Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Pope Francis has summoned nearly 200 senior bishops to discuss the sexual abuse scandal that has enveloped the Catholic Church.
The Vatican faces renewed pressure from the U.S. government, media outlets and law enforcement to deal with decades of abuse and accusations of cover-ups by church leaders. The first-of-its-kind meeting will confront the issue in Rome from Thursday to Sunday. Its official title is "Protection of Minors in the Church."
The goal is to make it "absolutely clear" to bishops how they should prevent and deal with sexual abuse. Pope Francis has met with victims of abuse and encourages church leaders to do the same. Some survivors will testify at the meeting.
"For survivors who have been around for 25 years, like me, this is an incredible achievement," said Peter Isely, the founding member of Ending Clergy Abuse Global. "Years ago, this was inconceivable."
The conference comes after Cardinals Raymond Burke and Walter Brandmuller wrote an open letter to the 190 bishops attending the conference that urges them to end their silence and uphold the divine and natural law.
"We turn to you with deep distress! The Catholic world is adrift, and, with anguish the question is asked: Where is the church going?" the letter states.
"A decisive act is now urgent and necessary" to end the "plague of the homosexual agenda" in the church that's organized by networks of protection and a "climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence," it adds.
The scandal was highlighted in the United States last year by a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that uncovered more than 1,000 minor victims abused by 300 clergymen over 70 years. That sparked similar inquiries in 14 other states. There was also a mass resignation of bishops in Chile after decades of scandals and cover-ups came to light.
"I believe the Chilean case was decisive [for calling the summit]," said Paolo Roadari, Vatican analyst for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "It was a big blow for Pope Francis."