The Vatican has admitted that sex abuse scandals in Ireland, the United States, Australia and, most recently, in Germany, have gravely damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church and present a "hard and humiliating challenge."
Vatican insiders say the priority given to tackling the scandal was unprecedented.
“I know of no other case where the pope has summoned all the bishops of a country to the Vatican for a crisis management session,” says Francis X. Rocca, the Vatican correspondent for the Washington-based Religion News Service.
“They come routinely every five years but this was to talk about this specific problem. The fact that the pope met with them two days in a row is an extraordinary commitment of his time when you think of all the demands he faces.”
The sex abuse scandal broke in May last year when a report ordered by the Irish government revealed that the Catholic Church covered up almost four decades of sexual and physical abuse by priests and nuns against thousands of children in state care. Serial abusers were moved from parish to parish and school to school in a successful attempt to save the careers of clergy and keep the scandal under wraps, the report said.
That was followed by another report six months later, which revealed that pedophile priests had engaged in sex abuse between 1975 and 2004 and found that several bishops had mishandled complaints made by victims.