Vatican defrocked almost 400 priests in two years over abuse

Holy See officials had figures when before UN panel this week but did not cite them

The Vatican’s UN Ambassador Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, prior to the start of a questioning over clerical sexual abuse of children at the headquarters of the UN’s office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the Palais Wilson, in Geneva. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA.

The Vatican’s UN Ambassador Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, prior to the start of a questioning over clerical sexual abuse of children at the headquarters of the UN’s office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the Palais Wilson, in Geneva. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA.

Sat, Jan 18, 2014, 09:06

The Vatican defrocked 260 priests for the sexual abuse of children in 2011 and 124 more in 2012 after the scandal exploded in Europe and beyond and bishops forwarded hundreds of cases to the Vatican.

The numbers, first reported by the Associated Press, were confirmed by the Vatican yesterday 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 UN 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 organisation 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, US 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.”

Cases of abuse by priests can be adjudicated in both church and civil courts, although the vast majority are never prosecuted by civil authorities, often because they are beyond the statute of limitations. Under the church’s canon law, defrocking is the most severe penalty.

The spate of defrocked priests signifies what advocates for abuse victims have called a laudable shift in approach from previous decades, when priests accused of abuse were routinely reassigned to unsuspecting parishes or shipped to new dioceses or countries.

But those who treat sexual abusers question whether defrocking is the best method for protecting children. They say that while the abuser can no longer use his status to prey on victims, priests who have been defrocked for child abuse can gravitate to settings where no one knows their histories.

New York Times