DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's learn what we can about an important meeting in Rome today. Several U.S. cardinals and bishops are at the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis, and the sexual abuse crisis and decades-long cover-up are on the agenda. The pope has now accepted the resignation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield and also authorized an investigation into charges that he sexually harassed adults. Also, earlier this week, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, informed his priests that he plans to resign over his own scandal over mismanaging abuse cases.
Let's bring in NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, who joins us from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So let's set this up here, the context. The pope has been accused of dealing far too slowly with the problem of clergy sex abuse. Could this meeting be a response to all that?
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the U.S. Bishops Conference, asked for this meeting after several shocking events - there was Pope Francis' demotion in July of Theodore McCarrick as cardinal following credible allegations that he had abused a minor decades ago; and then there was the Pennsylvania grand jury report revealing decades of abuse by hundreds of priests; and former Vatican diplomat Carlo Maria Vigano's bombshell letter accusing Pope Francis of covering up McCarrick's sexual misconduct.
DiNardo wants a full Vatican investigation of the McCarrick affair and says the former diplomat's accusations against Francis deserve answers. But his own record is being questioned by media reports that two victims in Houston accused him, DiNardo, of not stopping a priest arrested last week on abuse charges.
GREENE: Wow. I mean, just listening to you describe all these cases is just a reminder of how widespread all of this is. Any idea yet about what might come out of this meeting today?
POGGIOLI: Well, we don't know if there's a formal agenda, but it's likely it'll focus on McCarrick - if, when and where the 88-year-old prelate will be subjected to a church trial, and then the case of his successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl. As you said, he has announced this week that he will come to Rome to talk to the pope and, according to his office, to ask him to accept his resignation. There are - many Catholics are demanding that he step down. It's not clear whether Wuerl will be here today, though.
GREENE: OK. So we have this meeting today, Sylvia. Yesterday, Pope Francis called this unprecedented meeting of bishops from around the world with a single focus, a single topic - protecting minors. I mean, is the Vatican beginning to see church sex abuse and this crisis as - in some sort of different, more broad way, like as a global problem?
POGGIOLI: Absolutely. You know, many Vatican officials had long claimed the sex abuse crisis, which exploded in Boston 16 years ago, was an American problem. They can't say that after the scandals that have erupted in Chile, France and Australia, for example. And just yesterday in Germany, media reported that a church-commissioned study revealed some 1,700 clerics abused nearly 4,000 minors over a period of 7 years.
The main question is whether during the summit in February the Vatican will issue a universal call for all church officials to report suspected abuse to police. Currently, it advises suspected abuse be reported when required by law. And that's not the case everywhere - for example, here in Italy.
GREENE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome for a big meeting today that the pope is holding. And we'll be following what happens there.
Sylvia, thanks as always. We really appreciate it.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.