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Pope Defrocks Chile Priest at Center of Sex Abuse Scandal

FILE - The Rev. Fernando Karadima, right, is escorted from court after testifying in a lawsuit brought by three people alleging a sex abuse cover-up by the Archdiocese of Santiago, Nov. 11, 2015.

A well-known Chilean priest at the center of the clerical sexual abuse scandal in his country, Father Fernando Karadima, has been defrocked by Pope Francis. The Vatican has referred to the move as “exceptional” and carried out for “the good of the Church.”

Eighty-eight-year old Father Fernando Karadima had already been ordered to live a life of “penance and prayer” after a Vatican tribunal in 2011 found him guilty of sexually abusing dozens of minors. Karadima has been living in a home for the elderly in the Chile’s capital, Santiago. He was notified Friday about the Pope’s decision to defrock him, an extremely stiff penalty for a priest, short of excommunication.

A Vatican statement said: “Pope Francis has removed Father Fernando Karadima from the clerical state.” It added: “The Holy Father has taken this unusual decision in conscience and for the good of the Church.”

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said laicizing Fernando Karadima is one further step in Pope Francis’ harsh stance against abuse. Burke added that without doubt it was an exceptional measure saying that “the serious crimes by Karadima have caused exceptional damage to the Church in Chile.”

Karadima was an influential priest in a wealthy neighborhood in Santiago who drew many young men into the priesthood. Some went on to become bishops. He has always denied wrongdoing.

After the Vatican made its announcement, one of the survivors of the priest’s abuse Juan Carlos Cruz, who met with the pope at the Vatican in April, welcomed the news in a tweet. In it, he said “Our abuser Karadima defrocked. I have a knot in my stomach. A criminal who has ruined so many people’s lives with his abuse.” Cruz thanked Pope Francis for having taken the decision and said he hoped thousands of survivors now felt some relief. Cruz has recounted he was abused by Karadima for years.

The scandal has rocked the Church in Chile, a country the pope visited in January. During that visit, the pope defended his appointment in 2015 of Bishop Juan Barros, the former bishop of Osorno, who has been accused by at least three survivors, including Cruz, of witnessing abuse by Karadima. Barros is one of the bishops who has now resigned.

Earlier this year, in the wake of the country’s sexual abuse scandal, all of Chile’s 34 bishops offered to resign en masse. Since June, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of seven of them, after an investigation was carried out by the Vatican into an alleged cover-up of abuses by Karadima.