Pope Francis meets with leaders from the US church at the Vatican on Thursday to discuss claims of sexual abuse by clergy
Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis met with US bishops and cardinals on Thursday to discuss the Vatican's response to a new wave of devastating claims of sexual abuse by clergy.
The pope met Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who leads the US Conference of Bishops, and Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who advises the pope on sex abuse issues.
DiNardo's deputy Jose Horacio Gomez and general secretary Brian Bransfield also attended the closed-door meeting.
The US Catholic Church has been shaken by the publication of a report on sexual abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania and by the resignation in July of US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick was accused of sexually abusing a teenager while working as a priest in New York in the early 1970s.
The US Bishops' Conference issued a statement after the talks "regarding the recent moral crisis in the American Catholic Church".
The men told the pope how the US Church "is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse... It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange," the statement said.
"We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps."
- Falling popularity -
According to a new poll published by the US news channel CNN on Wednesday, Pope Francis's popularity has nosedived in the United States recently.
The poll showed that only 48 percent of Americans in general supported the Argentinian pontiff, and his popularity has also plummeted among US Catholics to 63 percent from 83 percent 18 months ago.
A former ambassador to the Holy See, Monsignor Carlo Vigano, has even demanded the pope's resignation, accusing him of covering up for McCarrick.
On Thursday, the pope accepted the resignation of US Bishop Michael Bransfield -- a cousin of the Bransfield attending Thursday's Vatican meeting -- and ordered an investigation into allegations he sexually harassed adults, his Baltimore diocese said in a statement.
- 'Church's own 9/11' -
Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, private secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on Tuesday described sexual abuse against minors by clergy as the Church's "own 9/11".
Cardinal DiNardo said he wanted to present an "action plan" to the pope to facilitate reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops.
Referring to the McCarrick case, DiNardo called for a "prompt and thorough examination... into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement."
Police on Tuesday arrested a priest in DiNardo's Texas diocese following allegations he abused a male high school student between 1998 and 2001.
A diocesan statement also referred to allegations the priest, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, abused a 16-year-old girl in 2001.
Her parents "decided not to pursue the matter" and left the country, and the priest was allowed to resume his duties in 2004 after an internal investigation, the statement said.
In the United States, a group of 5,000 Catholic chief executives have frozen $820,000 (700,000 euros) in funds paid annually to the Holy See pending clarification of the sex abuse cases.
While Pope Francis has refused to respond to Vigano's allegations so far, the Vatican said Monday that he was "formulating the eventual and necessary clarifications".
- Cover-up allegations -
Among the clergymen targeted by Vigano, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington and formerly a bishop in Pennsylvania, is accused of covering up the sexual abuse in that state.
Wuerl has said he plans to travel to Rome in the near future to meet with Pope Francis to discuss his resignation.
On Wednesday, the pontiff called for a meeting of all the heads of Catholic bishops' conferences worldwide at the Vatican next February to discuss the issue of the "protection of minors".
More cases are coming to light.
The conclusions of a study commissioned by the Church in Germany were leaked to the press on Wednesday.
They included the finding that priests sexually assaulted more than 3,600 children in Germany over nearly seven decades.