VATICAN CITY (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pope Francis has stripped former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his rights to priesthood after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting sex while hearing confession and sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday.

McCarrick, 88, is the highest-ranking churchman to be laicized, as the process is called. It means he can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title.

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The scandal swirling around the former Newark archbishop was particularly damning to the church’s reputation in the eyes of the faithful because it apparently was an open secret that he slept with adult seminarians. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.

The punishment for the once-powerful prelate – who had also served as the archbishop of Washington and had been an influential fundraiser for the church – was announced five days before Francis is set to lead a gathering of bishops from around the world to discuss the sex abuse crisis.

Former archbishop of Washington Theodore Cardinal McCarrick prays during a prayer for deceased bishops Nov. 11, 2002. (credit; Shawn Thew/AFP/Getty Images)

The Vatican’s press office said that on Jan. 11 the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office had found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The commandment forbids adultery.

The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.”

McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest his native New York City in 1958, took a vow of celibacy, in accordance with church rules on priests.

The pope “has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata,'” the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse.

“Today I am happy that the pope believed me,” said one of McCarrick’s chief accusers, James Grein.

In a statement issued through his lawyer, Grein also expressed hope that McCarrick “will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.”

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Grein had testified to church officials that, among other abuses, McCarrick had repeatedly groped him during confession.

McCarrick had appealed his penalty, but the doctrinal officials earlier this week rejected that, and he was notified of the decision on Friday, the Vatican announcement said.

Complaints were also made about McCarrick’s conduct in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen.

Pope Francis himself became implicated in a decade-long McCarrick cover-up after a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. accused the pope of rehabilitating the cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI despite being told of his penchant for young men.

Francis hasn’t responded to the claims. But he has ordered a limited Vatican investigation. The Vatican has acknowledged the outcome may produce evidence that mistakes were made, but said Francis would “follow the path of truth, wherever it may lead.”

On Friday, the Diocese of Brooklyn released a list of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

The list of 108 priests spans the diocese’s 166-year history. Nearly two-thirds of the accused priests are already deceased.

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Also on Friday, a class action lawsuit was filed against the archdiocese of New York. An attorney for the plaintiff – an alleged victim of clergy sex abuse – says his client and other victims were misled into waiving their right to sue the church for sexual misconduct.

A new state law in New York has extended the statute of limitations to age 28 for child sex abuse victims and also allows them to sue up to age 55.

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