual interest in the discord we have experienced within the Church this year," Gregory, of Belleville, Ill., said in his opening address to a four-day meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
The approximately 250 bishops applauded vigorously as Gregory said that some of those exploiting the scandal are non-Catholics who "are hostile to the very principles and teachings" of the church.
"Sadly, even among the baptized, there are those at extremes within the Church who have chosen to exploit the vulnerability of the bishops in this moment to advance their own agendas," he said.
Gregory's address appeared to reflect a new tone among the bishops since they met in Dallas in June. There, the dominant theme was penitence, and Gregory had excoriated his fellow bishops for their collective responsibility for leaving sexual abusers in ministry.
Monday, the dominant tone was defensive, as the bishops focused on explaining changes in their disciplinary policy requested by the Vatican to ensure due process for accused priests.
"At our last meeting, I spent a considerable amount of time acknowledging what were the faults of leaders," Gregory said during a break in the discussions.
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