A document obtained by The Associated Press on Friday shows Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests over just two years for molesting children.
The statistics for 2011-12 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. Prior to that, it had only publicly revealed the number of alleged cases of sexual abuse it had received.
The document was prepared from data the Vatican had been collecting to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, referred to just one of the statistics in the course of eight hours of oftentimes pointed criticism and questioning from the U.N. human rights committee.
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 or sold outside Rome and are usually found in Vatican offices or Catholic university libraries.
UPDATE: The Vatican says the report isn’t accurate:
The Vatican released a statement tonight saying that the number in the AP story refers to the number of new cases opened during that span rather than the outcome of those cases.
The following is the full text of the statement from Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, in an NCR translation from Italian.
“Information diffused this evening by the Associated Press appears to be based on an incorrect reading of data published in the volume “Activity of the Holy See 2011,” where there’s a reference to the activity of the disciplinary office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (p.466).”
“That volume speaks about the 612 new cases opened in 2012, which come from the entire world, including 418 cases involving abuse of minors.”
“It’s important to note that those cases ordinarily refer to events that took place in earlier years. Moreover, the data cited do not refer to the outcome of the discussion of the cases, and therefore it’s not a matter of priests dismissed from the clerical state.”
The Vatican acknowledged on Friday that close to 400 priests left the priesthood in 2011 and 2012 because of accusations that they had sexually abused children.
That acknowledgment followed a report by the Associated Press that nearly 400 priests had been defrocked during those two years. The Vatican initially disputed that report.
Bishop Charles Scicluna, formerly the Vatican’s top prosecutor of sexually abusive clergy, said 384 priests left the priesthood – either voluntarily or not – in 2011 and 2012, the last two years of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy.
In 2011, 125 priests were dismissed from ministry by the Vatican because of accusations they had sexually abused children, Scicluna told CNN on Friday, citing the “Activity of the Holy See,” a kind of Vatican yearbook. The same year, 135 priests were “dispensed,” meaning they voluntarily resigned, Scicluna said.
In 2012, 57 priests were removed from the priesthood and 67 resigned, Scicluna said. Scicluna, who is now an auxiliary bishop in Malta, was the Vatican’s top prosecutor of sexually abusive clergy for a decade.
The numbers were confirmed by the Vatican on Friday, and were based on statistics published in its annual reference books. Two Vatican officials had the statistics in hand but never cited them when they defended the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases before a United Nations panel in Geneva on Thursday.
Experts on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church say that the numbers represent a spike from previous years, but are not surprising given how the scandal has unfolded in a global organization with more than 412,000 priests.
In 2001, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, arranged for all abuse cases to be sent to his office at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. After the sexual abuse scandal erupted anew in the United States in 2002, American bishops forwarded about 700 abuse cases to the Vatican during the next few years, said Nicholas P. Cafardi, the former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law, who wrote a book about the church’s response to sexual abuse.
“Since the American eruption, you’ve had eruptions in Ireland and Australia and a number of other European countries,” he said. “The cases could be decades old. So it’s certainly a large number, but when you think of the time frame involved, it’s less impressive.”