A priest scheduled to go on trial next month for allegedly molesting a former alter boy who later shot him has been defrocked by Pope John Paul II (search), The Associated Press has learned.

Maurice Blackwell (search), 58, is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 3 on four counts of child sexual abuse against Dontee Stokes (search).

Blackwell was shot by Stokes in May 2002, in the midst of the national scandal involving Catholic priests. In the aftermath, Baltimore prosecutors reviewed Stokes' allegations and charged the priest with molesting Stokes.

The pope decided in October to dismiss Blackwell, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore received the official paperwork earlier this month from the Vatican, archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said Wednesday.

Blackwell's trial has been postponed five times, and the archdiocese received word from Rome just before one of his previous trial dates. Caine said the archdiocese decided then not to make a public statement about Blackwell's defrocking out of consideration for how it could affect potential jurors.

But after receiving requests from the AP for information about Blackwell's status and discussing the matter with the city prosecutor's office, the archdiocese "decided it would be prudent for us to acknowledge that the pope has signed this decree, and it is in effect and Maurice is no longer considered a priest in the eyes of the church," Caine said.

Defrocking, which the church calls laicization, is applied in extreme cases of misconduct. It comes about only after a long process involving the Vatican.

The alleged abuse began in 1989 and ended in 1992 — a decade before the Baltimore barber shot Blackwell in front of the priest's home.

Blackwell has denied sexually abusing Stokes, who was a teenager at the time. Kenneth Ravenell, Blackwell's attorney, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Mark Serrano, a board member with the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, described the pope's decision as "long overdue."

"The Blackwell case is a particularly anguishing one, because the Archdiocese of Baltimore had all the information they needed 10 years ago that Father Blackwell was a threat to children," Serrano said.

Blackwell, who was a pastor at a Baltimore church from 1979 until 1998, was stripped of his church authority after acknowledging having a sexual relationship with a teenage boy in the early 1970s. But Cardinal William Keeler returned Blackwell to his post after he underwent psychological treatment and no other accusers came forward. Keeler barred Blackwell from direct ministry with children.

Keeler removed Blackwell from the pulpit in 1998 following other abuse allegations.

Stokes was acquitted of attempted murder in December 2002 but was convicted on gun charges. He testified he had an "out-of-body experience" at the time of the shooting. He served a sentence of home detention.