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Pope Francis to Tour Baltics Amid Ongoing Sex Abuse Scandal

Pope Francis talks with Albania's President, Ilir Meta (L) during a private audience at the Vatican, Sept. 17, 2018.

Pope Francis will tour Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia starting Saturday amid a child sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests that has challenged his leadership image.

Francis' tour will begin in Vilnius Saturday morning. He will conduct public masses and private diplomatic visits through Monday, meeting with a different Baltic president every day.

During the pope's last international trip to Ireland in August, a retired Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, accused Pope Francis of having known for years about sex abuse reports involving former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

That claim, combined with continuing fallout from the sexual abuse allegations in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, led to an 13 percent decline in Francis' favorability ratings in the United States, according to a Gallup poll published Tuesday.

Some Catholic observers have characterized his visit this week as a show of support for the Baltic states, which in recent years have increasingly voiced concerns about aggression from their shared neighbor, Russia.