Pope Francis has sacked two cardinals that were implicated in sexual abuse cases from a powerful council of advisers to guide him on matters critical to the future of the Catholic Church.
One of the cardinals is 77 year old George Pell of Australia, who has been facing charges of sexual abuse of minors in legal proceedings that are subject to a gag order in that country, suppressing news coverage until after they have concluded. For years, Cardinal Pell was considered the Vatican’s de facto finance chief, and his allies in Rome attribute the charges against him to church infighting.
But he also has been accused in hearings before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Instituttional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of mishandling misconduct cases against clergy members while he served as the leader of the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney.
More accusations subsequently surfaced that he had sexually abused minors beginning early in his priesthood.
He has repeatedly denied the accusations, including during an extraordinary news conference in the Vatican last year, when he said, “I’d just like to restate my innocence.”
The proceedings against him in Australia have been extremely secretive because of the Australian gag order, which is designed to prevent the swaying of juries.
The other is 85 year old Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz of Chile, who has been accused of covering up abuse.
The pope also dismissed a third Cardinal, 79 year old Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, who was archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
In June, Pope Francis granted a leave of absence to Cardinal Pell, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic prelate to be formally charged with sexual offenses, so that he could defend himself in Australia. He has been facing charges on child sexual offenses in the County court of Victoria.
Cardinal Errázuriz, the retired archbishop of Santiago, is well over the usual retirement age and had, along with the rest of the Chilean bishop’s conference, tendered his resignation to Francis in May.
Months earlier, during a trip to Chile and Peru, the pope had defended Chilean bishops against accusations of covering up abuse. That remark, and other missteps, led to an outcry among victims of sex abuse and their supporters, who considered the pope tone-deaf on an issue that has jeopardized his legacy.
Members of the nine-member council of advisers, known as the C9, who met in Rome this week, had asked the pope to reflect on the “work, structure and composition of the council, taking into account the advanced age of some members.” According to a statement on Wednesday by a Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, the pope had done just that.
Mr. Burke’s statement said the pope had written in October to both Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Errázuriz, and had concluded by “thanking them for their service” over the last five years.