Pope Francis is meeting Thursday with U.S. Catholic Church leaders to discuss the church's sexual abuse scandal in the United States and the coverup of years of allegations against hundreds of parish priests.
The Vatican said among those meeting the pontiff would be 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 Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston.
The Holy See said the U.S. Catholic leaders want to discuss the demands of the Vatican's former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that the pope step down in the wake of 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.
DiNardo has said he wants the pontiff to authorize a full-fledged investigation of the McCarrick case and that allegations of a coverup by the Vatican and the pope himself need to be answered.
The U.S. church has been rocked by years of allegations that priests have abused young children within their churches, with higher-up church leaders often covering up the offenses when they learned of them and protecting the offending priests from facing criminal charges.
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.
DiNardo said the 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."
He said "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."