The Vatican has released comprehensive statistics for the first time on how it has disciplined priests accused of raping and molesting children, saying 848 priests had been defrocked and another 2,572 given lesser sanctions over the past decade.
The Vatican's UN ambassador in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, revealed the figures during a second day of grilling by a UN committee monitoring implementation of the UN treaty against torture.
Tomasi insisted the convention applied only inside the tiny Vatican City state. But he nevertheless released statistics about how the Holy See had adjudicated sex abuse cases globally, and significantly, he did not dispute the committee's contention that sexual violence against children could be considered torture.
Tomasi said that since 2004, more than 3,400 credible cases of abuse had been referred to the Vatican, including 401 cases in 2013 alone. He said that over the last decade, 848 priests had been defrocked, or returned to the lay state by the pope. Another 2,572 were sentenced to lesser sanctions such as a lifetime of penance and prayer, often used when the accused is elderly.
Acknowledging the high number of priests sanctioned with the lesser punishment, Tomasi said it still amounted to disciplinary action and that the abuser was "just put in a place where he doesn't have any contact with the children".
In January, it was reported that then pope Benedict had defrocked 384 priests in the final two years of his pontificate, citing documentation that Tomasi's delegation had prepared for another UN committee hearing.
Tomasi said those figures from January were "incomplete" and that the data he provided to the torture committee - the first ever year-by-year breakdown of how cases were adjudicated - was complete.
He told the committee that "there is no climate of impunity but there is a total commitment to clean the house", and said the issue had been addressed by the church in the last 10 years "in a systematic, comprehensive, constructive way".