BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Pope Francis has excommunicated a pedophile Argentine priest, a move applauded by advocates for victims of clerical abuse.
Jose Mercau was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2011 after admitting to sexually abusing four teenagers. He spent 15 days in jail and was then held in a monastery in Buenos Aires province until he was released last March.
The pope's decision was made public Wednesday by the bishopric of San Isidro on the outskirts of the Argentine capital.
Many welcomed the news, but victims and advocates of clergy sex abuse said the Roman Catholic Church still needs to be more determined, effective and severe when it comes to punishing such crimes in Argentina.
"The church still has a long way to go," said Sebastian Cuattromo, director of an advocacy group called Adultxs for the Rights of Infancy.
The policies of Pope Francis "are being carried out because of the long fight by the victims," said Cuattromo, who was sexually abused by a priest in Buenos Aires at age 13.
His advocacy group includes several adults who were abused by clergy when they were underage and who now try to raise awareness and protect children from predator priests. Cuattromo made his case public in 2012 after the priest who abused him was sentenced to 13 years in prison. "I've felt abandoned by the church," he said.
Abuse victims and their advocates have long demanded that higher-ups be made to answer for the decades-long cover-ups of rape and molestation of youngsters in a scandal that has rocked the church and dismayed its worldwide flock of 1.2 billion.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis begged forgiveness in his first meeting with Catholics sexually abused by members of the clergy and went further than any of his predecessors by promising to hold bishops accountable for their handling of pedophile priests.
The decision to punish Mercau "has taken way too long," said Patricia Gordon, a psychologist for EnRed, a group that focuses on victims of violence and sex abuse. "But it's still important because of the reparation to the victims, meaning that their words are taken as the truth."
Both Cuattromo and Gordon still criticized the Vatican for failing to excommunicate Julio Cesar Grassi, a pedophile priest who was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2009.
Associated Press writer Debora Rey contributed to this report.