Pope Francis has called for a meeting of bishops around the world in wake of new allegations in the long-running Catholic clerical sexual abuse crisis and cover-up charges facing church leaders, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The global religious conference, scheduled to run from Feb. 21 to Feb. 24 in Vatican City, is being called unprecedented as the pontiff fights to rein in mounting criticism against the church for the scandal -- and its handling of the facts revealed -- the newspaper stated.
"The Holy Father Francis, after hearing the Council of Cardinals, has decided to convene a meeting with the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church on the theme of the 'protection of minors,'" a release from Holy See Press Office stated Wednesday, referring to the council meeting which was held earlier this week.
"… The council reflected extensively together with the Holy Father on the theme of abuse... As it proceeds in the work of the reform of the Roman Curia, the council has concluded its rereading of the texts already prepared; the pastoral care of the staff who work there has also been a cause of attention," the statement continued.
The New York Times reports that Pope Francis will meet Thursday with church leaders, including Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo -- the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- and Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, Francis' leading adviser on the issue of sexual abuse.
The U.S. Catholic Church has been rocked by renewed claims of sexual abuse conducted by priests over the past several months. None was more damning than the Pennsylvania grand jury report in August that charged church leaders with protecting more than 300 so-called "predator priests" across six dioceses, USA Today wrote.
The newspaper said the church's own records identified more than 1,000 victims connected with the scandal.
"The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid scandal," the Pennsylvania grand jury report said in slamming church leaders, per USA Today. "Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing: They hid it all."
USA Today also pointed out that the Catholic diocese in Joliet, Illinois settled a $1.4 million lawsuit in August after three men charged Father Leonard Mateo harmed them. The three alleged victims claimed that the acts took place between the years of 1980 and 1982 -- before the presumed victims had yet seen their 11th birthday.
In yet another incident, the Diocese of Gary in Indiana published on its website a list of 10 priests who had served in the diocese and had "been found guilty of credible actions of sexual molestation of minors."
The Catholic Church has been under intense scrutiny about the sexual abuse crisis and the aftermath thereof since 2002, with the leaders acknowledging that it is undermining the church's standing around the world, the Times reported.