VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has defrocked two Chilean bishops for the alleged sexual abuse of minors, the Vatican said in a statement on Saturday after a meeting between the pontiff and the president of Chile.
The decision to expel former archbishop Francisco Jose Cox Huneeus and former bishop Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez -- the latest heads to roll in a country hit hard by the cleric abuse scandal -- could not be appealed, it said.
Both were stripped of their priesthood "as a consequence of overt acts of abuse against minors".
Defrocking is considered the harshest penalty for priests within the Church and means the offender is forbidden from exercising any clerical duties at all, even in private.
Scores of new cases of priestly sexual abuse of minors have come to light in Chile, deepening a crisis in the Roman Catholic church that has also embroiled Pope Francis.
On Saturday, Francis met with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera at the Vatican for talks on the "difficult situation" in Chile.
They discussed "the painful scourge of abuse of minors, reiterating the effort of all in collaboration to combat and prevent the perpetration of such crimes and their concealment", the Vatican said.
The leaders "shared the hope that the church could live a true rebirth," Pinera said in a statement.
A total of 167 bishops, priests and lay members of the church are now under investigation for sexual crimes committed in the South American country since 1960.
Pope Francis has already apologised repeatedly to Chileans over the scandal, admitting the church failed "to listen and react" to the allegations, but vowed to "restore justice".
In May, the Argentine pontiff accepted the resignation of five Chilean bishops amid accusations of abuse and related coverups.