Pope Francis orders investigation of W.Va. bishop on sexual harassment charges

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Pope Francis will summon the presidents of every bishops conference to a meeting in February to discuss preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children, his advisers revealed Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the pontiff called for a meeting of all the heads of Catholic bishops' conferences worldwide at the Vatican next February to discuss the issue of the "protection of minors".

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

In the USA, a grand jury report released last month from Pennsylvania found that more than 300 priests had sexually abused minors in the state over seven decades.

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Retired Archbishop Carlo Vigano, a former Vatican official, in a letter last month accused Francis of knowing about Archbishop McCarrick's sexual misconduct for years, and he called on the pope to resign.

In an explosive 11-page letter, Archbishop Viganò, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States, accused Pope Francis of lifting sanctions that were placed upon the former D.C. Cardinal McCarrick during Pope Benedict's reign, going so far to making him a close adviser.

The private meeting held in the tiny state's Apostolic Palace included the three top officials from the body that runs the U.S. Catholic Church, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, the president, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, deputy president, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, secretary general. It also found a string of bishops in six dioceses had covered up for them, including the current archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

DiNardo requested a full-fledged Vatican investigation into the McCarrick affair, and said he also wanted answers to allegations that a string of Vatican officials knew of McCarrick's misdeeds since 2000, but turned a blind eye. The policy has been questioned recently, given it exempted bishops such as McCarrick, who according to the church's laws can only be judged by the pope.

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In other eyebrow-raising comments on Tuesday, a top aide to both Francis and Benedict said the sex abuse scandal was such a game-changing catastrophe for the church that it amounted to its "own 9/11".

On the eve of this meeting at the Vatican, Di Nardo was added to the list of high Catholic clerics in the USA who may have failed to prevent a priest suspected of abuse from having contact with minors.

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick from the US arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican in March 2013.

Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., said he told the Pope about the allegations five years ago, but the pontiff did nothing about it. Viganò subsequently urged the Pope to resign.

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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. Every sixth case involved rape and at least 1,670 clergy were involved, according to Spiegel Online and Die Zeit, which said they obtained the report that was due to be released September 25.