Pope Francis will meet Thursday with a delegation of U.S. cardinals and bishops over the sex abuse and coverup scandal roiling the Catholic Church and his own papacy, the Vatican said Tuesday.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said he wants Francis to authorize a full-fledged Vatican investigation into Theodore McCarrick, who was removed as a cardinal in July after a credible accusation he groped a teenager.
DiNardo has also said recent accusations that top Vatican officials — including the Pope — covered up for McCarrick deserve answers.
Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke said DiNardo would meet with Francis on Thursday in the Apostolic Palace, along with Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the Pope's top sex abuse adviser. Also involved are two officials from the U.S. conference, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, according to a Vatican statement.
Francis ordered McCarrick, 88, to a lifetime of penance and prayer in July pending the outcome of a canonical trial into the groping allegation involving a teenage altar boy in the 1970s. After the allegation was publicized in June, it emerged that it was apparently an open secret — including at the Vatican — that McCarrick routinely invited seminarians and young priests into his bed and engaged in sexual misconduct.
The McCarrick scandal took on crisis proportions two weeks ago after the Vatican's former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, accused two dozen Vatican and U.S. cardinals and bishops of covering up for McCarrick for two decades.
Specifically, Vigano accused Francis of rehabilitating McCarrick from canonical sanctions. The Vatican hasn't responded to the accusations, but presumably the "clarifications" it has promised will come sometime after Francis meets with the top U.S. church leadership this week.
Francis has refused to comment directly about Vigano's claims, but nearly every day over the past two weeks his homily at morning mass has seemed somewhat related to the scandal.
On Tuesday, he drew Satan into the fray, suggesting that the devil was behind Vigano's revelations.
"In these times, it seems like the 'Great Accuser' has been unchained and has it in for bishops," he said. "True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people."
Bishops, he said, should be men of prayer, and should know they were chosen by God and keep close to their flock.
In other eyebrow-raising comments Tuesday, a top aide to both Francis and former pope Benedict said the sex abuse scandal was such a game-changing catastrophe for the church that it amounted to the church's "own 9/11."
Archbishop Georg Gaenswein told a book presentation that he by no means was comparing the scandal to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
But he said the years-long scandal, and recent revelations in a Pennsylvania grand jury report, showed just "how many souls have been wounded irrevocably and mortally by priests from the Catholic Church."