Pope Francis has summoned senior bishops from around the world to the Vatican in February to discuss the protection of minors from sexual abuse, the Vatican has said.

A Vatican spokeswoman said the meeting of the heads of national Catholic bishops conferences would take place on 21-24 February.

The calling of the February meeting comes in the wake of fresh sexual abuse scandals in a number of countries, including the United States, Chile and Australia.

Earlier today, Der Spiegel magazine reported that a study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference had revealed that 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused more than 3,600 minors in Germany over a 70-year period.

The Catholic Church in the US has also been shaken by a damning grand jury report in the state of Pennsylvania that found that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years.

Tomorrow Pope Francis is due to meet US Catholic Church leaders who want to discuss the fallout from the report as well as a scandal involving a former American cardinal and demands from an archbishop that the pontiff step down.

Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked for the meeting after Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano last month accused the pope of knowing for years about sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and of doing nothing about it.

During his visit to Ireland last month, the Pope issued the Catholic Church’s most comprehensive acknowledgment to date for abuse perpetrated by its representatives in Ireland.

During a mass in the Phoenix Park, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the sins of the church, its clerics and the hierarchy who did not take charge.

Reading from a handwritten note, he said "We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power and conscience; sexual abuses on the part of qualified members of the church."