Pope Francis summons bishops from around the world to Vatican for unprecedented meeting on child sex abuse
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Pope Francis summons bishops from around the world to Vatican for unprecedented meeting on child sex abuse

POPE Francis has taken the unprecedented step of summoning bishops from across the world to the Vatican to discuss the protection of children from sexual abuse.

The Pontiff will meet with top officials from the Catholic Church early next year, the Vatican press office confirmed this afternoon.

A Vatican spokeswoman said the summit would be attended by the heads of national Catholic bishops conferences between February 21-24.

"The Holy Father Francis, after hearing the Council of Cardinals, has decided to convene a meeting with the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church on the theme of 'Protection of Minors'," the Vatican said.

The calling of the summit comes just weeks after Pope Francis' visit to Ireland - which was protested by child protection protesters - and in the wake of fresh sexual abuse scandals in a number of countries including the United States, Australia and Chile.

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The Catholic Church in the US has been shaken by a damning grand jury report from Pennsylvania which found that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years.

Elsewhere, the Australian Church refused a landmark report's recommendation to divulge allegations of child abuse revealed in confession to police.

A month prior, the Pope accepted the resignation of former Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson following his conviction for covering up abuse by a fellow priest in the 1970s.

And in Chile, the Holy Father caused outrage during a trip to the mostly Catholic South American nation in January when he questioned the testimony of sex abuse victims and threw his support behind Juan Barros, a bishop who has been accused of covering up abuse.