Pope meets with US church leaders over clergy sex abuse

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Pope Francis was set to host US bishops and cardinals on Thursday to discuss the Vatican’s response to a new wave of devastating claims of sexual abuse by clergy.

The pope was scheduled to meet Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who leads the US Conference of Bishops, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who advises the pope on sex abuse issues.

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.

He was accused of sexually abusing a teenager while working as a priest in New York in the early 1970s.

No statement was scheduled to be released following the meeting at the Vatican, said a spokeswoman for the Holy See.

Falling popularity

According to the results of a new poll published by the US news channel CNN on Wednesday, Pope Francis’s popularity has nosedived in the US recently.

The poll showed that only 48% of Americans in general supported the Argentinian pontiff and his popularity has also plummeted among US catholics to 63% from 83% 18 months ago.

A former ambassador to the Holy See, Monsignor Carlo Vigano, has even demanded the Pope’s resignation, accusing him of covering up for McCarrick.

‘Church’s own 9/11’

On Tuesday, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, private secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, described sexual abuse against minors by clergy as the church’s “own 9/11”.

Cardinal DiNardo said he wanted to present a “plan of action” to the pope to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier.

Referring to the McCarrick case, DiNardo called for a “prompt and thorough examination… into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement”.

In the US, a group of 5 000 Catholic chief executives have frozen $820 000 in funds paid annually to the Holy See pending clarification of the sex abuse cases.

While Pope Francis has refused to respond to Vigano’s allegations so far, the Vatican said on Monday that he was “formulating the eventual and necessary clarifications”.

Among the clergymen targeted by Vigano, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington and formerly a bishop in Pennsylvania, is accused of covering up the sexual abuse in that state.

He has said he plans to travel to Rome in the near future to meet with Pope Francis to discuss his resignation.

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”.

More cases are coming to light.

In Germany on Wednesday, the conclusions of a study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference were leaked to the press.

They included the finding that more than 3 600 children were sexually assaulted by priests in Germany over nearly seven decades.