VATICAN CITY (AP) — Another founder of a Catholic religious movement has been defrocked for sexual misconduct and abusing his power, the latest in a string of purportedly orthodox, charismatic priests who turned out to be predators.
Pope Francis defrocked the Argentine priest, Roberto Juan Yannuzzi, after a four-year investigation determined he had sex with adults under his authority, absolved them of the sin during confession and otherwise abused his power.
The pope’s decision was made public this week in a statement by the archbishop of Lujan, Argentina, where Yannuzzi in 1994 founded the Miles Christi community. The name is Latin for “Soldier of Christ.”
The movement is a religious order of priests, religious brothers, consecrated women and laity with a presence in Argentina, Italy, Mexico and in the U.S. dioceses of Detroit and San Diego, according to its website.
In a statement, Miles Christi said its members had denounced Yannuzzi’s abuses and “irregularities” starting in 2016.
“All the Miles Christi religious and authorities are profoundly sorry for what the founder and ex-superior did, and from the start, accompanied those who were affected, getting them all the material and spiritual help they needed to get through this painful situation,” the group said.
Defrocking, or dismissal from the clerical state, is the most severe sanction the Vatican can impose on a priest. It is usually reserved for priests who sexually abuse minors. The fact that Yannuzzi was defrocked for having sex with adults and absolving them of the sin suggests his misconduct was particularly grave.
Yannuzzi is the latest in a string of founders of new religious orders or Catholic lay movements who abused those in his care while the Vatican and church hierarchy turned a blind eye.
Many of the movements were based in Latin America and grew in size and wealth as a conservative reaction to the left-leaning liberation theology movement that swept through Latin America starting in the 1960s.
The 20th century’s most notorious sexual predator was the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Mexican-based Legion of Christ and a drug addict who sexually abused at least 60 of his seminarians.
The Vatican sanctioned the founder of the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, Luis Fernando Figari’s Figari, after he was accused of sexually, physically and psychologically abusing his members. Figari founded the movement in 1971 as a lay community to recruit “soldiers for God.”
In Chile, local church authorities long refused to believe victims of a charismatic priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was initially sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 to live a lifetime of penance and prayer for his crimes. In 2018, after the Karadima scandal exploded again, Francis defrocked the priest.