Pope calls for summit on child abuse scandal

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Pope Francis has called a worldwide summit of bishops to discuss the protection of children as the Catholic Church continues to be rocked by sex abuse scandals and disputes between traditionalists and supporters of the liberal pontiff.

The Vatican said on Wednesday that it would hold a meeting of the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the church in February to discuss “the theme of the protection of minors”. It would be the first global gathering of leaders of the church to discuss formally the child abuse crisis.

Pope Francis had “reflected extensively” on “the theme of abuse” in a meeting with his cardinal advisers this week, the Vatican said. The conference is scheduled for February.

The announcement comes as the Pope prepared on Thursday to meet US cardinals and bishops, who are demanding answers as to how Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal archbishop of Washington, was able to rise within the Church despite sexual abuse allegations.

The Vatican said this week that the US delegation would be led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, the pontiff’s main adviser on the abuse scandal.

Cardinal DiNardo this year said that the US Catholic Church had to respond to “moral failures of judgment” by its leaders.

The announcement of a global gathering of bishops comes as Pope Francis is facing a backlash from conservatives within the church against his progressive papacy, with doctrinal disputes becoming increasingly intertwined with his response to the abuse scandal.

Last month Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal ambassador to Washington, released an incendiary letter alleging that the Pope was complicit in covering up the case of Cardinal McCarrick.

In the letter, which called on Pope Francis to resign, Archbishop Viganò claimed that the Pope had known of the allegations against the US cardinal for five years before accepting his resignation in July. Cardinal McCarrick resigned following allegations of decades of sexual abuse against minors and adults.

Pope Francis responded to the letter, saying: “With people lacking goodwill, with people who seek only scandal, with those who look only for division, who want only destruction, the best response is silence. And prayer.”

The letter was released in the middle of Pope Francis’ trip to Ireland during which he begged for forgiveness for church leaders who had failed to protect abused children and unmarried mothers.

Before the release of Archbishop Viganò letter, conservatives had focused their criticisms of Pope Francis on a doctrinal dispute over the pontiff’s call for the “merciful” treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics who wished to receive communion.