Pope Francis has sacked the head of the Vatican office that handles sex abuse cases, just days after he released Australian cardinal George Pell to return home to face charges of historical sexual assault.
The developments underscored how the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis has caught up with Francis, threatening to tarnish his legacy over a series of questionable appointments, decisions and oversights in his four-year papacy.
Francis on Saturday declined to renew the mandate of German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that processes and evaluates all cases of priests accused of raping or molesting minors.
Francis named Mueller’s deputy, Monsignor Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, to run the powerful office instead.
During Mueller’s five-year term, the congregation amassed a 2000-case backlog and came under blistering criticism from Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, who had been tapped by Francis in 2014 to advise the church on caring for abuse victims and protecting children from paedophile priests.
Collins resigned from the papal commission in March, citing the “unacceptable” level of resistance from Mueller’s office to heeding the commission’s proposals.
In May, Francis said her criticism of the slow pace in processing abuse cases was justified and announced he was adding more staff to handle the overload.