Campaigners for the prevention of child abuse in the Catholic Church are calling for the Pope to take action against disgraced Cardinal George Pell now - rather than waiting until his avenues for appeal are exhausted.
On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti said Pell was no longer Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
"I can confirm that Cardinal George Pell is no longer the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy," he tweeted.
Pell was already on leave from his position as the pontiff’s chief economic adviser.
The international editor of the Catholic News Service Barb Fraze tweeted that Pell’s five year term in office expired on February 24.
In a statement, the Holy See said “recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal".
Cardinal George Pell in Rome. The church has been urged to act on the disgraced cleric as soon as possible. Source: AAP
But those who highlight the church’s child protection failings say urgent action is needed.
“Cardinal Pell is no ordinary bishop,” Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org said.
“This is a matter of whether a man who has been documented being ruthless towards victims, to covering up for abusers, but now convicted of child sex crimes himself, is he still worthy of holding the third most powerful post in the Catholic Church? The Pope has let Cardinal Pell have the benefit of the doubt for way too long now.”
Pope Francis has already taken measures against Pell: he is banned from saying Mass in public and cannot have
Pope Francis at of the meeting 'The Protection of Minors in the Church' at the Regia Hall of the Apostolic Palace. Source: EPA
The church says those restrictions will continue.
Vatican insiders believe it’s possible Pell, once the third most powerful figure in the Catholic Church, could be removed from the clerical state if his appeal fails.
“It would be quite possible he be defrocked, but we’re still a good way from that,” the Wall Street Journal’s Vatican correspondent Francis Rocca told SBS News.
While Pell was a controversial figure within the church, it’s understood he still has support from some senior bishops.
Pope Francis attending the second day of the child abuse summit at the Vatican. Source: AAP
“The dropping of the second trial encourages them in their skepticism and sort of reassures them that maybe this is not true,” Mr Rocca said.
“Around here people love conspiracy theories, so you’d hear people say ‘oh well who knows, maybe he was getting too close to something on the financial front and somebody rigged this.”
The church’s summit on the prevention of
Australia’s sole representative at the conference, the Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge, remains in Rome.
Cardinal George Pell remains in high esteem by many powerful bishops. Source: AAP
He made a brief statement on behalf of the Australian Bishops Conference, of which he is president.
“The bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law and we respect the Australian legal system,” he told international media.
“The same legal system that delivered the verdict will now consider the appeal that the Cardinal's legal team has lodged.”
It was only three days ago the Pope endorsed a new era of transparency and accountability over abuse within the church.
The case of George Pell could be the first real test of that commitment.