VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has stripped two retired Chilean bishops from the priesthood after they were caught up in the South American country’s widening sexual abuse crisis.
The Vatican named the two men as Francisco Jos Cox Huneeus, archbishop emeritus of the city of La Serena, and Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernandez, archbishop emeritus of Iquique.
A Vatican statement in Spanish said the pope’s decision was definitive and not open to appeal. It referred to a part of Canon law related to the crime of sexual abuse of minors.
The ruling, the Vatican explained, was made by the Pope on 11 October. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the body which handles cases of priests accused of abuse – has notified all parties.
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) October 13, 2018
The move follows a 32-minute audience of Pope Francis with Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, where the pair discussed “the painful scourge of abuse of minors” and how to “combat and prevent the perpetration of such crimes and their concealment”.
The Chilean sexual abuse scandal has gripped the country with prosecutors raiding the offices of dioceses, a flood of civil actions have been lodged against the Church, and seven bishops have resigned. All 34 members of the hierarchy offered to step down earlier this year following a meeting with the Pope, while last month Francis removed from the priesthood the pedophile cleric who had been the lightning rod of the crisis, Fernando Karadima.
Defrocking, officially called “reduced to the lay state”, means they have been expelled from the priesthood.
It is the harshest punishment the Church can inflict on a member of the clergy and such action has rarely been taken against bishops.