Pope Francis Summons Bishops for Summit on Preventing Clergy Sex Abuse

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McCarrick, 88, became a cardinal in 2001 and served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006. Church historians questioned why such an urgent problem was being scheduled for discussion six months from now with the very bishops who are blamed for much of the scandal.

The Vatican hasn't responded to the accusations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, but has promised "clarifications" that presumably will come sometime after Francis' meeting Thursday with the USA delegation.

The controversy has engulfed Cardinal O'Malley, who apologized for how his office mishandled a 2015 letter from a priest with concerns about McCarrick.

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

The U.S. conference of bishops issued what is considered the gold-standard policy in 2002, requiring accusations of abuse to be reported to police and the permanent removal from ministry of any priest found to have abused a minor.

The Vatican announcement came a day before Pope Francis is to meet with U.S. Catholic Church leaders.

The US church was also rocked by a grand jury report that said 300 priests in Pennsylvania had abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.

Pope Francis has summoned senior bishops from around the world to the Vatican in February to discuss the protection of minors from sexual abuse, the Vatican said on Wednesday.

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It was the first positive test of his career, a setback he blamed on the consumption of tainted steak in his home country of Mexico.

In his report, Viganò attributed a number of important papal appointments in the United States-including those of Cardinals Blase Cupich in Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin in Newark-to McCarrick's influence over Pope Francis.

"I thought there was a good deal of unity of the bishops on where we need to go" and on the fact that "we have to move into action" in terms of addressing the abuse crisis, he said.

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Monsignor Michael Bransfield as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston in the USA state of West Virginia, a Vatican statement said. They are to discuss the church's sexual abuse scandal in the country and the cover-up of years of abuse claims against hundreds of parish priests.

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". McCarrick was a co-consecrator when Bishop Bransfield was ordained a bishop in 2005 and the two were active in the Papal Foundation, the big USA fundraising organization that McCarrick co-founded and which has funneled millions of dollars to the Vatican over the years.

Archbishop Lori was scheduled to meet with members of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese on Thursday and Friday, and he set up a telephone hotline for victims to call.

DiNardo has also said recent accusations that top Vatican officials - including the current Pope - covered up for McCarrick since 2000 deserve answers.

A group representing victims of abuse by the Catholic Church in Germany issued a statement Thursday calling for an independent investigation.

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".