Pope Francis has expelled 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 move is 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.