Pope Francis demotes 2 cardinals named in sexual abuse cases

One cardinal is accused of covering up sexual abuse. The other faces criminal charges in Australia.

Cardinal George Pell walks to a car in Melbourne on December 11, 2018. - Pell is facing prosecution for historical child sexual offences. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
  • The cardinals have been removed from the pope's C-9 cabinet, an informal group designed to help restructure the bureaucracy of the Vatican.
  • The cardinals have not been removed from the church.
  • In February, the Vatican will host a conference to inform church leaders about the impacts of sexual abuse.

Pope Francis has removed two cardinals from his informal cabinet after they were implicated in high-profile sexual abuse scandals, the Vatican said on Wednesday.

In letters written in October, Francis thanked Chilean Cardinal Javier Errazuriz and Australian Cardinal George Pell for their five years of service on the so-called Group of Nine, or C-9, which Francis founded in 2013 to help restructure the bureaucracy of the Vatican.

Errazuriz, 85, retired as Santiago archbishop in 2010 and is currently being sued in Chilean civil court by victims of sexual abuse for his alleged role in helping cover up assaults committed by recently defrocked priest Fernando Karadima. The cardinal voluntarily removed himself from the C-9 group in November.

Pell faces criminal charges in Australia for sexual abuse that allegedly occurred in the 1990s and 1970s. He denies the accusations. The 77-year-old cardinal is technically still the Vatican's economy secretariat, a powerful position, though he's not allowed to leave Australia and has reportedly taken an indefinite leave of absence to handle his legal issues.

The Vatican didn't mention accusations of sexual abuse when it announced the demotions.

A near mass-resignation in Chile

In May, Chile's long-standing sexual abuse scandal prompted all of the country's 34 bishops to offer their resignation to the pope, who's so far accepted seven. It was an unprecedented offering and recognition of wrongdoing by church officials.

However, just months earlier, Francis had angered victims in Chile by dismissing accusations that a high-profile bishop, Juan Barros, had covered up sexual abuse committed by the infamous priest Fernando Karadima.

"The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him," the pope told a reporter while still in Chile. "It is all slander. Is that clear?"

But Francis later doubled back on his comments after ordering an investigation into the situation, saying he felt "shame" for his "grave errors in judgment." Barros resigned in June. In a leaked Vatican report, Pope Francis criticized the Chilean clergy for failing to protect children or investigate abuse.

A landmark conference in February

In February, the Vatican will host the world's church leaders for a conference to address widespread sexual abuse.

A Vatican spokesperson said: "Pope Francis wants church leaders to have a full understanding of the devastating impact that clerical sexual abuse has on victim."

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