On Tuesday, the Vatican released its first public tally of priests it has laicized (defrocked) or otherwise sanctioned for sexually abusing children. Over the last 10 years, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said, the Holy See has defrocked 848 priests and otherwise punished another 2,572. These are just the cases handled by the Vatican, not individual diocesan tribunals, so the actual global number of sanctioned priests is higher.
The occasion for this exercise in transparency? Tomasi, the Vatican ambassador to the U.N., was appearing before the U.N. committee overseeing how signatories of the U.N. anti-torture treaty — including the Vatican — are implementing that treaty. The committee is considering trying to classify the rape of minors as torture, a decision that, among other things, could provide another potential avenue for litigation by victims of clergy sex abuse.
The lesser penalties the Vatican hands down to accused priests can include a lifetime of penance and prayer in an isolated facility with no contact with children — a sanction, The Associated Press says, that is typically reserved for elderly or infirm priests. Abuse victims' groups welcomed the new numbers, but said they also want names and locations.
"Given where the church came from — with the pendulum swung squarely to the side of the accused priest whose explanations were almost always believed — this is a move away from that and more toward giving credibility to victims, which is progress," Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer who led the U.S. Catholic bishops' abuse-monitoring board, tells the AP. "Maybe not perfect progress, but progress."