Sex abuse: Pope to meet Thursday with U.S. bishops

XVI flanked by personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gaenswein during a Mass to mark the 900th anniversary of the Order of the Knights of Malta in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Archbishop G

The meeting of the heads of national bishops' conferences from around the world is scheduled for February 21-24 at the Vatican, a spokeswoman said.

The meeting of more than 100 Roman Catholic officials is believed to be the first of its kind and a recognition that church leaders think the sex abuse scandal is an global problem.

The Vatican made the announcement September 12 after the pope and members of his worldwide Council of Cardinals wrapped up three days of meetings.

Members of Pope Francis's worldwide Council of Cardinals expressed "full solidarity" with him in the midst of questions about his handling of the clerical sexual abuse scandal and said the Vatican is planning a response to allegations made against him by a former nuncio.

On Wednesday 12 September, the Vatican announced that Francis will hold a meeting with the Presidents of Bishops' Conferences from across the world on the "Protection of Minors".

Last month, a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed more than 1,000 children were sexually abused by more than 300 clergy members.

Pope Francis has called a meeting for mid February with bishops from around the world to discuss preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children - evidence he realizes the scandal is global and inaction threatens to undermine his legacy.

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As sexual abuse scandals continue to plague the Catholic church, Pope Francis has now taken an unprecedented step towards doing something about it.

In response to questions, she said there was no word yet on the expected release of the "possible and necessary clarifications" the council said were being formulated by the Holy See given the current debate on abuse in the church.

Francis has received significant criticism over his handling of abuse, including an open letter from the Catholic Women's forum that has received more than 44,000 signatures.

St. John Paul II made him archbishop of Washington and a cardinal in 2001, presumably because Vatican officials were impressed by his fundraising prowess and considered his past homosexual activity a mere "moral lapse" and not a gross abuse of power. The Vatican said the guidelines should specify how bishops should tend to victims, punish offenders and keep paedophiles out of the priesthood.

"There's absolutely no reason to think any good will come of such a meeting", said David Clohessy, a former director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests who noted that the work of whistleblowers, investigators and journalists was a better way to expose wrongdoing and end coverups.

It required accusations of abuse to be reported to police and the permanent removal from ministry of any priest found to have abused a minor.

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