The Vatican said Pope Francis has defrocked Father Fernando Karadima, the 88-year-old priest at the center of Chile’s child sex abuse scandal

In a statement on Friday the Vatican said that the pope had made an “exceptional” decision and did so “for the good of the Church”.

Karadima had been ordered to live a life of prayer and penitence after being was found guilty of abusing boys over many years in a Vatican investigation in 2011.

The Vatican didn’t say what new evidence, if any, had prompted the pontiff to re-evaluate Karadima’s original sanction and impose what clergy consider to be the equivalent of a death sentence.

Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of Karadima’s abuse, thanked Francis in a tweet. ” I hope thousands of survivors feel a bit of the relief I feel today.”

Press TV reports: Since June, seven Chilean bishops have stepped down following a probe into a purported cover-up of sexual abuse committed by Karadima.

Karadima, who denies any wrongdoing and is believed to be living in a home for the elderly in the capital Santiago, escaped civilian justice due to the statute of limitations in the South American country.

The decree to defrock Karadima was signed on Thursday, the Vatican said, adding the pontiff was notified of being “reduced to the lay state” on Friday.

The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving the sexual abuse of minors, deeply damaging confidence in the Holy See.

The scandals have been the most serious in Chile, the United States, Australia and Ireland.

Cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests have led to many investigations, trials and convictions.

There have been numerous allegations of attempts by Church authorities to cover up abuse.

Pope Francis has formerly expressed “shame and sorrow” over the matter.

Addressing an event in Ireland, attended by some victims of such sexual abuses, the pontiff admitted that the Church had failed to address the “crimes.”