Pope Francis has defrocked the Chilean priest at the center of the global sex abuse scandal rocking his papacy, invoking his "supreme" authority to stiffen a sentence originally handed down by a Vatican court in 2011, per the AP. The Vatican said Francis had laicized the 88-year-old Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was originally sanctioned to live a lifetime of "penance and prayer" for having sexually abused minors in the upscale Santiago parish he ran. The "penance and prayer" sanction has been the Vatican's punishment of choice for elderly priests convicted of raping and molesting children. It has long been criticized by victims as too soft and essentially an all-expenses-paid retirement. The Vatican didn't say what new evidence, if any, prompted Francis to re-evaluate Karadima's sanction and impose the tougher penalty.
The statement said the decree, signed Thursday, takes effect immediately and that Karadima was informed of it Friday. The decision appeared aimed at showing a get-tough approach to sex abuse after a series of missteps by Francis and accusations by a former Vatican ambassador that Francis had rehabilitated a now-disgraced former American cardinal early on in his papacy. While the move will be welcomed by Chilean victims as overdue, the decision could spark a religious debate for those who see it as a second punishment for the same crime. Francis' conservative critics might also bristle at another display of raw papal power from the Argentine Jesuit.
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