With critics and observers saying that his legacy is under serious threat of being tarnished by wide allegations of sex abuses by church leaders, Pope Francis has come out with a decisive move. The Pope has sacked the head of the Vatican office that handles sex abuses on Saturday.
Pope Francis has refused to renew the mandate of German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office in the Vatican that processes and evaluates all cases of priests accused of raping or molesting minors.
Mueller served for five years. Under his term, his congregation amassed a 2,000-case backlog and was heavily criticized by Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, who had been appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 to advise the church on caring for abuse victims and protecting children from pedophile priests.
Collins opted to resign from the papal commission in March, and gave the “unacceptable “level of resistance from Mueller’s office to following the commission’s proposals as the reason for her resignation.
Mueller’s deputy, Monsignor Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, was appointed by Pope Francis to run the powerful office.
Mueller’s ouster became the second major Vatican shake-up this week. Just this Thursday, Pope Francis gave Cardinal George Pell a leave of absence to return to his native Australia to face trial on multiple charges of sexual assault from years ago.
Pell has consistently denied the allegations, but the Pope received criticisms for having appointed Pell, anyway, to the powerful position of the Vatican’s money czar in 2014 in spite of the accusations against him. Pell has received condemnation in his home country for mishandling abuse cases while he was bishop and for harshly treating victims in order to protect the church from abuse-related civil litigation.
Mueller and Pell were two of the most powerful cardinals in the Vatican, after the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Their departures will now create a power vacuum for the conservative wing in the Holy See hierarchy.
Pope Francis once vowed a zero tolerance for abuse, and the recent controversies that shook the church on sexual abuses cases has put that promise in close scrutiny by the public and the faith’s followers.