Pope Francis has summoned the president of every bishops conference around the world to a summit meeting in the Vatican on the theme of “the protection of minors.”
The Feb. 21-24, 2019 meeting is believed to be the first of its kind, and signals a realization at the highest levels of the church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem and not restricted to the Anglo-Saxon world, as many church leaders have long insisted.
Francis called the meeting after consulting the Council of Cardinal Advisors at their meeting in Rome earlier this week. A Vatican statement said the cardinals and the pope discussed at length the subject of abuse in the church.
Paloma Garcia Ovejero, the deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, told journalists in a briefing that the pope has convened the meeting “to talk about the prevention of the abuses of minors and vulnerable adults.”
Francis’ decision comes in the wake of reports and revelations of abuse by priests and religious persons in countries throughout the world, including the United States, Ireland, Australia, Chile, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Italy and also Asia.
It also comes in the aftermath of the Grand Jury Report on the sexual abuse of minors by priests in six dioceses of the state of Pennsylvania, and the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals.
Wednesday’s announcement comes while the Vatican prepares its response to the letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former nuncio to the United States, in which he accuses more than 30 senior Vatican officials under the pontificates of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, of a conspiracy of silence, corruption and cover-up in dealing with the abuses committed against seminarians, and at least one minor, by former-cardinal McCarrick.
Sources told America that Pope Francis has been considering making this decision for some time. He was reinforced by his regular personal encounters with many victims and survivors of abuse, including three Chilean victims—Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Andrés Murillo, and James Hamilton—and most recently, Irish victims of various types of abuse. And he was also encouraged by cardinals and others to do something of this kind.
Tomorrow, he will meet the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is expected to discuss the situation of the church in the six diocese of Pennsylvania in the wake of the Grand Jury Report, as well as the case of the former-cardinal McCarrick.
This story has been updated. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.