Rome -- The pope met today in the Vatican with a small delegation of American Catholic Church leaders, amid the sexual abuse crisis that's dominated conversation about the U.S. church.
The USCCB headquarters in Washington, D.C., released a short statement more than three hours after the meeting saying the pope had "listened very deeply from the heart" as they spoke to him in "a lengthy, fruitful and good exchange" about how the U.S. church had been "lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse."
No details were given on what exactly was discussed at the meeting or what the U.S. church plans to do. The USCCB statement said, "We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together, identifying the most effective next steps."
The private meeting held in the tiny state's Apostolic Palace included the three top officials from the body that runs the U.S. Catholic Church, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, the president, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, deputy president, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, secretary general. Accompanying them at the meeting was Boston Cardinal Sean O’ Malley, who is president of the Vatican’s Commission for the protection of minors.
The Vatican did not provide any further information, but did release still photos and a brief video clip after the meeting.
The meeting had been requested by Cardinal Di Nardo following the damaging release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report in July that, since 1947, hundreds of priests in the state sexually abused more than 1,000 children -- and the news that a now-demoted cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, rose through the ranks within the church, despite officials in the Vatican and in the U.S. knowing about sexual allegations against him dating back to 2000.
While asking for a papal meeting, Di Nardo also took the unusual step of asking for a Vatican-run investigation into the matter. It is unclear if this was discussed today. He had said he wanted to discuss further action to deal with and stop cases of clerical sexual abuse in the U.S., including how to make bishops more accountable for their actions or punishable for their mismanagement.
However, the wave of sex abuse claims involving Catholic Church clergy in the U.S. continues.
On the eve of this meeting at the Vatican, Di Nardo was added to the list of high Catholic clerics in the U.S. who may have failed to prevent a priest suspected of abuse from having contact with minors.
At the same time as the top U.S. church leaders were sitting down to speak to Pope Francis today, the Vatican announced that the pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia and has asked the archbishop of Baltimore to launch an investigation into allegations that the bishop had sexually harassed adults.
The Vatican is taking steps to try to assuage Catholics in the U.S. and elsewhere, who have increasingly expressed frustration with the slow progress stopping clerical sex abuse -- and the apparent cover-ups of such cases by the church.
Yesterday, officials announced that the pope has taken the unprecedented step of summoning top officials of the Catholic church from about 130 countries around the world to discuss the issue at a Vatican summit in February.