Pope Francis delivers his speech during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sept. 12, 2018.
Pope Francis delivers his speech during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sept. 12, 2018.

Pope Francis is summoning senior Catholic bishops from around the world to a February summit to discuss the church's burgeoning clergy sex abuse scandal involving attacks on minors and years of cover-ups of allegations against parish priests.

The Vatican said Wednesday the heads of the national Catholic bishops' conferences would meet with Francis from February 21 to 24. The meeting of more than 100 church leaders is believed to be the first of its kind and a recognition that top church officials view the sex abuse scandal as global in scope.

The church is now facing abuse scandals in the United States, Chile, Australia, Germany and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, Francis admitted to "grave errors in judgment," when he at first repeatedly discredited sex abuse victims and the claims they had made against a Chilean predator priest. The pontiff subsequently sanctioned guilty priests that had covered up the priest's abuse.
In Germany, a church-commissioned study detailed 3,677 abuse cases against minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014, involving 1,670 clergy.

The Vatican's announcement on the February summit came a day before Francis is meeting with U.S. Catholic Church leaders to discuss the church's sexual abuse scandal in the United States, where a grand jury in the eastern state of Pennsylvania recently alleged that more than 300 parish priests had abused at least 1,000 young people over a period of 70 years. Prosecutors in a handful of other states have opened similar investigations.

The head of the U.S. bishops' conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of the Galveston-Houston area in the southwestern state of Texas, and other Catholic leaders in the United States say they want answers from the pontiff about allegations he knew years ago about credible information that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Washington had abused a teenage altar boy in the 1970s and other seminarians and young priests, but did not confront McCarrick about the allegations.

Pope Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July, but the Vatican's former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, has called for the pope step down in the wake of his failure to act against McCarrick until recently.

DiNardo has said that he wants the pontiff to authorize a full-fledged investigation of the McCarrick case and the allegations of a coverup by the Vatican.

DiNardo said the Pennsylvania report "again illustrates the pain of those who have been victims of the crime of sexual abuse by individual members of our clergy, and by those who shielded abusers and so facilitated an evil that continued for years or even decades. We are grateful for the courage of the people who aided the investigation by sharing their personal stories of abuse. As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops."