Pope Francis has removed from his group of close advisers two cardinals hit by sexual abuse scandals, including his economy minister, Australian George Pell, the Vatican said on Wednesday.

Pell has taken an indefinite leave of absence from his job as head of the Secretariat for the Economy, one of the most powerful posts in the Vatican, to defend himself from prosecution for historical child sexual offences in Australia.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said:

“The Holy See has the utmost respect for Australian judiciary. We are aware that a suppression order is in place (on media reporting on judicial procedures) and we intend to respect it.”

Asked if Pell, 77, was still economy minister, Burke suggested he was, saying there had been no announcement to the contrary.

The other member removed from the so called C-9 – a group of nine cardinals that meets periodically with the pope in Rome – is Francisco Javier Errázuriz of Chile.

Errázuriz, 85, the former archbishop of Santiago, has been accused by abuse survivors in Chile of discrediting victims and not investigating their cases, which he denies.

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By Ian Dei

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