The Vatican said on Wednesday that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, who has been at the centre of a sex abuse crisis in his diocese.

The Vatican said that Francis had appointed the bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger, to administer the Buffalo diocese until a new bishop can be appointed.

Malone, 73, who has been under pressure to resign for years, is stepping down two years before the normal retirement date for bishops.

Malone, who met with the pope in November, has been accused of covering up or mishandling the abuse of dozens of minors by priests in his diocese.

He has denied the accusations and until recently said he would not be stepping down early.

He acknowledged “tremendous turmoil” in his diocese in a statement on Wednesday.

“Some have attributed this to my own shortcomings, but the turmoil also reflects the culmination of systemic failings over many years in the worldwide handling of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy,” his statement said.

He said he had made mistakes in not addressing what he described as personnel issues more swiftly and that he was retiring early voluntarily but would continue to live in Buffalo.

In September, a poll by the local newspaper, The Buffalo News, showed that about 85 per cent of Roman Catholics or lapsed Roman Catholics in the area said he should resign.

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(Reuters/NAN)