Pope Francis to summon bishops to Vatican as Catholic Church battles sex abuse, cover-up claims

Pope Francis will summon the presidents of every bishops conference to a meeting in February to discuss preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children, his advisers revealed Wednesday.

The Vatican is grappling with claims that the leader of the Catholic Church helped cover up an American cardinal’s misconduct.

The Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican is believed to be the first of its kind, according to the Associated Press, and signals a realization at the highest levels of the church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem, as many church leaders have long tried to insist.

Pope Francis poses for a photo with nuns at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis poses for a photo with nuns at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Wednesday  (AP)

A delegation of U.S. cardinals and bishops is already heading to the Vatican Thursday to meet with Francis over 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.

POPE TO MEET WITH HEAD OF US BISHOPS' CONFERENCE OVER SEX ABUSE, COVER-UP SCANDAL

The Vatican hasn't responded to the accusations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, but has promised "clarifications" that presumably will come sometime after Francis' meeting Thursday with the U.S. delegation.

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

Di Nardo has said he wants Francis to authorize a full-fledged 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, the Associated Press reported.

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, it added.

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

In addition, embattled Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is facing calls to step down over his handling of sex-abuse cases, revealed this week he will travel to Rome to meet with the pope "very soon" to discuss his possible resignation -- which the cardinal had proposed two years ago.

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 remake the Chilean episcopacy.

Fox News’ Frank Miles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.