Thousands of San Diego clergy members met Tuesday for a first-of-its-kind gathering to address sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church.
Bishop Robert W. McElroy called for more than 2,500 San Diego area priests, teachers and administrators to attend a mandatory meeting with District Attorney Summer Stephan at the University of San Diego.
It is the first time in its history the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has called every member of its church to order.
The meeting focused on the steps the Church is taking to address the abuse of children and was called to address the responsibilities clergy members have in reporting alleged abuse, according to the Diocese.
"In our own day, the Church’s blindness to, tolerance of, and participation in the patterns of sexual abuse of minors by clerics constitute the most grievous sin in the life of the Church, a sin that we must recognize, understand and eradicate," McElroy planned to say, according to prepared remarks.
As part of the effort to address abuse, the Bishop announced the diocese would ban all private communication and direct social media interaction between priests and minors.
McElroy also noted the need for the Catholic Church to play an active role in educating children and parents about the prevalence of abuse and provide resources to combat what he called "an epidemic in our society."
The meeting was organized in response to Pope Francis' mandate to report abuse allegations. The legislation marked the first time the Vatican has put into law requirements for Catholic officials to report allegations of sex crimes to police or face fines and possible jail time.
While the mandate applied to only Vatican personnel, the goal was to create a model for the Catholic Church worldwide. Similar law exists in the United States, where clergy members are considered "mandated reporters," making the failure to report alleged abuse in a timely manner a crime.
McElroy had a message Tuesday for those within the Church who were not mandated reporters.
"As a moral mandate, I am calling you as an employee of the parishes, schools and agencies of the diocese of San Diego to also report any instance in which you come to a strongly founded belief that a minor is being victimized sexually," he said.
A global sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church exploded in August 2008 when Pennsylvania grand jury report found hundreds of their priests had abused at least 1,000 children.
As a result, similar investigations were launched across the country. In San Diego, it led to the naming of eight priests who at one time worked in San Diego County and have credible reports of child abuse against them.
The addition brought the total number of abusive priests connected to the diocese to 56. The previous 48 were identified after a 2007 settlement in which the diocese paid out almost $200 million to victims.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is now investigating how the 12 Roman Catholic dioceses in the state handled allegations of child sexual abuse. The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego was not among them.
The local diocese told NBC 7 in November that if an allegation of priest misconduct is made, it is reported to civil authorities and reviewed by an Independent Review Board. If the board finds the allegation credible, the priest is permanently forbidden from functioning as a priest anywhere in the world.