VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has removed two prominent cardinals from his inner circle months after they were hit by pedophile scandals, the Vatican announced on Wednesday.
Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz and Australian Cardinal George Pell were both removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals, a powerful council of advisers picked by Pope Francis to guide him on matters critical to the future of the Catholic Church.
The last time the C9 met in September, Errazuriz, who is accused of covering up abuse in Chile, and Pell, who faces charges in Australia related to historical child sexual offenses, were both absent, and the council said it was considering restructuring.
In October, the pope wrote to the cardinals that they will leave the office to thank them for “the work they have achieved for five years,” Vatican press director Greg Burke said.
Despite being removed from the C9, Pell, 77, remains in charge of Vatican finances, the third most powerful position in the Roman Catholic Church.
Errazuriz, the retired archbishop of Santiago, met Francis last month and subsequently announced his “withdrawal” from the C9. “It’s not a resignation. I said goodbye at the end of the period for which I was appointed,” the prelate said in an interview with a Chilean newspaper. Back home, he is accused by victims of sexual abuse of having covered the acts of a pedophile priest, a case that scandalizes the South American country.
In September, Pope Francis defrocked — or “reduced to the lay state” — the Reverend Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most infamous pedophile priest, seven years after a Vatican investigation relegated the priest to a life of “prayer and penance” for his sex crimes.
In January, during a trip to Chile and Peru, the pope had defended Chilean bishops against accusations of covering up abuse. Some observers point out that the 85-year-old cardinal advised the Holy See badly, and it anger among Chileans.
Errázuriz had, along with the rest of the Chilean bishop’s conference, tendered his resignation to Francis in May.
And in October, The Associated Press reported that some victims of Father Karadima had filed a criminal complaint against Cardinal Errázuriz, accusing him of perjury, and of covering up Father Karadima’s crimes. The Cardinal has denied he did so.
Another cardinal, Congolese Laurent Monsengwo, will also leave the council. He is a figure of the African Catholic Church, which played an important political role in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he has just ceded his post as archbishop of Kinshasa at the age of 79.
This council of cardinals, which began with eight members, was created in March 2013, exactly one month after the election of Pope Francis to reform with his suggestions the central administration of the Church, criticized for its opacity and scandals.
Most of the mandates in the Vatican institutions are five years but there are no details on the functioning of the C9. At the moment there are no plans to appoint new members.