Cardinal Wuerl says he will meet with pope to discuss possible resignation

Build church unity and shun clericalism pope tells new bishops

Pope Francis attends a meeting with new bishops from mission territories at the Vatican Sept. 8 CNS

Francis will on Thursday meet leaders of the US Catholic Church, including their president Daniel DiNardo, who said last month he was eager to meet the pope following the scandal.

The meeting of the heads of national bishops' conferences from around the world is scheduled for February 21-24 at the Vatican, a spokeswoman said.

Three cardinals were absent from the latest C9 meeting, including Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who is accused of ignoring reports of abuse in Chile, and George Pell who faces prosecution in Australia for child sexual offences.

The pope's decision comes on the heels of a series of revelations about the history of sexual abuse in the church, including a 900 page report from a grand jury in Pennsylvania that exposed that more than 300 priests had sexually abused children since 1947.

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Francis's key cardinal advisers announced the decision Wednesday, a day before Francis meets with US church leaders who have been deeply discredited by the latest accusations in the Catholic Church's decades-long sex abuse and coverup scandal.

DiNardo asked for the meeting last month, saying he wanted the pope to support an investigation into the scandal around former Washington DC Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who resigned from the College of Cardinals in response to allegations that he once abused a teen-aged boy.

The former papal ambassador to Washington claimed he was told Francis knew about sanctions placed on McCarrick by Benedict XVI in 2009 or 2010.

A top Vatican official says the clerical sex abuse scandal is such a game-changing catastrophe for the Catholic Church that he called it the church's "own 9/11" on the 17th anniversary of the attacks in the U.S.

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Amid such turmoil, a gathering of the global church leadership to discuss a specific problem - in the tradition of church synods and councils - is a good idea, but should take place sooner than February, said Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey.

The U.S. isn't alone in digging into its past.

St. John Paul II made him archbishop of Washington and a cardinal in 2001, presumably because Vatican officials were impressed by his fundraising prowess and considered his past homosexual activity a mere "moral lapse" and not a gross abuse of power, it added. Protocols for dealing with abuse in the church vary wildly from country to country. On Wednesday, German media reported that a church-commissioned study on abuse in the German church detailed 3,677 abuses cases between 1946 and 2014, with more than half of the victims aged 13 or younger and most boys. The news outlets said the report was due to be released September 25 and they obtained it in advance.

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