Pope summons bishops for February meeting on preventing sexual abuse

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Members of Pope Francis's worldwide Council of Cardinals expressed "full solidarity" with him in the midst of questions about his handling of the clerical sexual abuse scandal and said the Vatican is planning a response to allegations made against him by a former nuncio.

Pope Francis is summoning the presidents of every bishops conference around the world for a February summit to discuss preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children - evidence that he realizes the scandal is global and that inaction threatens to undermine his legacy.

The Vatican said in a statement the pope would meet on Thursday with DiNardo, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston, and two USCCB officials.

After weeks of silence and mounting pressure from the laity, the Vatican now says it will issue a response to allegations made by Archbishop Maria Viganò, accusing Pope Francis and several high-ranking prelates of participating in a coverup for the sexually abusive then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The McCarrick scandal took on crisis proportions two weeks ago after the Vatican's former United States ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, accused two dozen Vatican and U.S. cardinals and bishops by name of covering up for McCarrick. The Vatican hasn't responded to the accusations, but presumably the "clarifications" it has promised will come sometime after Francis meets with the top U.S. church leadership this week.

The Vatican has known since 2000 that McCarrick slept with seminarians.

While most have obliged, other conferences particularly in Africa have not, either citing lack of resources or other impediments. The policy has been questioned recently, given it exempted bishops such as McCarrick, who according to the church's laws can only be judged by the pope.

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". It also found a string of bishops in six dioceses had covered up for them, including the current archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

"As a fruit of our discernment, I intend in the very near future, to go to Rome to meet with our Holy Father about the resignation I presented to him almost three years ago, November 12, 2015", the letter says. He said that "sooner rather than later" he would need to make a decision about his possible resignation.

Since the Pennsylvania report was issued last month, prosecutors in a half-dozen USA states have announced plans for similar investigations.

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