08 June 2016
by AAP

Cardinal George Pell to tender resignation to Pope Francis

Cardinal George Pell presents a cricket bat to Pope Francis after a friendly cricket match at the Vatican in October 2015

Australia's most senior Catholic cleric Cardinal George Pell will tender his resignation to Pope Francis on Wednesday.

But this does not mean the controversial churchman, who has given evidence three times at the child abuse royal commission, will leave his job as the Vatican's Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy - Vatican treasurer - any time soon.

Protocols introduced by the Pope in 2014 oblige cardinals to present their resignations at 75, and Dr Pell reaches this age on June 8.

However, the Pope does not have to accept Dr Pell's resignation.

Observers say it is a high probability the Australian cardinal will stay on for another few years, given his crucial role in reforming the Vatican's medieval financial structure.

The Pope has already backed him twice when his reform methods drew complaints from some powerful figures in Rome.

The resignation of a cardinal can be a drawn-out process. While the Pope can accept or reject it immediately, an immediate announcement one way or the other is unlikely. That may come when a successor is appointed.

In Australia there have been numerous calls for Dr Pell's resignation especially following his evidence from Rome earlier this year about his knowledge of child sex abuse complaints when he was a priest and later auxiliary bishop with responsibility for Ballarat.

He says he did not know the extent of the abuse by paedophile priests Gerald Ridsdale and Peter Searson and had been kept in the dark by the then bishop, archbishop and the Catholic Education Office.

Dr Pell met with Pope Francis after this first day of evidence from Rome in March and said then he had the pontiff's full confidence.