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story.lead_photo.caption Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for his weekly general audience on Wednesday. The Pope has called for a meeting in February to discuss how to prevent sexual abuse among the clergy.

ROME -- Pope Francis is summoning senior bishops to a meeting early next year to discuss the prevention of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics and the protection of children, the Vatican announced Wednesday.

The meeting, scheduled for Feb. 21-24 at the Vatican, marks the most concrete step the pontiff has taken in response to a series of abuse cases that have roiled the church and thrown Francis' papacy into crisis. The latest cases have highlighted failures by church authorities to punish alleged abusers, and the Vatican in recent weeks has been dealing with allegations that many in its hierarchy -- including Francis -- ignored the sexual misconduct of a now-resigned U.S. cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.

The meeting was announced one day before the pope is to meet with leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who has requested a Vatican-led investigation that can account for how McCarrick climbed the ranks, becoming one of the world's most powerful cardinals, in the face of rumors about his sexual misconduct. Although McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July, some church leaders say it is critical to figure out who protected McCarrick, who became a cardinal in 2001 and served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006.

Word of the meeting comes as a report on sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church in Germany says 3,677 people were abused by clergymen between 1946 and 2014.

Spiegel Online and Die Zeit said the report they obtained -- commissioned by the German Bishops Conference and researched by three universities -- concludes that more than half of the victims were 13 or younger and most were boys. Every sixth case involved rape and at least 1,670 clergymen were involved, both weeklies reported. Die Zeit wrote that 969 abuse victims were altar boys.

The report also says that the actual number of victims was likely much higher, according to the research by experts from the Universities of Giessen, Heidelberg and Mannheim.

The German Bishops Conference said in a written response a few hours later that it regretted the leaking of the report, but that the study confirms "the extent of the sexual abuse" that took place.

The Vatican announced the meeting after Francis met with his Council of Cardinals. The meeting in February will bring together the heads of all national bishops' conferences.

With a divided church, Francis figures to face scrutiny not only over the agenda for the February event, but on how he navigates more immediate decisions -- including the handling of the McCarrick investigation, which could point fingers back to members of the Vatican hierarchy. Francis has not responded directly to the accusations that he was told of McCarrick's misconduct in 2013, but the Vatican said Monday that "clarifications" would be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, DiNardo has been accused by two people of not doing enough to stop a priest who was arrested this week on sexual-abuse charges.

Two people said they reported the priest and met with DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. One of them said she was promised in a meeting with DiNardo, several years after she first reported abuse, that the priest would be removed from any contact with children, only to discover that the priest remained in active ministry at another parish 70 miles away.

The priest, Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, was arrested Tuesday by police in Conroe, Texas.

LaRosa-Lopez, 60, is accused of fondling both people when they were teenagers and he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. He is charged with four counts of indecency with a child. Each count carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.

Information for this article was contributed by Stefano Pitrelli, Chico Harlan and William Branigin of The Washington Post; and by Nomaan Merchant and Kirsten Grieshaber of The Associated Press.

A Section on 09/13/2018

Print Headline: Pope calls meeting on sex abuse

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