VATICAN CITY—Pope Francis has defrocked a prominent Chilean priest at the center of a sexual-abuse scandal that has rocked the traditionally Catholic South American nation.
The Vatican said the pope had dismissed Fernando Karadima from the priesthood for the “good of the church” and notified the former priest on Friday.
The defrocking, which prohibits Mr. Karadima from identifying as a priest, celebrating Mass or administering the sacraments, was the pope’s latest response to a backlash over the abuse scandal in Chile—part of a global crisis that threatens to engulf his pontificate and distract from his social and economic-justice agenda.
“We were facing a very serious case of corruption and it was necessary to tear it out at the root,” said Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesman, in a statement.
The decision was celebrated by victims of Mr. Karadima, an influential priest in Santiago who was accused in 2010 of having molested minors at his church in an upper-class neighborhood. A Vatican inquiry in 2011 concluded he was guilty of the abuse and ordered him to a life of prayer and penitence. Mr. Karadima has denied the abuse allegations.
“I hope survivors today have a little bit of peace after all everyone has suffered at the hands of this horrible man,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Mr. Karadima. “I want to thank the pope for doing this, because what no one else did, he had the guts to do.”
The Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, called on Catholics in the Chilean capital to collaborate in repairing “all of the damage caused to the victims.”
The scandal over Mr. Karadima overshadowed the pope’s visit to Chile earlier this year, resulting in a backlash that has rattled the church there over the past nine months. Pope Francis was criticized for his defense of a bishop whom victims said had witnessed abuse by Mr. Karadima and failed to report it when the two served as priests in Santiago in the 1980s.
The pope during his visit accused the victims of slander. He later apologized and acknowledged making “grave mistakes” based on misinformation that he was provided about the case. In a letter in May, the pope denounced a “culture of abuse” in the Chilean church. All of the country’s 34 bishops had earlier that month offered to resign, and state prosecutors launched investigations into decades of clerical child abuse. The pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Juan Barros, the bishop accused of covering up for Mr. Karadima. Bishop Barros has denied the accusations.
Mr. Karadima is the second prominent Chilean priest accused of abuse to be dismissed this month by Pope Francis. Cristián Precht, a priest known for his defense of human rights during Chile’s brutal military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, was defrocked after allegations of sexually abusing children. He denies those charges.
Pope Francis has been under fire over his record on combating sex abuse for most of this year. In August, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S. accused the pope of having rehabilitated U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who the envoy said had been secretly sanctioned for sexual misconduct. In July, now-Archbishop McCarrick became the first man to give up the title of cardinal in nearly a century, after a church investigation found credible a charge that he had abused a teenager in the early 1970s.
The archbishop has said he doesn’t remember the incident with the teenager and believes he is innocent. His lawyer says he deserves due process with regard to the envoy’s charges. The pope has so far declined to reply to the accusations.
Meanwhile, the church faces abuse crises across the globe. In the U.S., a report by Pennsylvania’s attorney general documenting decades of clerical sex abuse has led to investigations by civil authorities in other states. In Australia, the Vatican’s financial chief, Cardinal George Pell, is facing trial on charges of sex abuse.
On Tuesday, the German Catholic bishops conference released a report showing that some 3,677 people—more than half of them 13 or younger—had been abused by clergy over the seven decades following World War II.
The pope has called the heads of the world’s bishops conferences to the Vatican in February for an unprecedented summit dedicated to the subject of sex abuse.
Mr. Cruz, the Chilean sex-abuse victim, said he hopes the pope will clean up the church by ousting other priests that have molested minors.
“I hope this is not the exception, but the norm now,” he said of Mr. Karadima’s removal. “There are so many other people that need the same justice.”