Pope John Paul II has summoned American cardinals and Roman Catholic church leaders to the Vatican next week for a special meeting to discuss the sex abuse scandals that have been rocking the Catholic Church in the United States. The decision comes after top U.S. bishops met with the pope last week.

The U.S. Catholic Church has been under fire for some time for its handling of allegations of sex abuse by priests. High-ranking Catholic Church officials have been accused of covering up the misconduct of priests and in some cases moving abusers to other parishes when they were aware of the problem.

The scandal was the focus of discussions between the pope and top leading American church officials last week. The head of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, Wilton Gregory, said last week the pope reacted pensively to the crisis afflicting the Roman Catholic Church within the U.S.

A Vatican official said Monday the pope had decided to meet with the eight U.S. cardinals in charge of archdioceses, the president and secretary of the U.S. Bishops Conference and senior Vatican officials to further discuss the problem. The talks are to take place early next week.

Among the U.S. cardinals accused of failing to do enough to deal with the accusations of sex abuse is Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who is expected to attend the talks. Cardinal Law last week denied any intention of resigning from his position despite growing calls for him to step down for the good of the church.

Many of the sex abuse scandals have been concentrated in the Boston area. Cardinal Law has acknowledged he transferred a priest accused of sexual misconduct to another parish. The priest has been accused of more than 130 counts of sexual abuse and is now serving a prison sentence following a trial for child molestation.

Bishop Gregory said last week that the pope was "solidly behind" American bishops and wanted to help the U.S. Catholic Church "at this difficult moment." He said he was assured that he intended to help the church emerge from the sex scandals with policies to prevent future cases.