Pope to meet Thursday with leaders of besieged US Catholic Church

Besieged by a mounting clergy sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis plans to meet on Thursday at the Vatican with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the pope’s top adviser on clergy sex abuse.

DiNardo, of the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, requested the meeting with Pope Francis as the Catholic Church in the United States faces clergy sex abuse scandals on several fronts. Spokespeople said DiNardo is not available for comment.

The Vatican confirmed the meeting, which will also include Archbishop Jose Gomez, vice president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, the conference’s general secretary. O’Malley is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

In an August 16 letter, DiNardo requested a meeting with the Pope following allegations that a former top American cardinal, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, had sexually abused seminarians and an altar boy. McCarrick has denied the accusations about the altar boy and not responded to the allegations about the seminarians.

Those allegations, as well as an explosive letter from a formal papal diplomat, have raised serious questions among senior church leaders about why McCarrick was allowed to rise through the church’s ranks, as well as who knew about the sordid accusations.

Those reports come on top of a 900-page investigative report released last month by a grand jury in Pennsylvania that found more than 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 children in six dioceses since 1947, often while church leaders covered up the crimes.

In DiNardo’s public letter, he said the bishops’ executive committee had three goals: opening an investigation “into the questions surrounding” McCarrick; opening “new and confidential channels” for reporting complaints about bishops’ misconduct; and advocating for more effective ways to resolve future complaints.

“We have already begun to develop a concrete plan for accomplishing these goals, relying upon consultation with experts, laity, and clergy, as well as the Vatican,” DiNardo said in the August 16 letter. “In addition, I will travel to Rome to present these goals and criteria to the Holy See, and to urge further concrete steps based on them.”

Some of the steps DiNardo is seeking — such as an “apostolic visitation,” an investigation into McCarrick led by the Vatican — require Vatican approval. DiNardo has said lay people should be involved in the investigation as well.

The US bishops next meet as a body in November in Baltimore, where they are expected to debate and vote on DiNardo’s plans.