In wake of abuse scandals which have scarred the Church and his own papacy in recent months, Pope Francis has asked all presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world to travel to Rome for a special meeting to address the crisis.
The gathering, which will focus on “the protection of minors,” is set to take place Feb. 21-24, 2019, after the pope’s trip to Panama for the global World Youth Day encounter in January.
The Vatican announced the news at the close of this week’s Sept. 10-12 Council of Cardinals meeting, in which members discussed the abuse scandals, the composition of the nine-member body, whose 5-year term will end in October, and revisions to the new apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia.
Francis’s decision to convoke a global meeting to address clerical abuse comes as he himself is under fire for allegations that he mishandled the case of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, published an 11-page statement last month saying he warned the pope of McCarrick’s harassment of seminarians in 2013, and the pontiff did nothing.
Vigano’s letter, released shortly after the publication of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing years of clerical abuse and cover-up in six of the state’s eight dioceses, has created a landslide of commentary and uproar, with many calling for the Vatican to open its archives to see who knew what about McCarrick, and how he was able to continue rising through ecclesial ranks, despite the fact that his misconduct had been an open secret for years.
During their meeting, the pope’s Council of Cardinals, called the “C9,” again expressed their solidarity with Francis for the pressure he has faced in recent weeks, and they also congratulated him on his recent trip to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.
All members of the council were present apart from Cardinals George Pell, who is facing historical charges of sex abuse in Australia, Laurent Monsengwo of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Francisco Errazuriz, who is facing charges of cover-up in Chile and who pulled out of the meetings due to “unforeseen events” at home.
Francis himself was present for nearly all sessions apart from an audience Monday with Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, a Tuesday meeting with Venezuelan bishops in Rome for their ad limina visit, and Wednesday’s general audience.
Members, who issued a statement Monday asking Francis to reflect on the composition of the group as their mandate comes to an end, dedicated the first session to discussing this reflection.
While many have argued that the end of the mandate will be an easy opportunity to get rid of members such as Errazuriz and Pell who are shrouded in scandal, the council has pinned a change-up to the age of the council’s members, many of whom are over 80.
In addition to the abuse crisis and the body’s membership, the council also made some adjustments to the new apostolic constitution outlining the role and structure of the Roman Curia, tentatively titled Predicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel). The bulk of the document has been completed, and it will undergo a stylistic revision and a final re-reading of the canonical implications before a final draft is published.
The council’s next meeting, which could take place with new members, is slated to take place Dec. 10-12 at the Vatican.