The Vatican has defrocked former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, it said Saturday, making him the highest-ranking church official to date to be expelled from the priesthood for sex abuse.

A church tribunal found McCarrick guilty of "solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power," the Vatican said. Pope Francis has approved the ruling and there is no possibility of appeal, the statement said.

McCarrick, 88, resigned his post as cardinal last year after an investigation found evidence he had molested a minor altar boy almost a half-century ago. Another man told the New York Times he was in his 20s when McCarrick abused him in the 1980s. McCarrick was a bishop in New Jersey at the time. The Times also found that two New Jersey dioceses had secretly paid settlements to two men who had accused McCarrick of abuse.

McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington from 2000 to 2006, and he was elevated to cardinal in 2001. His successor as archbishop, Donald Wuerl, resigned last year after reports suggested he knew of widespread abuse while he was bishop of a Pennsylvania diocese but didn't act to stop it.

Stripping clerical statusis considered one of the most severe forms of punishments for Catholic priests. The announcement of McCarrick's defrocking comes days before Pope Francis convenes an extraordinary summit on sex abuse in the church. That meeting is already expected to receive intense media coverage. Last month Philip Pullella, a veteran Reuters Vatican correspondent, told NPR's Sylvia Poggioli that defrocking McCarrick before the conference would send a "strong signal" that Pope Francis is serious about addressing abuse.

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