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Vatican appears ready to respond to claims pope covered up sexual misconduct

Vatican appears ready to respond to claims pope covered up sexual misconduct
In this Aug. 22 file photo, Pope Francis is in a pensive mood during his weekly general audience at the Vatican. (Andrew Medichini / AP)

The Vatican is preparing a response to accusations that top Vatican officials -- including Pope Francis — covered up the sexual misconduct of a now-disgraced American ex-cardinal, the pope’s top advisors said Monday.

In a statement, Francis' nine cardinal advisors expressed their "full solidarity" with the pope over the scandal, which has thrown his papacy into crisis.

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The cardinals, who are meeting at the Vatican this week, said they were aware that "the Holy See is working on formulating the potential and necessary clarifications" to the accusations.

So far, Francis has refused to respond to the 11-page document published Aug. 26 by the retired ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Vigano named more than two dozen current and former Vatican and U.S. officials and accused them of knowing about and covering up for ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of sexually molesting and harassing minors as well as adults.

Specifically, Vigano accused Francis of rehabilitating McCarrick from canonical sanctions imposed on him by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 or 2010.

The Vatican has known since at least 2000 that McCarrick slept with seminarians.

Francis removed McCarrick as cardinal in July following accusations he groped a teenage altar boy in the 1970s, a canonical crime that could result in him being defrocked.

Francis' refusal to immediately respond to Vigano's claims has frustrated many Catholics in the U.S., who were already outraged that McCarrick's penchant for seminarians and young priests was apparently an open secret in some Catholic circles.

That outrage has been compounded by a Pennsylvania grand jury report that details the alleged abuse of more than 1,000 children by some 300 priests over 70 years, while bishops allegedly covered up for them.

Francis' nine cardinal advisors issued the statement at the start of three days of meetings to hand in the fruit of their five years of work: a proposal to reform the Vatican bureaucracy.

With their work essentially finished and some of the cardinals themselves now allegedly implicated in sex abuse or cover-up scandals, the prelates asked Francis to reflect on the "work, structure and composition of the council, taking into account the advanced age of some members."

That could suggest Francis now has a clear path to getting rid of prelates such as Chilean Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, accused by victims of being a key figure in Chile's sex abuse scandal. Errazuriz, the retired archbishop of Santiago, is 85 and well over retirement age.

Another aging member of the council is Cardinal George Pell, 77, and on trial in his native Australia on allegations of sex abuse. He has denied wrongdoing and is on a leave of absence from his job as the Vatican's finance minister.

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