Pope removes two cardinals hit by sex scandals from group of close advisers

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - 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.

Chile’s sexual abuse scandal prompted all of the country’s 34 bishops to offer their resignation to the pope who has so far accepted seven.

A third C-9 cardinal, Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, 79, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was also leaving the group, Burke told a briefing on the C-9’s latest meeting, which ended on Wednesday. None of the three attended.

Burke said the six remaining members - from Italy, Honduras, the United States, and India, would continue to advise the pope. There were no immediate plans to appoint new members, he said.

The pope told Reuters last June in an interview that he planned to use the five-year anniversary of the C-9 to “to renew it a bit”.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Robin Pomeroy