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As crisis builds, pope will meet U.S. bishops over sex abuse scandal

As crisis builds, pope will meet U.S. bishops over sex abuse scandal
Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square on Aug. 29 at the Vatican. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP/Getty Images)

With the Catholic Church again in crisis, Pope Francis will meet Thursday at the Vatican with a delegation of U.S. bishops who are demanding tough measures be taken in response to a new wave of clerical sex abuse allegations.

The Vatican said Tuesday that the delegation will be led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the conference of U.S. bishops, who requested the meeting last month after a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that more than 300 priests had been accused of abusing 1,000 children in the state since 1947.

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DiNardo also wants an apostolic visitation, or Vatican investigation, into Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who was removed from the college of cardinals in July after claims he abused a teenage altar boy in the 1970s.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Vatican said DiNardo would be joined at the Vatican at noon on Thursday by his vice president, Jose Horacio Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and head of the pope’s commission on priestly abuse.

Father Brian Bransfield, the conference’s secretary general, will also be present.

The scandal over McCarrick’s alleged abuse intensified Aug. 26 when Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former U.S. papal ambassador, released an 11-page letter claiming numerous top church officials had covered up McCarrick’s penchant for sleeping with seminarians, while Pope Francis had lifted sanctions placed on the prelate by his predecessor Pope Benedict.

Vigano demanded Francis’ resignation, turning him into a champion for conservative Catholics already at odds with the pontiff.

The pope so far has refused to comment, while his defenders have countered that if Benedict did order McCarrick to retreat from public life, as Vigano has claimed, McCarrick blatantly ignored the order, making Benedict as blameworthy as Francis.

On Monday, the so-called G-9 group of cardinals advising the pope on Vatican reform said in a statement that the Vatican was working on making “necessary clarifications” to the letter, suggesting a response was finally in the works.

As the G-9 meets in Rome this week, Francis is expected to drop from its ranks Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who has been accused of ignoring evidence of abuse in Chile.

DiNardo has said he will present the Vatican with proposals to deal with the “moral catastrophe” of abuse in the U.S., including the increased involvement of lay people in following up on complaints.

The meeting on Thursday has been likened to the April 2002 meeting between U.S. cardinals and Pope John Paul II to discuss the first wave of sex abuse revelations in the U.S. Among them was the now disgraced McCarrick.

On Tuesday, a senior church official said the ongoing crisis was the church’s “own 9/11,” a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, the prefect of the papal household and personal secretary to Pope Benedict, said the latest allegations showed “how many souls have been wounded irrevocably and mortally by priests from the Catholic Church.”

He added, “Today, even the Catholic Church looks full of confusion at its own 9/11, at its own Sept. 11, even though this catastrophe isn’t associated with a single date but rather as so many days and years, and innumerable victims.”

Kington is a special correspondent.

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