A Vatican document obtained by Associated Press shows that between 2011 and 2012, Pope Benedict XVI defrocked some 400 Roman Catholic priests for sexually molesting children.
The document, obtained on Friday, details the number of sexual-assault accusations levied against priests as well as the number who had been dismissed from church service following a church trial. The reports listed a significant increase in defrocked priests beginning in 2011, up from 171 in 2008 and 2009. According to the AP’s Twitter account, Vatican officials have confirmed the report as accurate.
The document, which was compiled by the Vatican to use at a U.N. committee in Geneva, drew the numbers from cases handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The report is technically public, but is rarely available outside of Catholic offices in Rome.
The Roman Catholic Church began its current internal discipline systems against pedophilia in 2001, when new procedures were put in place by Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in the face of widespread accusations that the church was not properly handling sexual-assault charges, but simply moving accused priests “from parish to parish.” The Congregation began publishing the results in 2005.
Under Ratzinger’s process, all accusations of pedophilia are sent to Rome, where the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviews the cases and decides whether to engage in a church trial. Accused priests are allowed to defend themselves during this process.
Since the Church began recording these trials in 2005, the number of accusations and trials have steadily increased. Only 21 trials were launched in 2005, a number that more than doubled to 43 the following year. The number of accusations was even higher at 362 in 2006, though the number also includes some cases unrelated to sexual abuse.
After Ratzinger was elected pope, he kept the issue of pedophilia on the agenda. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI travelled to the United States to address the issue. According to the Associated Press document, Benedict was “mortified” by the widespread abuse of children and reportedly could not understand “how priests could fail in such a way.”
That year, the Vatican announced the number of pedophile priests it had defrocked for the first time: 68 priests out of 191 reported cases in 2008. The numbers continued to rise, with 223 accusations and 103 defrocked in 2009. In 2010, the Vatican did not announce the number of priests it defrocked, but stated that it received 527 accusations of abuse. That year, the Congregation introduced new church laws to more easily defrock priests found guilty of abuse.
After the Congregation implemented the new rules, the number of defrocked priests skyrocketed. 260 priests were defrocked following 404 cases of abuse in 2011, and the following year saw an additional 124 priests defrocked. An additional 419 priests were reprimanded for abuse, but were not defrocked.
Though the Catholic Church has had its own discipline system for hundreds of years, it does not involve secular authorities in any way. If a priest is found guilty of sexually molesting a child in a church trial, he is simply defrocked and removed from his job.