In his last two years as pope, Benedict 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 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 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 - and a canon lawyer said the real figure was likely far higher, since the numbers do not include sentences meted out by diocesan courts.
The rapid rise started a year after the Vatican decided to double the statute of limitations on the crime, enabling victims who were in their late 30s to report abuse committed against them 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 United Nations committee last week in Geneva compiled the statistics over the course of several years. Analysis of the raw data cited in that document confirmed the figures.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's UN ambassador in Geneva, on Thursday told the UN human rights committee 418 new cases of child sex abuse were reported to the Vatican in 2012.
Before becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took action after determining that bishops around the world were not following church policy and putting accused clerics on trial in church tribunals.
According to the 2001 norms Ratzinger pushed through and subsequently updated, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviews each case sent to Rome and then tells bishops how to proceed, either with an administrative process against the priest if the evidence is overwhelming or a church trial. At every step of the way the priest is allowed to defend himself.
A total of 555 priests were defrocked from 2008 to 2012, according to the Vatican figures, though data from 2010 was not included.
The Reverend Davide Cito, a canon lawyer at Rome's Pontifical Holy Cross University who has helped prosecute abuse cases for the Vatican, said the real number might be far higher.
Victims' groups said the spike in cases appeared to be the result of victims gaining the strength to come forward and denounce abusive priests.
They demanded the Vatican start sanctioning bishops who covered up for the abuse, too.