Pope Francis on Saturday defrocked two Chilean bishops accused of sexually abusing minors, the Vatican said in a statement.
The Vatican identified the two men as Francisco José Cox Huneeus, archbishop emeritus of the city of La Serena, and Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernández, archbishop emeritus of Iquique.
The statement 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 the bishops have been expelled from 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, according to Reuters.
Earlier this month, the Schoenstatt Fathers, the religious order to which Huneeus belongs, said the Vatican was investigating an accusation against him relating to the sexual abuse of a minor in Germany in 2004.
Fernandez resigned as bishop of Iquique in 2012 while being investigated by the Vatican investigation over accusations of molesting a 17-year-old altar boy.
The move to defrock the two Chilean archbishops came a day after the pope accepted the resignation of Washington DC Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who has been criticised for his poor handling of sexual abuse cases, reported BBC.
In September, Pope Francis defrocked priest Fernando Karadima for having sexually abused minors.
The Pope had earlier apologised for “grave mistakes” he said he had made in the handling of cases of child sex abuse in Chile. In June, he accepted the resignation of three Chilean bishops in June following sexual abuse scandals. In July, he accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington DC, who was accused of sexual assault. McCarrick became the first cardinal to lose his title.