Pope receives US Church leaders to discuss clerical sex abuse crisis

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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.

Its convening signals awareness at the highest levels of the Catholic Church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem, not restricted to some parts of the world or a few Western countries.

The McCarrick scandal and a Pennsylvania grand jury's allegations that some 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s have left the credibility of USA church leaders in tatters.

A delegation of US cardinals and bishops is already heading to the Vatican Thursday to meet with Francis over accusations from a retired Vatican ambassador that he rehabilitated a top American cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI for having molested and harassed adult seminarians.

Last month, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano sparked a firestorm when he accused Pope Francis of covering up sexual abuse allegations against an American cardinal.

While Francis has often talked about sexual crimes as an abuse of power, some conservatives say the Pope has downplayed the role of homosexuality among priests while instead signalling a slightly more inclusive stance about gays within the church.

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Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke said DiNardo and O'Malley would meet with Francis on Thursday in the Apostolic Palace.

The US Catholic Church has been shaken by the publication of a report on sexual abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania and by the resignation in July of US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

DiNardo has said Vigano's accusations "deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence".

Pope Francis had on September 12 ordered the convention of a global summit of presidents of Catholic bishops' conferences to address the issue and the protection of children as the Church faces a growing backlash amid widespread allegations of child abuse and cover-ups from Chile in South America to Germany in Europe.

Some two dozen dioceses participated in the study, commissioned by the Catholic Church bishops' conference in Germany.

While no one has attacked churches with airplanes full of passengers, Gaenswein said, recent news from the United States "sends a message that is even more awful than the sudden collapse of all the churches of Pennsylvania together with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington".

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Cardinal Wuerl was named in the report and accused of protecting those priests while he was a bishop in Pittsburgh.

The Star Tribune reports that victims' advocates regard this extraordinary announcement as mere "damage control" following the pope's poor handling of the Chilean church sex abuse scandal and much else.

Those allegations, as well as an explosive letter from a formal papal diplomat, have raised serious questions among senior church leaders about why McCarrick was allowed to rise through the church's ranks, as well as who knew about the accusations.

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

Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., in connection with sexual harassment charges and accepted his resignation, the Vatican announced Thursday.

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