VATICAN CITY, November 8, 2010 (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI has summoned his cardinals to Rome for November 19 to discuss the Catholic Church’s response to cases of sexual abuse by clergymen, the Vatican said in a statement on Monday.
The unprecedented talks, which come on the eve of a meeting that will formally recognise 24 new cardinals, will also discuss the procedure for accepting Anglican converts into the Church, the Vatican said.
“The pope has invited the members of the college of cardinals and the new cardinals to a day of reflection and prayer on Friday, November 19,” it said.
“The Church’s response to sexual abuse cases,” will be among the themes, it said.
The meeting, known as a consistory, will be led by William Joseph Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body in charge of Church dogma that was headed for more than 20 years by the current pope.
Levada, a US cardinal who was formerly the archbishop of San Francisco, is seen as a conservative stalwart and has been criticised by victims of sex abuse by priests of covering up Church crimes instead of exposing them.
The consistory is set to bring together the Church’s 203 cardinals, including the newly-appointed ones. The college of cardinals holds key power in the Catholic Church because it is the organisation that elects new popes.
Following the publication in November 2009 of a report revealing hundreds of cases of child sex abuse by the clergy in Ireland, Benedict has grappled with the most serious crisis in the Church of recent years.
There have since been many new abuse scandals around Europe and the US.
Consistory meetings are usually held behind closed doors and allow the pope to consult with the cardinals on Vatican policy.
Benedict has held two consistories since 2005 when he was elected pope.
The last consistory in 2007 focused on relations with other Christian denominations, while one in 2006 was mainly about the Church’s approach towards Catholic fundamentalists and its dialogue with Islam.
This month’s meeting will also deal with the thorny issue of how Anglicans disgruntled with the Church of England’s policies on gay marriage and women priests can be integrated into the Catholic Church.
The Vatican in 2009 announced that such converts would be welcome.
The consistory call coincided with an announcement by the Catholic Church on Monday that five Anglican bishops are to convert under Benedict’s offer.
The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales said it welcomed the decision by the bishops “to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church”.
In a statement, the five bishops said they had been “dismayed, over the last 30 years, to see Anglicans and Catholics move further apart on some of the issues of the day.”
They said the Vatican offer was a “generous response to various approaches to the Holy See for help and a bold, new ecumenical instrument in the search for the unity of Christians.”