Paul Shanley (search), a central figure in the child-molestation scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese (search), has been defrocked, along with another priest imprisoned for raping a 12-year-old boy, the church announced Thursday.

In a letter dated May 3 and obtained by The Associated Press, Archbishop Sean O'Malley (search) informed Shanley that Pope John Paul II (search) decided on Feb. 19 to remove him from the priesthood.

The archdiocese released a statement later Thursday confirming Shanley's dismissal, and announced that Ronald H. Paquin — who was sentenced last year to 12 to 15 years behind bars for raping an altar boy — also was defrocked.

Shanley, 73, is awaiting trial on charges of raping four boys at a parish in Newton in the 1980s. He is free on $300,000 bail. His trial is set for October.

Last month, the church settled for an undisclosed amount with the four men and their families. Two of the alleged victims, now in their 20s, have said Shanley began raping them when they were 6.

Defrocking, or what the Roman Catholic Church prefers to call laicization, is only rarely applied in extreme cases of misconduct. It comes about only after a long process involving the Vatican. At least a few other priests have been defrocked since the crisis erupted in 2002.

"It often takes years, and it suggests to me that the archbishop is moving forward expeditiously with these priests. It's happened much earlier than I thought," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney whose firm represented Shanley's alleged victims and hundreds of other victims of child-molesting priests.

In its letter to Shanley, the archdiocese said it intended to make the decision public "for the good of the Church" by May 15.

It informed Shanley that he will no longer be eligible for financial support from the archdiocese, and that his stipend and medical benefits will be eliminated at the end of the month.

Once known for his street ministry to gay and troubled youth, Shanley became a focal point of the scandal after plaintiffs' attorneys forced the church to release internal records showing complaints about Shanley.

Among the records were documents indicating that he was transferred from parish to parish after the sex allegations surfaced, and that he had attended a forum with other people who later went on to form the North American Man-Boy Love Association (search), or NAMBLA, an organization that advocates sex between men and boys.

Shanley resigned from parish work in 1989 and moved to California.