Cardinal Donald Wuerl resigned amid two major sexual abuse and cover-up scandals rocking the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis accepted the embattled archbishop of Washington DC's resignation after months of speculation surrounding his role in two clergy sexual abuse scandals

Wuerl's predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.

Pope Francis, left, talks with Papal Foundation Chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC. Credit: AP

A Vatican statement said Francis had accepted Wuerl’s resignation, but named no immediate replacement.

In his letter accepting Wuerl's resignation, the Pope wrote: "You have sufficient elements to "justify" your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes."

He added: "However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.

The decision came after months in which Wuerl initially downplayed the scandal, insisted on his own good record, but then progressively came to the conclusion that he could no longer lead the archdiocese.