Pope Francis will meet with three U.S. archbishops on Thursday, Sept. 13, as the church in the United States continues to grapple with fallout from a Pennsylvania grand jury report chronicling decades of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests against children and accusations of a Vatican-led cover-up to protect a powerful U.S. cardinal accused of sexual misconduct with priests and seminarians.
The Vatican announced today that the pope will receive in the apostolic palace Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop Jose Gomez, president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads the Vatican’s commission for the protection of young people, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, the U.S.C.C.B. general secretary. No other details were forthcoming at this time.
The Vatican meeting comes as U.S. church leaders contend with calls from laity to be more transparent in how dioceses handled past accusations of abuse and as law enforcement officials in at least eight states—including New York, Florida and Illinois—begin investigations into how Catholic officials handled abuse allegations.
Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement on Aug. 27 that he looked forward to meeting with Pope Francis to discuss a plan proposed by U.S. bishops for handling allegations of abuse against bishops and to look into questions into how past accusations were handled.
“That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops,” Cardinal DiNardo said at the time.
The cardinal has called for an apostolic visitation to investigate the church’s handling of sexual abuse claims and he asked that it be led by lay people.
The church in the United States has been mired in allegations that church leaders mishandled abuse allegations since June, when Pope Francis removed former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from public ministry after an allegation that he had sexually abused a minor decades ago was investigated and substantiated. It was then revealed that the former archbishop of Washington had been accused of sexual harassment and abuse against priests and seminarians, which resulted in two settlements in the 2000s that had remained secret until this year. The 88-year-old retired archbishop resigned from the College of Cardinals on July 28.
On Aug. 14, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a more than 800-page grand jury report that detailed allegations of sexual abuse by priests and accused church leaders of orchestrating a coverup.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, already facing questions about what he knew of his predecessor in Washington, faced fresh calls to resign because of decisions he made while serving as the bishop of Pittsburgh. He has said he was unaware of accusations about Archbishop McCarrick, and he has defended his record in Pennsylvania, noting that he removed several priests from ministry for sexual abuse. But others say decisions to keep other priests in ministry make him unfit to serve as a bishop.
The crisis was exacerbated by the release of a letter on Aug. 26 written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the pope’s former ambassador to the United States, accusing Pope Francis and a number of high-ranking Vatican officials of covering up Archbishop McCarrick’s record and lifting sanctions that Archbishop Viganò claimed were placed on the former cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Viganò called on Pope Francis to resign.
Some of Archbishop Viganò’s accusations have been called into question, and he has walked back claims that formal sanctions were ever placed on Archbishop McCarrick. But some U.S. bishops, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, have defended Archbishop Viganò and others have said his claims should be investigated.
Pope Francis has not addressed the accusations head on. Instead, he urged journalists to investigate the claims, and he has referred to them only obliquely during speeches and homilies. On Sept. 10, his council of cardinal advisers released a statement in which they said the Vatican is preparing to respond to Archbishop Viganò’s allegations.
This story was updated Sept. 11, 2018; 3:40 p.m. ET.