387 Roman Catholic priests defrocked for child sex abuse in 2011-12
VATICAN CITY — In his last two years as pope, Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests for raping and molesting children, more than twice as many as in the two years that preceded a 2010 explosion of sex abuse cases worldwide, according to a document obtained on Friday and an analysis of Vatican statistics.
The figures — 260 priests defrocked in 2011 and 124 in 2012, a total of 384 — represented a dramatic increase over the 171 priests defrocked in 2008 and 2009.
It was the first compilation of the number of priests forcibly removed for sex abuse by the Vatican's in-house procedures — and a canon lawyer said the real figure is likely far higher, since the numbers don't include sentences meted out by diocesan courts.
The spike started a year after the Vatican decided to double the statute of limitations on the crime, enabling victims in their late 30s to report abuse committed against them when they were children.
The Vatican has made some data public year by year in its annual reports. But an internal Vatican document prepared to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva compiled the statistics over the course of several years. Analysis of the raw data cited in that document, which was obtained by The Associated Press, confirmed the figures.
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 often pointed criticism and questioning on Thursday from the U.N. human rights committee. He said 418 child sex abuse cases were reported to the Vatican in 2012.
The Vatican's annual report contains details on the activities of its various offices, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles sex abuse cases.
An AP review of a decade's worth 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.
Before becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took action upon determining that bishops weren't following church policy in regard to accused clerics. Bishops routinely moved problem priests from parish to parish rather than subject them to canonical trials or turn them over to police.
For centuries, the church has had in-house procedures to deal with priests who sexually abuse children. One of the chief accusations against the Vatican from victims is that bishops put the church's procedures ahead of civil law enforcement by suggesting that victims keep accusations quiet while they were dealt with internally.
The maximum penalty for a priest convicted by a church tribunal is essentially losing his job: being defrocked, or removed from the clerical state. There are no jail terms and nothing to prevent an offender from raping again.
Neither Bishop David A. Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh nor Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg could be reached for comment.
Greensburg Diocesan spokesman Jerry Zufelt said no priests from the diocese were defrocked in 2011 and 2012.
“There are more than 413,000 priests worldwide, according to the last Vatican report, so the number of priests involved is still less than one tenth of one percent,” Zufelt said, adding, “One priest involved in that kind of conduct is one too many.”
Victims groups said the spike in cases appeared to be the result of victims gaining the strength to come forward. They demanded that the Vatican start sanctioning bishops who covered up for the abuse, too.
“Here's the number Catholics should remember: zero. That's how many Catholic supervisors have been punished, worldwide, for enabling and hiding horrific clergy sex crimes,” said David Clohessy of SNAP, the main U.S. victims group. “The pope must start defrocking clerics who cover up sex crimes, not just clerics who commit them.”