Pope calls bishops to 'child protection' meeting in February

Vatican prepares to respond to Vigan

Pope Francis will meet September 13 with Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and with Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Vatican press office announced.

Pope Francis is set to meet at the Vatican with top church officials from the USA on Thursday about sexual abuse and cover-up accusations.

The heads of the national Catholic bishops' conferences will meet with Francis from February 21-24, a Vatican spokeswoman said.

Earlier this year, Francis faced heavy criticism for repeatedly discrediting the victims of a notorious Chilean predator priest.

They are expected to discuss allegations that a former top American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, had sexually abused seminarians and an altar boy.

The Vatican hasn't responded to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano's allegations against the pope and some two dozen other Vatican and US officials, but has promised "clarifications" that could come after Francis' meeting Thursday with the USA delegation.

As sexual abuse scandals continue to plague the Catholic church, Pope Francis has now taken an unprecedented step towards doing something about it.

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick from the US arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican in March 2013.

The Vatican has known since at least 2000 that McCarrick invited seminarians to his New Jersey beach house and into his bed, but was made a cardinal anyway. McCarrick, 88, became a cardinal in 2001 and served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006.

DiNardo has also said recent claims of cover-up of McCarrick's misconduct - including against top Vatican officials and the pope himself - deserve answers.

Francis has yet to respond to Vigano's accusations, but the pope's Council of Cardinals reported this week that the Vatican will soon provide some "clarifications" regarding recent events.

Cardinal Wuerl, as is customary, presented his resignation from the College of Cardinals upon his 75th birthday three years ago.

The uproar over McCarrick's conduct and the release last month of a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse together amount to the most serious crisis facing the Vatican in years.

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

The commission set up by Francis said on Sunday that the fight against abuse must be a Church priority and emphasised the importance of listening to victims.

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