VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests over just two years for sexually molesting children, a document obtained by The Associated Press shows.
The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided details on the number of priests who have been defrocked. Before that, it had only publicly revealed the number of alleged cases of sexual abuse it had received and the number of trials it had authorized.
The document was prepared from data the Vatican had been collecting and was compiled to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva.
The statistics were compiled from the Vatican’s own annual reports about the activities of its various offices, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles sex abuse cases.
Although public, the annual reports are not readily available outside Rome.
An AP review of the reference books shows a remarkable evolution in the Holy See’s in-house procedures to discipline pedophiles since 2001, when the Vatican ordered bishops to send cases of all credibly accused priests to Rome for review.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviews each case sent to Rome and then instructs bishops how to proceed, either by launching an administrative process against the priest if the evidence is overwhelming or a church trial.
The Congregation started reporting numbers only in 2005, when it authorized bishops to launch church trials against 21 accused clerics, and reported that its appeals court had handled two cases.
By 2008, the tone of the Vatican’s entry had changed. Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, traveled to the scandal-hit United States that year and is quoted in the annual report as telling reporters en route that he was mortified by the scale of abuse and simply couldn’t comprehend how priests could fail in such a way.
That year’s entry was also notable for another reason: For the first time, the Vatican revealed the number of priests who had been defrocked: 68. A total of 191 new cases were reported.
A year later, the number of defrocked priests rose to 103, while 223 new cases were received, most abuse-related.
The year 2010 was another milestone in the sex abuse saga, with the explosion of thousands of cases reported in the media across Europe and beyond. Officials said 527 cases were reported to the Congregation.
No figures were given that year for the number of defrocked priests; rather, the Congregation described new church laws put in place to more easily and quickly remove them.
By 2011, with the new laws in place, the number of defrocked priests rose dramatically: 260 priests were removed in one year only, while 404 new cases of child abuse were reported.
In 2012, the number of defrockings dropped to 124, with an additional 418 new cases reported.