Pope Benedict defrocked 384 clergy in two years over abuse

Laicisations follow extension of statute of limitations for sex-abuse cases to 20 years

Pope Benedict XVI: laicisation figures appear to confirm the contention that he encouraged zero tolerance on clerical sex abuse. Photograph: Stefano Dal Pozzolo/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI: laicisation figures appear to confirm the contention that he encouraged zero tolerance on clerical sex abuse. Photograph: Stefano Dal Pozzolo/Getty Images

Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 01:00

The Holy See confirmed at the weekend that Pope Benedict XVI defrocked almost 400 priests for sex abuse related offences in 2011-2012.

The figures, contained in the 2012 Activity of the Holy See yearbook and originally reported by US news agency Associated Press, came in the wake of the Vatican’s testimony to the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child in Geneva last Thursday.

Asked for precise data about the numbers of priests involved in Holy See sex- abuse proceedings, Maltese bishop Charles Scicluna was unable to provide figures. He did observe, however, that much information was available in the Holy See yearbook.

In total, 384 clergy were “reduced to the lay status” in the two-year period. This represents just 0.1 per cent of priests worldwide, but still seems high for two years.

Vatican insiders suggest this may be due to changes made in July 2010 to canon law on sex-abuse cases, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith updated John Paul II’s 2001 motu proprio (papal decree) Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, a document largely prepared for the ailing pope by the then cardinal Ratzinger, later pope Benedict.

The 2010 revisions included an accelerated laicisation process, extending the statutes of limitations for sex-abuse cases to 20 years and the use of laity in church tribunals. At first glance, these figures seem to confirm the contention that Benedict encouraged “zero tolerance” on clerical sex abuse.

Victims’ groups like US group Snap, however, remain sceptical, arguing the Vatican continues to dodge the issue of bishop accountability.