Pope Francis has defrocked two Chilean bishops who have been caught up in the country’s widening sexual abuse crisis, the Vatican said on Saturday.
The Vatican named the two men as Francisco Jose Cox Huneeus, archbishop emeritus of the city of La Serena, and Marco Antonio Ordenes 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 (Church) law related to the crime of sexual abuse of minors.
Defrocking, officially called “reduced to the lay state,” means they are no longer priests. It is the harshest punishment the Church can inflict on a member of the clergy.
Last month Francis defrocked Father Fernando Karadima, an 88-year-old Chilean priest who sexually abused teenage boys over a period of many years and is at the centre of a wider abuse scandal that is still under investigation.
Chile’s scandal prompted all of the country’s 34 bishops to offer their resignation to the pope last May. He has so far accepted seven.
Cox and Ordenes were not among the 34 because, although they still had the clerical rank of bishop before Saturday, they were no longer running dioceses.
The Vatican’s announcement followed discussions in the Vatican between the Pope and visiting Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
“We shared the hope that the church may experience a renaissance and recuperate the affection, the closeness of the people of God, and can continue playing the important role that the Church plays in our country,” Mr Pinera said after the meeting.
The Chilean scandals are not the only accusations confronting Cox, who is also being probed for at least one incident of alleged abuse in his native Germany, where the disgraced prelate is believed to have returned after being exposed in his adopted country.
Ordenes, the other defrocked bishop, is believed to have gone into hiding in Chile after evidence emerged that he molested an altar boy.
Chilean probers have so far investigated 119 allegations of sexual abuse or cover-ups involving 167 church workers including Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago.