Close to 400 priests were defrocked in only two years by the former Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse, the Vatican has confirmed. The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase compared to previous years, according to a document obtained by the Associated Press (AP).
The file was part of Vatican data collected for a UN hearing last week. It was the first time the Holy See was publicly confronted over the sexual abuse of children by clergy.
Church officials at the hearing in Geneva faced a barrage of hard questions covering why they were withholding data and what they were doing to prevent future abuse. Victims' advocates complained there was still too little transparency.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi initially said the AP report had been based on a mistaken reading of data. But he later retracted his statement, confirming to the BBC that the story was correct.
The latest statistics reveal the number of priests defrocked in 2011 and 2012 was more than double the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided figures.
Benedict, who was elected in 2005, took the helm as the scandal of child sex abuse by priests was breaking. The flood of allegations, lawsuits and official reports into clerical abuse reached a peak in 2009 and 2010, which observers say may explain the spike shown in the document.
The Holy See is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding instrument which commits it to protecting and nurturing the most vulnerable in society.
It ratified the convention in 1990 but after an implementation report in 1994 it did not submit any progress reports until 2012, following revelations of child sex abuse in Europe and beyond.
Last month, the Vatican refused a request from the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child for data on abuse, on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.
In a homily on Thursday, Benedict's successor, Pope Francis, called abuse scandals the shame of the Church. He announced in December that a Vatican committee would be set up to fight sexual abuse of children in the Church.