Pope Francis accepts resignation of two US bishops facing sex abuse cover-up charges

John Nienstadt and Lee Anthony Piche allowed to stand down voluntarily less than a week after Francis set up a tribunal to try bishops accused of letting priests abuse children on their watch

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Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of two bishops in the US who face charges of failing to protect children from a paedophile priest.

Prosecutors in Minnesota had charged the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis over an alleged sex abuse cover-up, accusing them of “turning a blind eye” despite repeated allegations against a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys.

The Archbishop of St Paul, John Nienstadt, and a deputy bishop, Lee Anthony Piche, offered the Pope their resignations under a code of canon law which lets them step down due to illness or a “grave” reason leaving them unfit for office.

A statement from the Vatican on Monday said the Pope had accepted their resignations.

It comes just days after Francis introduced a new tribunal system that will enable the Vatican to hold the highest officials in the church accountable for sex abuse on their watch.

A special new judicial section was announced on Wednesday last week “to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors,” a Vatican statement said at the time.

Campaigners have previously been critical of the Vatican for allowing bishops accused of cover-ups to resign, saying that this does not carry the same weight as a forced dismissal.

Canon law already does provide sanctions for bishops who are negligent in their duties, but the Vatican has never been known to mete out punishment for a bishop who covered up for an abuser.