Two prominent Roman Catholic Church cardinals have called for an end of the “plague of the homosexual agenda”, urging bishops to end their complicity and silence over cases of sexual abuse.
Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller say the Church has wrongly blamed the abuse of power by priests as the main cause of the scandals, its most pressing crisis.
In an open letter, they also issue a rare open criticism of the Pope.
It comes on the eve of a summit of bishops in Rome to discuss the cases.
The extraordinary summit has been called by the Pope as an effort to deal with the sex scandals rocking the Church.
Stories of abuse have emerged in every corner of the world and the Church has been accused of covering up crimes committed by priests.
What are the bishops saying?
Cardinals Raymond Burke, from the US, and Walter Brandmüller, from Germany, both from the traditionalist wing of the Church, reject that the cases of abuse are a result of “clericalism” – a group of men abusing their power, and protecting each other.
“The plague of the homosexual agenda has been spread within the Church, promoted by organized networks and protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence,” they said.
“Sexual abuse is blamed on clericalism. But the first and primary fault of the clergy does not rest in the abuse of power but in having gone away from the truth of the Gospel.
“The even public denial, by words and by acts, of the divine and natural law, is at the root of the evil that corrupts certain circles in the Church.”
They also criticise Pope Francis for not answering questions related to whether the Church should allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion – they are currently barred.
They were posed to him in 2016 by four cardinals, including Burke and Brandmüller.
It is an issue completely unrelated to Thursday’s summit but it has caused controversy in the Church, promoting many clerics to question the direction the Pope is taking the Church.
Its inclusion in this letter, and the challenge to the Pope’s authority, shows that clerics who are unhappy with Pope Francis are growing more confident, observers say.
What’s the summit about?
The summit is to be attended by the heads of all national bishops’ conferences from more than 130 countries.
This is the beginning of an attempt to address a sickness that has been poisoning the Church since at least the 1980s, BBC religion editor Martin Bashir says.