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 La Plata,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 abuse and “irregularities” starting in 2016.
“All the religious and authorities of Miles Christi deeply regret the acts committed by their former superior general and from the outset have accompanied and continue to accompany those who were affected, providing them with all the material and spiritual assistance necessary to cope with this painful situation,” the group said in a statement.
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, absolving them of the sin and abusing his other powers 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 abuse 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.
This story has been corrected to show the defrocked priest’s movement was founded in the Argentine archdiocese of La Plata, not Lujan.