Pope defrocks Chilean priest at center of abuse scandal

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has defrocked a Chilean priest who was a central character in the global sex abuse scandal rocking his papacy, invoking his “supreme” authority to stiffen an earlier sentence because of the “exceptional amount of damage” the priest’s crimes had caused.

In a statement Friday, the Vatican said Francis had laicized 88-year-old Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was originally sanctioned in 2011 to live a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for having sexually abused minors in the upscale Santiago parish he ran.

The Vatican said Francis was doing so for “the good of the church.”

“It is without doubt an exceptional measure, but Karadima’s grave crimes have caused exceptional damage in Chile,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said.

The “penance and prayer” sanction has been the Vatican’s punishment of choice for elderly priests convicted of raping and molesting children. It has long been criticized by victims as too soft and essentially an all-expenses-paid retirement, and Karadima’s whistleblowers had pressed for it to be toughened.

The Vatican cited no new evidence or crime that prompted Francis to revisit the case and impose what clergy consider to be the equivalent of a death sentence. It said he acted out of his conscience and as a pastor, referencing the canon that lays out the pope’s “supreme, full, immediate and universal power” to serve the people of God.

The statement said the decree, signed Thursday, takes effect immediately and that Karadima was informed of it Friday.

The decision appeared aimed at showing a get-tough approach to sex abuse after a series of missteps by Francis and accusations by a former Vatican ambassador that Francis had rehabilitated a now-disgraced former American cardinal early on in his papacy.

The move was welcomed by Chilean victims as overdue.

“I never thought I’d see this day,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of Karadima’s abuse who has been a key driver in pushing for justice for victims and an overhaul of the Chilean church hierarchy.

Thanking Francis, Cruz tweeted: “I hope many survivors feel a bit of relief today.”

In a joint statement, Cruz and fellow abuse survivors James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo expressed gratitude, saying that Karadima “has lost the platform of power that allowed him to commit acts of abuse not only against us, but also against dozens of victims who have carried their pain in silence.”

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