VATICAN CITY -- In his last two years as pope, Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests for raping and molesting children, more than twice as many as the two years that preceded a 2010 explosion of sex abuse cases in Europe and beyond, according to a document obtained Friday by The Associated Press and an analysis of Vatican statistics.
The data -- 260 priests defrocked in 2011 and 124 in 2012, a total of 384 -- represented a dramatic increase over the 171 priests defrocked in 2008 and 2009.
It was the first compilation of the number of priests forcibly removed for sex abuse by the Vatican's in-house procedures.
The spike started a year after the Vatican decided to double the statute of limitations on the crime, enabling victims in their late 30s to report abuse committed when they were children.
The Vatican has actually made some data public year by year in its annual reports. But an internal Vatican document prepared to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva compiled the statistics over the course of several years.
A total of 555 priests were defrocked from 2008 to 2012, according to the Vatican figures, though data from 2010 was not included.
By 2011, with the new extended statute of limitations and the Vatican norms codified, the number of defrocked priests rose dramatically: 260 in one year alone, while 404 new cases of child abuse were reported.
In addition, lesser penalties were imposed on 419 other priests for abuse-related crimes.
In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, the number of defrockings dropped to 124, with another 418 new cases reported.
Heilprin reported from Geneva.
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