(Photo: Reuters/Credit Alessandro Bianchi)
A Vatican official revealed during a U.N. Committee hearing on Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church defrocked 848 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned another 2,572 others since 2004. Figures show that it has also paid $ 2.5 billion in compensation to victims in the U.S. alone.
"While the Holy See does not have the competency or the ability to initiate criminal proceedings against crimes that are committed in territories outside Vatican City State, it makes every effort to conduct ecclesiastical proceedings against clerics against whom credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors have been presented," the Holy See representative to Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, told Vatican Radio following the hearing.
"This is done without substitution for or prejudices of other processes that are to be applied by the competent judiciary system in the state in which the accused person resides. Civil law regarding the reporting of the crime to the authorities should always be followed."
The Associated Press reported that the Vatican provided a breakdown of how it has handled more than 3,400 cases of reported child abuse since 2004. The Holy See further added that it paid $2.5 billion in compensation to victims of clerical abuse in America, according to The New York Times.
The hearing concerned the implementation of a U.N. treaty against torture, with Tomasi insisting that the Catholic Church is only obligated to abide by the treaty within the confines of the Vatican City State.
The Vatican representative added that he would not dispute the committee's argument that sexual violence against minors can be classified as torture.
The statistics on priests and sex abuse cases allegedly show that the peaks in numbers over the years in reported cases and sanctions paralleled the years in which the scandals made the news. They also show that the annual reported cases of abuse since 2010 has remained around the 400 mark.
The UN has been grilling the Vatican to stop protecting child abuse clergy in recent months, though the Vatican has claimed that it has done more than any other international organization to combat the problem.
"Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a post in February following the publication of a report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
AP noted that the reported figures only cover cases handled directly by the Vatican, meaning that the number is even higher when taking into account local diocesan tribunals.
Tomasi reflected that the hearing was "constructive" as it allowed the Vatican to make "important clarifications."
The Archbishop highlighted that Pope Francis established the Commission for the Protection of Children last year as another step toward safeguarding minors in the Church.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which has often criticized the Vatican for its handling of sex abuse cases, commented that the latest Vatican statistics are "useless."
"Every step towards more transparency about clergy sex crimes and cover ups is good. But this one – the number of priests defrocked – is largely meaningless," the group wrote on Tuesday.
"Parents can't protect their kids from a number. What parents need are the names and whereabouts of child molesting clerics. This is what the Vatican should disclose," it added.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston said ahead of the Geneva hearing that the Church is committed to fighting the widespread problem and will recommend stricter standards for accountability.
"In some people's minds, 'Oh, this is an American problem, it's an Irish problem, it's a German problem,'" O'Malley told reporters on May 3, Catholic News Service shared.
"Well, it's a human problem, and the church needs to face it everywhere in the world. And so a lot of our recommendations are going to have to be around education, because there is so much ignorance around this topic, so much denial."