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Pope summons bishops to talks on tackling sex abuse by priests

CRISIS: Pope Francis arrives in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican for his weekly general audience yesterday Picture: Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis is summoning leading bishops from around the world for a February summit to discuss how to prevent sexual abuse by priests.

The summit involving the presidents of every bishops conference was announced a day before Francis meets US Church leaders hit by fresh accusations over the cover-up of sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

The February 21-24 meeting at the Vatican is believed to be the first of its kind, and signals a realisation at the highest levels of the Church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem.

Earlier this year, Francis faced what was then the worst crisis of his papacy when he repeatedly discredited victims of a notorious Chilean predator priest.

He eventually admitted to "grave errors in judgment" and has taken steps to make amends, sanction guilty bishops and reform the Chilean episcopacy.

More recently, Francis's papacy has been jolted by accusations from a retired Vatican ambassador that he rehabilitated a top American cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI for having molested and harassed adult seminarians.

The Vatican has not responded to the accusations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano but has promised "clarifications" that presumably will come some time after Francis's meeting on Thursday with the US delegation.

The Vatican said the meeting would be headed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and also include Francis's top sex abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

Mr Di Nardo has said he wants Francis to authorise a Vatican investigation into ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was removed as cardinal in July after a credible accusation that he groped a teenager.

The Vatican has known since at least 2000 that McCarrick would invite seminarians to his New Jersey beach house and into his bed.

St John Paul II made him archbishop of Washington and a cardinal in 2001, presumably because Vatican officials were impressed by his fundraising prowess and considered his past homosexual activity a mere "moral lapse" and not a gross abuse of power.

Mr DiNardo has said recent accusations that top Vatican officials – including the current pope – have covered up for McCarrick since 2000 deserve answers.

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