By Jason Horowitz
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has summoned to Rome the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences for a meeting focused on protecting minors, the Vatican announced on Wednesday, as the pontiff wrestles with a global clerical sexual abuse crisis and explosive accusations of a cover-up that have shaken his papacy and the entire Roman Catholic Church.
The meetings will be held from Feb. 21 to 24, according to the Vatican, which added that the pope had “amply reflected” on the issue with his top council of cardinal advisers during three days of meetings that ended on Wednesday.
The announcement came on the eve of a meeting in the Vatican on Thursday between the pope and a group of American bishops, including Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Francis’ leading adviser on the issue of sexual abuse. The Americans are coming in search of answers from the pope and a full investigation into why one of their most prominent colleagues was allowed to ascend to a top position in the American church, despite allegations that he had sexually abused seminarians.
Reports of abuse by that American prelate, Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, led to his resignation as cardinal. But subsequent accusations, in a bombshell letter by the formal Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, accused Francis of lifting sanctions against the American that had been put in place by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.