VATICAN CITY — Next month’s Vatican summit of bishops on clerical sex abuse will include a penitential liturgy as well as opportunities for discussion and prayer aimed at helping to ensure bishops return to their dioceses with a clear understanding of how to deal with the scourge.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Vatican said the much-anticipated Feb. 21-24 meeting on “the protection of minors in the Church” would include “plenary sessions, working groups, moments of common prayer and listening to testimonies, a penitential liturgy and a final Eucharistic celebration.”

Pope Francis has entrusted retired Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi with the task of “moderating the plenary sessions of the meeting,” the Vatican statement added.

Papal representative Alessandro Gisotti said in a separate communiqué to reporters that the meeting has “a concrete purpose,” the goal of which is to ensure that bishops “clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors.”

“Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response,” Gisotti said, adding that the Pope wants the meeting to be “an assembly of pastors, not an academic conference — a meeting characterized by prayer and discernment, a catechetical and working gathering.”

The assembly, which the Pope called following a raft of abuse scandals exploding across the world last year, will gather together some 180 people, including the presidents of bishops’ conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, members of Vatican departments, members of religious orders and abuse victims.

The Vatican said the Holy Father had been briefed on the plans for the summit at the end of a Jan. 10 meeting of the organizing committee, during which he met committee members and “assured them of his presence for the entire duration” of the summit.

Gisotti, who took over from Greg Burke as papal spokesman at the start of the year, said it is “fundamental for the Holy Father” that, when the participating bishops return to their dioceses, they “understand the laws to be applied and that they take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried.”

He also echoed previous Vatican comments that have sought to downplay expectations for the summit, saying that “it is important to emphasize that the Church is not at the beginning of the fight against abuse” and that the meeting is “a stage along the painful journey that the Church has unceasingly and decisively undertaken for over 15 years.”

 

U.S. Participants

The four-day meeting, which will take place in the New Synod Hall, located within the Paul VI Hall, will be attended by the respective president and vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago will also be taking part as one of four members of the meeting’s preparatory committee.

In preparing for the meeting, bishops were asked to fill out a questionnaire and submit their responses to the committee by Jan. 15.

Participating bishops were also urged to meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse in their own countries in advance of the gathering.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.