The gathering in Rome was only a prelude to a larger meeting next year which will more concretely advise Francis on church practice. Still, the open debate at the event, and the back and forth among bishops over welcoming gays and divorced Catholics who remarry, prompted stunning criticism from some U.S. bishops.

“Many of the U.S. bishops have been disoriented by what this new pope is saying and I don’t see them really as embracing the pope’s agenda,” said John Thavis, a former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service. “To a large degree, the U.S. bishops have lost their bearings. I think up until now, they felt Rome had their back, and what they were saying – especially politically – would eventually be supported in Rome. They can’t count on that now.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former St. Louis archbishop and leading voice for conservative Catholics, said the church “is like a ship without a rudder” under Francis. Burke made the comments before the pope demoted him from his position as head of the Vatican high court, a move he had anticipated.