But critics are claiming that the circumstances of the revelations made on Friday could be “damage control”.
They point out that the admission came less
than 24 hours after church leaders faced a grilling by the UN in Geneva
about a perceived lack of transparency over existing procedures to
protect children from sexual abuse by priests.
Damaging sex abuse
allegations have decreased in recent months, as the Holy See received
more positive attention under Pope Francis.
But Thursday’s inquisition
from the UN committee’s main human rights investigator, Sara Oviedo,
again drew attention to child abuse within the church.
Vatican representatives why there remained “efforts to cover up and
obscure these types of cases” and what further steps would be taken.
hours, Associated Press had obtained an internal Vatican document
showing that 384 priests were defrocked between 2011 and 2012.
figures represented a dramatic increase on the 171 defrocked between
2008 and 2009.
The document was reportedly prepared to help the Vatican
defend itself during the UN questioning.
However, it is not known
how many of the priests were referred to police or how many criminal
The maximum penalty for a priest convicted by a church
tribunal is to be removed from the clerical state.
There are no jail
terms, although the Vatican says that church processes do not prevent
victims from going to the police.
The US-based advocacy group
Survivors Network (Snap) of those Abused by Priests suspects that the
figures may have been leaked in an attempt to show the Vatican taking
action on the issue of child abuse.
“We suspect these numbers are
being made available now because of the grilling that Vatican officials
took,” said Joelle Casteix of Snap.
David Clohessy, executive director,
added: “The Pope must start defrocking clerics who cover up sex crimes,
not just clerics who commit them.”
Pope Benedict, who resigned
last year, vowed zero tolerance for offending priests.
doctrinal watchdog which investigates abuses has reviewed thousands of
reports of abuse from local dioceses.
Pope Francis has called the sexual abuse of children by priests the “shame of the church”.