Pope Francis with Bishops

Pope Francis is calling a meeting of Church leaders from across the world to discuss child protection as he seeks to step up his response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

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.” It will take place in Rome on the 21-24 February 2019.

This is the first time a global gathering of bishops has taken place to discuss the worldwide scandal of abuse in the Church and was ordered by the Pope following a request from his cardinal advisory body. 

Paloma García Ovejero, the deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, told journalists today that the Council of Cardinals have been reflecting with the Pope on the issues of abuse. 

The council has been meeting with Francis over the last three days and on Monday expressed their “full solidarity” with the Pope noting that the Vatican was preparing a response to an explosive dossier from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

The former papal diplomat has alleged the Pope knew about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s abusive behaviour with seminarians and that Benedict XVI had placed sanctions on the former cardinal. 

Tomorrow Francis will meet with leaders of the United States Bishops’ Conference to discuss their response to the McCarrick case and the findings of a Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania into clerical abuse and its cover-up in six dioceses. 

A spokesperson for the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, told the Tablet: “This is a welcome development by the Holy See in ensuring the protection of minors in all countries across the world given the difficulties and complexities involved in safeguarding. It stands alongside the Holy See’s safeguarding initiatives with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and also the setting up of the The Centre for Child Protection (CCP) of the Pontifical Gregorian University.”

There are more than 5,000 bishops worldwide,while an episcopal conference is an official assembly of bishops in any given area that allows them to address problems collectively. Presidents of conferences are ordinarily elected to their post by their fellow bishops.

The council of nine cardinals advising the Pope, known as the C9, met with Francis from the 10 September to 12 September. Three members were not present including Cardinals Francisco Errázuriz Ossa, 84, Laurent Monsengwo, 78 and George Pell, 77. It is likely they will be replaced from the council due to advanced age. Chilean Cardinal Errázuriz has been accused of mishandling sexual abuse complaints in his home country while Cardinal Pell is back in Australia defending himself against allegations of historic sex offences. Pell denies the allegations.