Pope Francis summoned to Rome the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences for a meeting focused on protecting minors, the Vatican announced on Wednesday. The pontiff is wrestling 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 New York Times reports. The meetings will be held from Feb. 21 to 24. The announcement was made on the eve of a meeting in the Vatican on Thursday between the pope and American bishops, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, 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 seeking 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 prelate, Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., led to his resignation as cardinal. Subsequent accusations, in a bombshell letter by the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, accused Francis of lifting sanctions against the American that had been put in place by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Many survivors of abuse, and people who campaign on their behalf, have lamented that the letters and the power struggles in the Vatican have eclipsed the central issue of protecting children from abuse within the church. The February meetings that Francis called are intended to put the issue front and center again.