Pope Francis kisses a baby on the forehead as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience at the Saint Peter’s square, in Vatican, on September 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Tiziana FABI
Pope Francis will host a meeting in February of senior bishops from around the globe to discuss “the protection of minors”, the Vatican announced on Wednesday.
The Catholic Church has been hit by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years, with widespread allegations of cover-ups, including against the pope himself.
The meeting of Episcopal Conference presidents will be held at the Vatican from February 21 to 24, the C9 cardinals’ conference that advises the pope on reform said in a statement.
Three cardinals were absent from the latest C9 meeting, including Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who is accused of ignoring reports of abuse in Chile, and George Pell who faces prosecution in Australia for child sexual offences.
The C9 said on Monday it was considering changing its structure and composition.
Conservative US Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano sparked a firestorm last month when he claimed Francis had personally ignored abuse allegations against prominent US cardinal Theodore McCarrick for five years.
Vigano, a former Vatican envoy to Washington, also called on the pope to step down.
Francis has so far refused to respond to the allegations.
The affair exposed a rift in the Church between some ultra-conservative Catholics and a pope they see as a dangerous progressive interested in social issues to the detriment of Church doctrine.
The Church was also rocked in August by a devastating US report on child sex abuse which accused more than 300 “predator” priests of abusing more than 1,000 minors over seven decades in the state of Pennsylvania.
Francis will on Thursday meet leaders of the US Catholic Church, including their president Daniel DiNardo, who said last month he was eager to meet the pope following the scandal.
Two other officials of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops will be at the meeting, as will Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors
The commission set up by Francis said on Sunday that the fight against abuse must be a Church priority and emphasised the importance of listening to victims.
Otherwise “all of our other activities of evangelisation, works of mercy, education, are all going to suffer,” said O’Malley.