Pope meets with United States church leaders over clergy sexual abuse

Pope Francis greets the faithful as he leaves at the end of his Weekly General Audience in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City Vatican

The U.S. conference of bishops issued what is considered the gold-standard policy in 2002, requiring accusations of abuse to be reported to police and the permanent removal from ministry of any priest found to have abused a minor.

The US prelate was removed and ordered to live a lifetime of penance and prayer by Pope Francis after a church investigation determined that an allegation he groped a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.

Pope Francis is calling the presidents of every Catholic bishops' conference in the world to Rome Feb. 21-24 to discuss the prevention of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The calling of the February meeting comes in the wake of fresh sexual abuse scandals in a number of countries, including the United States, Chile and Australia.

But he said the years-long scandal, and recent revelations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, showed just "how many souls have been wounded irrevocably and mortally by priests from the Catholic Church".

DiNardo requested a full-fledged Vatican investigation into the McCarrick affair, and said he also wanted answers to allegations that a string of Vatican officials knew of McCarrick's misdeeds since 2000, but turned a blind eye.

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Last month, conservative Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano claimed Pope Francis had personally ignored abuse allegations against prominent U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick for five years.

The Pontiff will meet with top officials from the Catholic Church early next year, the Vatican press office confirmed this afternoon.

McCarrick has said that he had "absolutely no recollection" of the alleged abuse of the teenager but has not commented on the other allegations against him. Two dioceses also had announced allegations of inappropriate contact between Archbishop McCarrick and seminarians, resulting in settlements totaling more than $100,000.

"There's absolutely no reason to think any good will come of such a meeting", given the church's decades of failure to reform, David Clohessy, former director of the victims' advocacy group SNAP, said.

"The Holy Father Francis, after hearing the Council of Cardinals, has chose to convene a meeting with the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church on the theme of "Protection of Minors", the Vatican said. "He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalise the people". His statement said the group told Francis the USA church was "lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse".

The Pope upset many Catholics Tuesday when, rather than addressing the horrific sexual abuse and cover-ups by Catholic bishops, he preached a homily saying "the Great Accuser" was attacking bishops to create scandal.

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