The Vatican has confirmed reports that former Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests for child sex abuse in the last two years of his pontificate - a dramatic increase over previous years.
The Vatican revealed on Saturday that almost 400 priests had been officially stripped of their privileges and functions by Benedict XVI in the last two years of his pontificate.
"In 2012 there were around 100, while in 2011 there were around 300," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Saturday.
Lombardi thus confirmed a report by the Associated Press news agency, which said it had gained access to a document showing that 260 priests were defrocked in 2011 and 124 in 2012, a total of 384. This represents a dramatic increase over the 171 priests defrocked in 2008 and 2009.
The document was a file put together by the Vatican for a hearing before the United Nations on Thursday.
Normally, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates abuses under Canon Law, does not make its work public.
The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked over the past decade by growing revelations of sex crimes committed by priests and subsequent cover-ups by their bishops. The wave of defrockings came after an explosion of such child sex abuse accusations against Catholic clergymen in 2010 in Europe and beyond.
Benedict XVI, who resigned last year and became pope emeritus, vowed zero tolerance for offending priests.
But the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the main US non-profit victim support group, said the disciplinary methods applied by the Church did not go far enough.
"The Pope must start defrocking clerics who cover up sex crimes, not just clerics who commit them. Until that happens, little will change, " SNAP said in a statement.
"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," said SNAP executive director David Clohessy.
SNAP also called on Catholic officials to ensure that child-molesting clerics were criminally prosecuted.
Thursday's hearing was the first time a Vatican delegation has been quizzed by the United Nation's child rights committee in Geneva over its commitment to stamping out abuse by priests.
tj/kms, ipj (AFP, AP)