Pope Francis calls major crisis meeting demanding Church leaders all over the world attend emergency summit over sex abuse scandal

POPE Francis has called the world’s most prominent Catholic leaders to Rome for a meeting on clergy sexual abuse.

The summons for February 21 is thought to be the first global summons by a pontiff.

Pope Francis meets Italian youths at the ancient Circo Massimo in Rome

Paloma García Ovejero, the vice director of the Vatican press office, announced the decision in a Sept. 12 briefing, The National Catholic Reporter reported.

He said: “The Holy Father, hearing from the Council of Cardinals, has decided to call a meeting with the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of the Catholic Church on the theme of ‘protection of minors.

“The meeting with the pope will take place at the Vatican.”

Francis is under intense global scrutiny after former Vatican ambassador Archbishop Carlo Vigano released a document in August alleging a systemic cover-up of allegations against now ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The summons is the first of its kind in history
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Francis is also set to meet tomorrow with the president and vice-president of the US bishops’ conference in a kind of high-profile encounter not seen since 2002, when eight American cardinals were summoned to Rome to discuss revelations of abuse with Pope John Paul II.

The situation is so unprecedented that when asked during the briefing how many national bishops’ conferences there are across the globe, Garcia did not know.

Estimates suggest there are 114 national conferences of bishops in the Latin church and 21 synods, councils, and assemblies of Easter-rite Catholic Churches.

Massimo Faggioli, a professor of historical theology at Villanova University, said that Francis’ calling was a “change of course” from how his predecessors who placed “more emphasis on the individual bishop’s authority and less on the bishops’ conferences.”

American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, of Washington, DC
Ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick has had abuse claims levelled against him
Rex Features

Faggioli said: “The abuse crisis has changed this. This rebalancing is one of the effects of the abuse crisis on Catholic ecclesiology.”

McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, renounced his place in the College of Cardinals in July following revelation that he sexually harassed or abused several young men.

In a statement yesterday, the Council of Cardinals said the Vatican was: “formulating possible and necessary clarifications” to Vigano’s letter.

The nine-member group, which was created by Francis in 2013 to advise him on reforming the Vatican bureaucracy, also said it had asked the pontiff to reflect on its own composition.

That request has led to speculation that there could be a shakeup  of the membership of the council, which currently includes two prelates under scrutiny.

These include Australian George Pell, on trial in his native country over allegations of past sexual abuse, and Chilean Francisco Errázuriz Ossa, accused of covering up for abusive priests as archbishop of Santiago.

It is unclear whether either will be at the upcoming meeting.

In April Pope pleaded for forgiveness and admitted to making “grave errors” in Chile’s sex abuse scandal and apologised for rubbishing the claims victims predator priest, Reverand Fernando Karadima, had made.

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