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The letter comes as Francis prepares for a Thursday meeting with a delegation of U.S. church leaders - including the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the Vatican's top adviser on clergy sex abuse - to discuss the best way to handle the clergy abuse scandal.

The former nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, recently accused a number of prelates of dereliction of duty in dealing with clerical sex abuse and claimed that the pope had rehabilitated serial abuser Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, elevating him to a position of influence despite knowledge of his misdeeds.

The Council of Cardinals, sometimes called the "C9", is a group formed by Pope Francis himself, some members of which have been bogged down in recent days by their own set of scandals.

The Vatican announced Tuesday that Francis will meet this week with two other US cardinals, one of whom has said he wants a full-scale Vatican investigation of Archbishop McCarrick. The Vatican hasn't responded to the accusations, but presumably the "clarifications" it has promised will come sometime after Francis meets with the top U.S. church leadership this week.

The Vatican has known since at least 2000 that the archbishop would habitually invite seminary students to his New Jersey beach house and into his bed.

DiNardo has also said recent accusations that senior Vatican officials including the current pope had covered up for McCarrick since 2000 deserve answers.

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In these times "it seems that the Great Accuser has been unleashed and has it in for the bishops", the pope said.

Since then, a number of bishops have criticized the pope's "no comment" media strategy, insisting the allegations are very serious and that Francis has the duty to clarify the facts to provide the "accountability" for which he himself has called. "He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalise the people".

The U.S. conference of bishops issued what is considered the gold-standard policy in 2002, requiring accusations of abuse to be reported to police and the permanent removal from ministry of any priest found to have abused a minor.

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, a top aide to both retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, told a book presentation Tuesday that he by no means was comparing the scandal to the almost 3,000 people killed in the US on September 11, 2001.

Gaenswein recalled that during a 2008 trip to the US, Benedict spoke from the National Shrine to denounce the "profound shame" and pain that abuse had caused the Catholic community. The cardinal, who is 77, handed the pope his resignation when he turned 75, as is standard practice.


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