So, the Vatican is doing something about predator priests after all. That is if the defrocking of 384 priests over a two-year period can be considered the answer to the problem. According to a document obtained by the Associated Press, Pope Benedict XVI defrocked 260 priests in 2011 and 124 priests in 2012 for crimes against children. Benedict, who retired in 2013, had apparently insisted on secrecy on the matter, which only came to light after the Associated Press got hold of a document that was part of the dossier two high-ranking prelates used to support the Vatican at a United Nations panel on child rights in Geneva this week.
Defrocking is the only punishment the Vatican doles out to priests they consider guilty of crimes ranging from abuse to financial corruption. The Vatican does have a criminal justice system and a tiny jail facility, but there is very little transparency since the Vatican is a sovereign city state. The most recent high profile case tried in the Vatican tribunal was the conviction of Benedict’s butler Paolo Gabriele who was found guilty in 2012 of stealing private papers of the pope’s desk.
The defrocking figures are considerably higher than those who lost their collars in previous years. Only 171 priests were defrocked in 2008 and 2009. There are apparently no public records for 2010.
Initially Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied the Associated Press report, accusing the AP of “misreading the data.” He was later compelled to issue a correction stating that, indeed, the numbers were correct.
According to the AP, the defrocking cases are “slam-dunk” situations where evidence was indisputable or where the priest himself asked to be removed from the priesthood.
Despite the revelations, victims groups are still not satisfied. “Here’s the number Catholics should remember: zero. That’s how many Catholic supervisors have been punished, worldwide, for enabling and hiding horrific clergy sex crimes. The pope must start defrocking clerics who cover up sex crimes, not just clerics who commit them,” said David Clohessy of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement after the AP story broke. He says the higher number of defrockings is not because the Vatican is acting, but because the victims themselves have come forward.
“It’s likely because more victims across the globe are gaining the strength and courage to come forward and are reporting to (and pressuring) church officials because archaic, predator-friendly secular laws prevent most victims from seeking justice in court,” he says. “And it’s likely because more bishops are convincing Vatican officials that defrocking predators is a smart public relations and legal defense strategy. Cutting all ties with the most egregious serial sex offender clerics helps convince Catholics that progress is being made.”