Vatican city: Pope Benedict XVI has invited all the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church for unprecedented talks next week on cases of sexual abuse by clergy -- a move greeted with scepticism by activists.
"The pope has invited the members of the college of cardinals... to a day of reflection and prayer," the Vatican said in a statement on Monday.
"The Church`s response to sexual abuse cases" will be one of the themes of the meeting in the Vatican, formally known as a consistory, it added.
The talks on November 19 come as Benedict grapples with the Church`s most profound crisis in years, following thousands of abuse scandals across Europe and the United States and accusations of a cover-up by senior clergy.
The abuse discussion will be led by US cardinal William Joseph Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body in charge of Church dogma that was presided for more than 20 years by the current pope.
Levada, a former archbishop of San Francisco, is seen as a conservative stalwart and has been criticised in the United States by victims of sex abuse by priests of covering up Church crimes instead of exposing them.
Barbara Blaine, head of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), reacted cautiously to the Vatican announcement.
"We`ll only know if this is a good development when we see action resulting from this meeting. To be swayed by mere talk is to betray vulnerable children and wounded adults," Blaine said in a statement.
"It takes decisive action to oust predator priests and complicit bishops. And when it comes to abuse, this Pope, like his predecessors, has shown little commitment to real action," she added.
Blaine took a hard line against the cardinals and any prospects that the gathering would lead to progress on the abuse issue.
"Before any hopes get raised, let`s remember that it`s likely that every man in that room next week has ignored and concealed clergy sex crimes or is doing so right now.
"The prospects of substantial reform happening next week are therefore pretty slim."
Far more productive, she argued, would be meetings that "involve police, prosecutors and other secular officials who use the open, time-tested justice system to uncover long-concealed clergy sex crimes."
The consistory is set to bring together the Church`s 203 cardinals, including 24 newly-appointed ones. Cardinals hold key power in the Catholic Church because they are the ones who elect new popes.
Consistory meetings are usually held behind closed doors and allow the pope to consult with the cardinals on key aspects of Vatican policy.
Benedict`s predecessor John Paul II summoned all the American cardinals to the Vatican in 2002 amid widespread outrage following revelations that abuse by clergy in the United States had been hushed up.
Benedict has apologised for the abuses, tightened Church rules on abuse and met victims during visits to Australia, Britain, Malta and the United States.