For the first time, the Vatican has revealed a statistical picture of the internal fallout from the church's sex abuse epidemic. According to the Vatican's U.N. Ambassador Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Pope defrocked 848 priests over the past 10 years, and doled out lesser punishments to another 2,572 accused of raping and molesting children. That includes punishments handed down by John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.
The Vatican has been notoriously quiet on how it handled the abuse scandal internally. But a U.N. committee is now investigating the Vatican to determine whether it broke the international body's treaty banning torture. The worldwide problem child abuse within the Church could, the U.N. believes, meet the definition of torture as laid out in the treaty. The Vatican has pushed back on that point, arguing that it is only responsible for enforcing the treaty within the boundaries of the Vatican City, and not in the Catholic church's global presence.
Here are some more details from the Vatican's new release of numbers, first reported by the Associated Press.
- In 2001, the Vatican began to require bishops to report cases of abuse to Rome. In 2010, the church finally told bishops to also report those cases to the police.
- Since 2004, the Vatican received 3,400 credible cases of abuse.
- In total, 848 priests were defrocked, and 2,572 were sanctioned. The Vatican explained that the lesser punishments were often the end result of abuse investigations going back decades, mainly because the abusive priests were elderly or infirm. Tomasi said that the lesser punishments still meant that the priests were"put in a place where he doesn't have any contact with the children."
- There was a huge spike in the sanctions, starting in 2010. Before that, about 100 priests per year were sanctioned in this way.
The AP notes that there are fluctuations in the number of reported cases and disciplined priests year-to year, which "roughly parallel the years in which abuse scandals were in the news." Although the Vatican has long faced criticism for the existence of the widespread abuse itself, it faced even sharper questioning over its institutional efforts to keep the scandal under wraps for as long as possible.
Until 2002, it was commonplace for bishops to quietly reassign priests accused of child abuse, without reporting them to police. That all changed following a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Boston Globe detailing the clergy abuse. The Vatican statistics reported by the AP didn't contain one crucial figure that many would like to know: whether the defrocked priests also faced investigations from law enforcement.
Pope Francis was relatively quiet on the issue of child abuse by clergy for most of his first year as Pope. This April, the Pontiff "personally ask[ed] for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children" during what were apparently off-script remarks at a speech to a Catholic children's NGO.
Earlier this year, the Vatican provided documents to the U.N. during a previous round of questioning by a different panel that indicated it had defrocked 384 priests in just two years — 2011 and 2012 — in connection with the scandal. While the Holy See eventually admitted that the figure was accurate, they noted that it was "incomplete." Well, now we know the bigger picture.