The head of the Vatican's saint-making body stepped down from his post Thursday and relinquished his authority as cardinal in the wake of a real estate controversy.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu of Italy renounced his rights as a leading bishop to participate in an ensuing conclave to select a pope, in one of the strangest events to rock the Holy See.

The last high-ranking Vatican leader to relinquish such rights was Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland, who quit following a sex scandal in 2013.

A brief statement disclosed that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Becciu as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The 72-year old bishop "had given up his rights associated with being a cardinal," Reuters quoted a part of the statement as saying.

The Vatican did not give any details behind the pope's acceptance of Becciu's resignation, but it could be that it has to do with the scandal surrounding the acquisition of the London Sloane Avenue properties. An investigation of the property deal is being conducted by the church's judicial officials.

Becciu, who used to be the second most influential figure in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, has been reportedly linked to the property deal that has cost the Holy See millions of euros in fees paid to real estate agents.

During his incumbency in the state secretariat, the Vatican became entangled in a suspicious contract in which the office used church money to buy a luxury property as an investment.

Becciu was elected as a Vatican cardinal in 2018 and has played a role in the committee that administers sainthoods and beatifications in the Roman Catholic Church. The bishop's unannounced resignation could be a form of sanction, reports said.

Becciu has denied any misdeeds in connection with the London real estate transaction and even defended the acquisition - asserting the building's market value has soared.