VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 13:  A woman holds rosary beads while she prays and waits for smoke to emanate from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel which will indicate whether or not the College of Cardinals have elected a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI's successor is being chosen by the College of Cardinals in Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. The 115 cardinal-electors, meeting in strict secrecy, will need to reach a two-thirds-plus-one vote majority to elect the 266th Pontiff.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 13: A woman holds rosary beads while she prays and waits for smoke to emanate from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel which will indicate whether or not the College of Cardinals have elected a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI's successor is being chosen by the College of Cardinals in Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. The 115 cardinal-electors, meeting in strict secrecy, will need to reach a two-thirds-plus-one vote majority to elect the 266th Pontiff. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:45
The Catholic Church's response to sexual abuse allegations
Pope Francis (L) speaks speaks with the Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the end of a midday prayer with US bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015 on the second day of his visit to the US.  AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis (L) speaks speaks with the Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the end of a midday prayer with US bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015 on the second day of his visit to the US. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:19
Pope Francis accepts resignation of archbishop
German Bishops take part in the opening mass at the German Bishops' Conference on September 25, 2018 in the cathedral in Fulda, western Germany. - Germany's Catholic Church is due on September 25, 2018 to confess and apologise for thousands of cases of sexual abuse against children, part of a global scandal heaping pressure on the Vatican. It will release the latest in a series of reports on sexual crimes and cover-ups spanning decades that has shaken the largest Christian Church, from Europe to the United States, South America and Australia. (Photo by Arne Dedert / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT        (Photo credit should read ARNE DEDERT/AFP/Getty Images)
ARNE DEDERT/DPA/AFP/Getty Images
German Bishops take part in the opening mass at the German Bishops' Conference on September 25, 2018 in the cathedral in Fulda, western Germany. - Germany's Catholic Church is due on September 25, 2018 to confess and apologise for thousands of cases of sexual abuse against children, part of a global scandal heaping pressure on the Vatican. It will release the latest in a series of reports on sexual crimes and cover-ups spanning decades that has shaken the largest Christian Church, from Europe to the United States, South America and Australia. (Photo by Arne Dedert / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read ARNE DEDERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:17
Bishops' report finds hundreds of abuse victims
Dolan
CNNI
Dolan
Now playing
02:26
Cardinal Dolan: Sex abuse stories not new to me
Casper Star Tribune
Now playing
03:17
Police reopen investigation of former bishop
NBC
Now playing
01:53
Pennsylvania AG: Vatican knew of cover-up
Cardinal Blase Cupich
CNN
Cardinal Blase Cupich
Now playing
02:01
Cardinal: Confident no crimes were overlooked
Back row: Sharon Tell, John Delaney and Arthur Baselice. Front: Juliann Bortz and Jim VanSickle
Sally Montana for CNN
Back row: Sharon Tell, John Delaney and Arthur Baselice. Front: Juliann Bortz and Jim VanSickle
Now playing
05:14
Hear abuse victims' messages for the Pope
Juan Carlos Cruz newday 08202018
CNN
Juan Carlos Cruz newday 08202018
Now playing
02:34
Abuse survivor: I'm glad Pope is speaking out
While you're in Rome, take in the night view at St. Peter's Basilica of St. Peter. It's in Vatican City, which is technically a tiny, separate country that's completely surrounded by the much larger city of Rome.
Shutterstock
While you're in Rome, take in the night view at St. Peter's Basilica of St. Peter. It's in Vatican City, which is technically a tiny, separate country that's completely surrounded by the much larger city of Rome.
Now playing
01:00
Vatican responds to PA abuse report
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Now playing
04:13
Pennsylvania AG: Cardinal isn't truthful
Now playing
01:47
Priest abuse victims share emotional stories
jim vansickle thumb
CNN
jim vansickle thumb
Now playing
02:24
VanSickle: I pray for the soul of my abuser
shaun dougherty new day
CNN
shaun dougherty new day
Now playing
01:06
Victim of priest abuse: Church has no morality
 Cardinals attend the religious mass 'Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice' at Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, Vatican City, 12 March 2013. The Catholic Church's 115 cardinal electors are taking part in a mass in St. Peter's Basilica on 12 March ahead of entering the conclave for a papal election that observers say has no clear favourite. The Pro Eligendo Romano Pontefice ('For the Election of the Roman Pontiff') mass is presided by Angelo Sodano, the elderly dean of the College of Cardinals, and is also open to non-voting cardinals - those aged more than 80. The next pope will take over a Church beset by infighting, scandal and dwindling support, particularly in the West.
MICHAEL KAPPELER /DPA/Landov
Cardinals attend the religious mass 'Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice' at Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, Vatican City, 12 March 2013. The Catholic Church's 115 cardinal electors are taking part in a mass in St. Peter's Basilica on 12 March ahead of entering the conclave for a papal election that observers say has no clear favourite. The Pro Eligendo Romano Pontefice ('For the Election of the Roman Pontiff') mass is presided by Angelo Sodano, the elderly dean of the College of Cardinals, and is also open to non-voting cardinals - those aged more than 80. The next pope will take over a Church beset by infighting, scandal and dwindling support, particularly in the West.
Now playing
02:55
New report details horrific abuse by priests
Rome CNN —  

Pope Francis has summoned top Catholic officials to discuss the escalating sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the church.

The Pope will meet the presidents of the Catholic bishops conferences from around the world in the Vatican from February 21-24, the Vatican said Wednesday.

“The Holy Father Francis, after hearing the Council of Cardinals, has decided to convene a meeting with the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church on the theme of the ‘protection of minors,’” the Vatican press office said in a statement.

The announcement comes amid growing criticism of the Pope’s role in dealing with historical child abuse within the Catholic Church, and a day before he is scheduled to meet Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

DiNardo, of the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas, requested the meeting with the pontiff as the Catholic Church in the US faces clerical sex abuse scandals on several fronts.

They are expected to discuss allegations that a former top American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, had sexually abused seminarians and an altar boy. McCarrick, who has denied the accusations about the altar boy and not responded to the allegations about the seminarians, resigned from his position in July.

Those allegations, as well as an explosive letter from a formal papal diplomat, have raised serious questions among senior church leaders about why McCarrick was allowed to rise through the church’s ranks, as well as who knew about the accusations.

Those reports come on top of a 900-page investigative report released last month by a grand jury in Pennsylvania that found that more than 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 children in six dioceses since 1947, often while church leaders covered up the crimes.

In a separate development, an open letter published on Catholic Women’s Forum, which calls on the Pope to respond to allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò surrounding the sexual abuse scandal, has gained more than 44,000 signatures in just under two weeks.

The letter, originally published on August 30, calls on Francis to respond to Viganò’s accusation that the pontiff was made aware of alleged sexual abuse by Cardinal McCarrick as early as 2013, and subsequently failed to act.

Theodore McCarrick resigned from his post in July.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Theodore McCarrick resigned from his post in July.

Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to the US, said he told the Pope about the allegations five years ago, but the pontiff did nothing about it. Viganò subsequently urged the Pope to resign.

Also on Wednesday, it was revealed that the German Catholic Church will admit to “at least” 3,766 cases of child sex abuse by the clergy between 1946 and 2014 in an upcoming report that leaked to local media outlets Die Zeit and Spiegel Online.

In response to the report, Bishop Stephan Ackermann released a written statement to CNN saying the church is “dismayed and ashamed” by the findings.

CNN’s Daniel Burke contributed to this report.