A group of 40 conservative Roman Catholics met behind closed doors yesterday with five U.S. bishops in Washington to press their view of the sexual abuse crisis in the church, which they said has wrongly been linked to celibacy.
One of the group's organizers told reporters after the daylong session at the Cosmos Club that the real cause of the scandal was dissent in the church.
"I think that dissent is the major cause of the sexual abuse crisis because it has loosened priests and laity alike from their core beliefs, and particularly the core beliefs about sexual morality," said Deal W. Hudson, editor of Crisis Magazine.
Other participants said they urged the bishops -- including Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington -- to publicly reprimand politicians who call themselves Catholics but vote for abortion rights.
Robert P. George, a professor of politics at Princeton University, said they particularly objected to the naming of former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta to the bishops' National Review Board that is monitoring the church's response to the sex abuse scandal.
George said he also raised questions about Catholic politicians who support the death penalty. But he maintained that the church's teaching against the death penalty is not as clear as its position against abortion. Supporting the death penalty is "problematic, but not as problematic," he said.
Hudson and Russell B. Shaw, a Catholic writer and former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, organized yesterday's meeting after learning that some of the same bishops had met with Catholic liberals in July. Conservatives were alarmed by reports that "a secret meeting had taken place with Catholics on the left and that people like us had been kept in isolation," Shaw said.
Besides McCarrick, the bishops at yesterday's session were Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the bishops' conference; William S. Skylstad of Spokane, its vice president; William B. Friend of Shreveport, La.; and Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla.
None of the bishops spoke to reporters after the session, which Hudson described as "very positive" in tone. "We said it weakens their leadership when they fail to clearly define and defend the teaching of the church," Hudson said, "and we urged them to defend that teaching."