VATICAN CITY -- A document The Associated Press obtained Friday shows that Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests over just two years for sexually molesting children.
The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided details on the number of priests who have been defrocked. Prior to that, it had only publicly revealed the number of alleged cases of sexual abuse it had received and the number of trials it had authorized.
While it's not clear why the numbers spiked in 2011, it could be because 2010 saw a new explosion in the number of cases reported in the media in Europe and beyond.
The document was prepared from data the Vatican had been collecting and was compiled to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva.
The statistics were compiled from the Vatican's own annual reports about the activities of its various offices, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles sex abuse cases.
An AP review of the reference books shows a remarkable evolution in the Holy See's in-house procedures to discipline pedophiles since 2001, when the Vatican ordered bishops to send cases of all credibly accused priests to Rome for review.
Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict and is now pope emeritus, took action after determining that bishops around the world weren't following church law to put accused clerics on trial in church tribunals. Bishops routinely moved problem priests from parish to parish rather than subject them to canonical trials -- or turn them in to police.
The Congregation started reporting numbers only in 2005. That year, the Congregation authorized bishops to launch church trials against 21 accused clerics, and reported that its appeals court had handled two cases. It didn't say what the verdicts were, according to the annual reports.
In 2006, the number of canonical trials authorized doubled to 43, and eight appeals cases were heard. Vatican officials have said the Holy See received between 300-400 cases a year in these years, following the 2002 explosion of U.S. sex abuse cases. In 2007, 23 cases were sent to dioceses for trial.
By 2008, the tone of the Vatican's entry had changed. Pope Benedict traveled to the scandal-hit United States that year and is quoted in the annual report as telling reporters en route that he was "mortified" by the scale of abuse and simply couldn't comprehend "how priests could fail in such a way."
A year later, the number of defrocked priests rose to 103, while some 223 new cases were received, the vast majority of them abuse-related.
Another milestone in the sex abuse saga was 2010, with the explosion of thousands of cases reported in the media across Europe and beyond. Some 527 cases were reported to the Congregation. No figures were given that year for the number of defrocked priests; rather, the Congregation described new church laws put in place to remove them more quickly and easily.
In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, the number of defrockings dropped to 124, with another 418 new cases reported.