By Pooja Paidipalli
Pope Francis expelled two retired Chilean bishops from the priesthood amidst claims that they committed sexual abuse against minors. The Vatican released a statement claiming that the pope made the decision — the harshest available in church law — on Oct. 11, according to The New York Times.
The decision was announced after Pope Francis met Chile’s president, Sebastian Piñera, in Vatican City, according to BBC. The two spoke about the clerical sexual abuse allegations against minors.
One bishop, Francisco Cox, 84, served as archbishop emeritus of La Serena and now suffers from dementia. He has a record of sexually abusing minors that dates back to his post as bishop of the Chilean diocese in 1974, according to The New York Times.
Cox was accused of sexual abuse by approximately a dozen people over multiple decades, according to The Wall Street Journal. He recently refused to discuss the accusations with a Chilean television crew.
Cox reportedly joined the Schoenstatt religious order following abuse allegations in 2002, according to The Washington Post.
The Washington Post released a statement from the order saying, “We receive this news with much shame for the damage caused to the victims. We show solidarity with them and their profound suffering. Today more than ever, we deplore every act of abuse that offends the dignity of people.”
Representatives of Schoenstatt in Chile released a statement saying that they were “embarrassed” by the harm caused by Cox and that they supported Francis’ decision, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Ordenes Fernandez, 53, was the second bishop to be defrocked. Fernandez is a retired bishop of Iquique in northern Chile. Six years after his appointment as bishop, Fernandez retired, allegedly for health reasons, but allegations of abuse soon followed his retirement, according to The Washington Post.
Fernandez has not been seen publicly since 2013, according to The New York Times. He has been living in Peru and it is believed that he adopted a life of prayer and penitence.
Cox and Fernandez will be forbidden from celebrating mass, administering the sacraments or identifying as priests. However, the Vatican will permit Cox to remain a member of the Schoenstatt religious order, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Prosecutors have launched extensive investigations into decades of clerical sexual abuse against children in Chile, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a prominent Chilean victim of clerical sexual abuse, tweeted, “Two less pedophile bishops. Now it is the turn of Chilean justice to do something.”
All active Chilean bishops offered to resign in May for mishandling the sexual abuse scandal of Cox and Fernandez. Pope Francis has accepted seven of those resignations, according to The New York Times.