Pope Francis has expelled the Reverend Cristian Precht Bañados of Chile, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Santiago.
This is the first formal resignation the Pope has decreed since every bishop in Chile offered to step down in May over the country’s sex abuse scandal. The Chilean bishops’ offer was thought to be unprecedented in the modern history of the Catholic Church.
Precht had been suspended in 2012 from practicing within the ministry for five years after the Archbishop of Santiago ordered a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against him.
The Archbishop issued a statement at the time saying that “during the process were established verifiable reports of abusive behavior with adults and minors.”
Precht has not been charged with any crimes by Chilean authorities, but was not allowed to leave the country’s capital, Santiago, pending completion of the church investigation.
In a February 2013 statement, Precht denied “ever forcing anyone’s will, be it an adult or a minor, woman or man.”
He also denied the allegations earlier this year in a letter to the director of the Chilean newspaper La Tercera.
“I absolutely deny participating, in any way, in the acts which I’m slanderously being accused of,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I will defend my personal and clerical honor in every way I can and any time it’s violated.”
Precht was extremely popular in Chile and known for being a fierce defender of human rights during the Chilean dictatorship.
His defrocking comes as the Catholic Church continues to face criticism over its response to myriad allegations of sexual abuse against Catholic clergy over the years.
Pope Francis said last month that “no effort to beg pardon and seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.” He has called for a meeting of the church’s top officials in February to address the scandal.
All of Chile’s 34 active and retired bishops offered their resignations to Pope Francis in May after an emergency summit at the Vatican. The Pope called the bishops to Rome after receiving a 2,300-page report detailing sexual abuses by priests in Chile.
The report alleged that for decades church officials in Chile knew about and covered up cases of sexual abuse, even destroying records.
Pope Francis had previously defended a Chilean bishop accused of concealing the abuse, saying he had been “slandered.”
The Pope apologized after Vatican investigators said church officials in Chile had helped cover up multiple cases of sexual abuse by the clergy. In June, the Vatican said Pope Francis was sending investigators back to Chile to look into historical child abuse and accusations that a bishop covered up crimes against minors.
Last month, police arrested a former Chilean priest over the alleged abuse of seven minors. Prosecutors say 158 people, including bishops, priests and lay people are under investigation.