Pope Francis announces Vatican summit on sexual abuse for next year

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A delegation of U.S. Catholic cardinals and bishops is having an audience with Pope Francis amid a crisis of confidence in church leadership following sex abuse and coverup revelations that have also implicated Francis himself.

The Vatican said Wednesday the leaders of the national bishops' conferences would meet with Pope Francis from February 21 to 24.

In a separate development, an open letter published on Catholic Women's Forum, which calls on the Pope to respond to allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò surrounding the sexual abuse scandal, has gained more than 44,000 signatures in just under two weeks.

Vigano named more than two dozen current and former Vatican and USA 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.

The cardinal has recently been facing heightened scrutiny over how he dealt with abusive priests during his tenure as the head of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as rumors circulate that he may have concealed knowledge of abuse perpetrated by his predecessor, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington. A church report there found more than 1,600 priests and clerics had abused more than 3,600 minors in a almost 70-year period. McFadden said he did not know when the meeting would occur.

Bransfield came as the pontiff began a closed-door meeting in his private study with four USA bishops and cardinals to address the church's wave of sexual abuse crises, including a cover-up scandal that even implicated the pope himself. It said that the Americans briefed the pope on the "laceration" that abuse has caused and that "we look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps".

"The pope is well informed", the cardinal said, "and he's also very, very attentive to what has happened to abuse victims in the church in the United States".

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Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh for about 18 years, offered to resign almost three years ago, when he turned 75, but Francis has not yet accepted it.

In a homily given to bishops on Tuesday, Pope Francis said the "Great Accuser" (Satan) is attacking the bishops of the Catholic Church "to create scandal" and divide the faithful.

Pope Francis Thursday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield from the pastoral government of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, and asked the archbishop of Baltimore to launch an investigation into allegations of abuse.

The report cited 301 priests, clergy and lay teachers with credible allegations of child sexual abuse against them.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a prominent Catholic, on Thursday called for transparency and accountability as the church examines a wave of clergy sex scandals and cover-up allegations.

An open question in advance of the summit is whether the Vatican will issue a universal call for bishops and religious superiors to report suspected abuse to police; now, it advises church leaders to report suspected abuse when it's required under local laws.

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