High-ranking Vatican official Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu has unexpectedly resigned but has revealed he was told to do so by Pope Francis.
He said he was suspected of giving Church money to his brothers, and denied any wrongdoing. Cardinal Becciu was a close aide to the Pope and previously had a key job in the Vatican's Secretariat of State.
He became involved in a controversial deal to invest in a luxury London building with Church funds.
That investment has since been the subject of a financial investigation.
Resignations at this level of the Vatican are extremely rare and the Holy See said little in its communique released late on Thursday.
"The Holy Father accepted the resignation from the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights connected to the Cardinalate, presented by His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu," a statement said.
But the cardinal, 72, told Italian website Domani he was being forced out because he was suspected of giving Church money to his brothers. "I didn't steal even one euro. I am not under investigation but if they send me to trial, I will defend myself," he was quoted as saying.
"I said to the Pope: why are you doing this to me, in front of the whole world?"
The anguished words of one of the Church's most senior cardinals - now fired and stripped of his right to choose the next Pope. Giovanni Angelo Becciu had served as Deputy Secretary of State - a role with unfettered access to Pope Francis - and was latterly head of the department that chooses future saints.
But on Thursday evening, he was summoned for a reportedly tense meeting with his boss.
Cardinal Becciu had managed a controversial €200m (£180m) purchase of a London property with Church funds, including alms money. Other reports allege he propped up a failing Roman hospital which employed his niece.
"The Holy Father explained that I had given favours to my brothers and their businesses with Church money… but I am certain there are no crimes", he told new Italian newspaper Domani. But his denial was not enough. It's been dubbed an "earthquake at the Vatican". The choreography of his dismissal may seem cloak-and-dagger - but it is a reminder yet again that the scandal and corruption that beset governments across the world also reach the highest echelons of the Holy See.