Pope Francis leaves s at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Credit: Alessandra Tarantino | AP

Alarmed by sexual abuse scandals in a number of countries, Pope Francis is summoning senior bishops to a meeting early next year to discuss the prevention of abuse by Roman Catholic clerics and the protection of children, the Vatican announced Wednesday.

The meeting of the heads of national bishops’ conferences from around the world is scheduled for Feb. 21-24 at the Vatican, a spokeswoman said.

The extraordinary conclave was announced a day before the pope is to meet with leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church to discuss some of the latest scandals, including a grand jury report from Pennsylvania that found that more than 300 priests had sexually abused minors in the state over seven decades.

In addition, the Vatican has been rocked by an archbishop’s accusations that the pope knew for years about alleged sexual misconduct by a top American cardinal but took no action. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was accused of molesting and harassing adult seminarians.

Abuse scandals have also shaken the Catholic Church in Chile and Australia, among other countries.

The planned Vatican meeting is believed to be unprecedented, indicating that the church recognizes that clergy sex abuse is a global problem.

Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.