Yesterday the Associated Press reported that the Vatican defrocked a total of 384 priests in 2011-12 for sexual abuse of children. That’s more than twice as many as the Vatican defrocked between 2008 and 2009. Here are some of the facts related to the recent revelations about the Roman Catholic Church.
1. “Defrocking” is a common term used to describe the dismissal or loss of the clerical state of a priest. A loss of the clerical state means the offender is forbidden from exercising any powers or rights granted via ordination. Priests can be defrocked for a number of reasons, but the punishment is considered the harshest penalty within the church.
One such offense is the violation of the Sixth Commandment, ‘thou shall not commit adultery’. A priest can be defrocked for child abuse via Can. 1295.2 of the Code of Canon Law, which specifically mentions abuse of minors under 16. Can. 1295.2 does not require a cleric to be defrocked however, only that the offender be “punished with just penalties.”
2. 2011 and 2012 were the last two years Benedict XVI served as pope. The 384 cases of defrocking and came after reports of abuse exploded in 2010. That year they doubled the statute of limitations on abuse within the church, allowing victims to report abuse up to 20 years after the offense.
3. The Vatican has been handling sex abuses cases for over 10 years however, starting in 2001 when Benedict, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, decided to have all abuse cases to be sent to his office at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. Three thousand accusations were made between 2001 and 2009, said the Washington Post in 2010.
4. Prior to 2001, cases of abuse were handled locally within dioceses by bishops. This changed because many priests accused of abuse were moved instead of punished. Victims reported that many times they were told to not turn their accused to the police, and to instead allow the church officials to handle it internally. No clerics responsible for the cover-up of abuse cases have been defrocked, only those who committed the abuses.
5. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador, told the U.N. human rights committee that 418 new sex abuse cases were reported to the Vatican in 2012. In that same committee hearing, the Vatican's former sex-crimes prosecutor, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, admitted that things needed to change. He went on to urge prosecutors to go after anyone who helps obstruct justice within the church, possibly signaling a change in the Vatican's stance on holding bishops accountable for failing to properly handle abusers.