VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis summoned the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences Wednesday to a summit on preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children, responding to the greatest crisis of his papacy with the realization that Vatican inaction on the growing global scandal now threatens his legacy.

Francis’ key cardinal advisers announced plans for the summit early next year the day before the pope meets with U.S. church leaders embroiled in their own credibility crisis from the latest accusations in the Catholic Church’s decadeslong sex abuse scandal.

The meeting, set for Feb. 21-24, would assemble more than 100 churchmen to represent every bishops’ conference. Its convening signals awareness at the highest levels of the Catholic Church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem, not restricted to some parts of the world or a few Western countries.

Victims’ advocates immediately dismissed the event as belated damage control, an action publicized hastily as allegations regarding Francis’ record of handling abuse cases – and accumulated outrage among rank-and-file Catholic faithful over covered-up crimes – jeopardize his papacy.

“There’s absolutely no reason to think any good will come of such a meeting,” given the church’s decades of failure to reform, David Clohessy, former director of the victims’ advocacy group SNAP, said.

“Criminal prosecutions, governmental investigations and journalistic exposes – stemming from brave victims and church whistleblowers – are the best way to protect kids, expose wrongdoers and end cover-ups,” Clohessy said.

The summit was announced as Francis still works to recover from his botched handling of the sex abuse scandal in Chile.

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