BALTIMORE (AP) _ The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, gathered for their fall meeting, are urging U.S. lawmakers to end partisan bickering and stop the violence tearing at Iraq.
Bishop William Skylstad, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will release a statement Tuesday calling on Democrats and Republicans to fulfill a moral oligation to end the chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Skylstad, of Spokane, Wash., is ending his three-year term as conference president.
Chicago Cardinal Francis George is expected to succeed him in voting Tuesday. George is now vice president, and the prelate holding that job customarily is elected to the top post.
The bishops' meeting opened Monday with an announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will make his first visit to the United States as pontiff next year. He will travel to Washington and New York on April 15-20, meeting with President George W. Bush and addressing the United Nations.
The pope will also meet with the nation's bishops.
The conference president acts as a national spokesman for the bishops and represents the U.S. church in meetings at the Vatican.
George, 70, will take over at a time of diminishing influence for the group. The conference has cut jobs and committees to streamline its work and save money.
Bishops have said that the funds they turn over for conference work are badly needed in their home dioceses. They blame rising costs for health care and salaries, multimillion-dollar abuse settlements and other expenses.
In Chicago, George succeeded the beloved Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died of pancreatic cancer in 1996. In George's first year as archbishop, disgruntled priests dubbed him ``Francis the Corrector.'' But he went on to become a leader among American prelates, defending orthodoxy and working with Vatican agencies on improving how the church responds to clergy sex abuse.
However, the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests have criticized his record on the molestation crisis.
The archdiocese waited months to remove an accused parish priest in Chicago, the Rev. Daniel McCormack, who was criminally charged last year and pleaded guilty to sexually abusing five boys ages 8 to 12. George has acknowledged that he failed to act soon enough in McCormack's case.
The conference has commissioned a new study from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the individual and sociological factors underlying the clergy abuse crisis.
Researchers told the bishops Monday that preliminary findings indicate that the pattern of abuse in the church was consistent with trends in broader society, challenging the ``popular notion that there was something distinctive about the Catholic Church that led to the abuse of minors.'' The study will be completed in two years.