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Vatican: Hundreds of Priests Defrocked for Molestation 

For the first time the Vatican has revealed details on the specific numbers of priests removed in 2011 and 2012.

By John Heilprin and Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press

A document obtained by The Associated Press on Friday shows Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests over just two years for sexually molesting children.

The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided details on the number of priests who have been defrocked. Prior to that, it had only publicly revealed the number of alleged cases of sexual abuse it had received and the number of trials it had authorized.

While it’s not clear why the numbers spiked in 2011, it could be because 2010 saw a new explosion in the number of cases reported in the media in Europe and beyond.

The document was prepared from data the Vatican had been collecting and was compiled to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, referred to just one of the statistics in the course of eight hours of oftentimes pointed criticism and questioning from the U.N. human rights committee.The statistics were compiled from the Vatican’s own annual reports about the activities of its various offices, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles sex abuse cases. Although public, the annual reports are not readily available or sold outside Rome and are usually found in Vatican offices or Catholic university libraries.

An AP review of the reference books shows a remarkable evolution in the Holy See’s in-house procedures to discipline pedophiles since 2001, when the Vatican ordered bishops to send cases of all credibly accused priests to Rome for review.

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took action after determining that bishops around the world weren’t following church law to put accused clerics on trial in church tribunals. Bishops routinely moved problem priests from parish to parish rather than subject them to canonical trials — or turn them into police.

For centuries, the church has had its own in-house procedures to deal with priests who sexually abuse children. One of the chief accusations from victims is that bishops put the church’s own procedures ahead of civil law enforcement by often suggesting victims keep accusations quiet while they are dealt with internally.

The maximum penalty for a priest convicted by a church tribunal is essentially losing his job: being defrocked, or removed from the clerical state. There are no jail terms and nothing to prevent an offender from raping again.

According to the 2001 norms Ratzinger pushed through and subsequent updates, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviews each case sent to Rome and then instructs bishops how to proceed, either by launching 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.

The Congregation started reporting numbers only in 2005, which is where Tomasi’s spreadsheet starts off. U.N. officials said Friday that the committee has not received the document.

In 2005, the Congregation authorized bishops to launch church trials against 21 accused clerics, and reported that its appeals court had handled two cases. It didn’t say what the verdicts were, according to the annual reports cited by the spreadsheet.

In 2006, the number of canonical trials authorized doubled to 43 and eight appeals cases were heard. And for the first time, the Congregation revealed publicly the number of cases reported to it: 362, though that figure includes a handful of non-abuse related canonical crimes.

A similar number of cases were reported in 2007 — 365 — but again the Congregation didn’t specify how many were abuse-related. Vatican officials, however, have said that it received between 300-400 cases a year in these years following the 2002 explosion of U.S. sex abuse cases in the U.S. In 2007, 23 cases were sent to dioceses for trial.

By 2008, the tone of the Vatican’s entry had changed. Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, traveled to the scandal-hit United States that year and is quoted in the annual report as telling reporters en route that he was “mortified” by the scale of abuse and simply couldn’t comprehend “how priests could fail in such a way.”

That year’s entry was also notable for another reason: For the first time, an official Vatican document made clear that nothing in the church process precluded victims from reporting abuse to police.

There was also another first in 2008, a critical year as abuse lawsuits in the U.S. naming the Holy See as a defendant were heating up: For the first time, the Vatican revealed the number of priests who had been defrocked: 68. Some 191 new cases were reported.

A year later, the number of defrocked priests rose to 103, while some 223 new cases were received, the vast majority of them abuse-related.

The year 2010 was another milestone in the sex abuse saga, with the explosion of thousands of cases reported in the media across Europe and beyond. Some 527 cases were reported to the Congregation. No figures were given that year for the number of defrocked priests, rather the Congregation described new church laws put in place to more easily and quickly remove them.

By 2011, with the new streamlined laws in place, the number of defrocked priests rose dramatically: 260 priests were removed in one year only, while 404 new cases of child abuse were reported. In addition to those defrocked, another 419 priests had lesser penalties imposed on them for abuse-related crimes.

In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, the number of defrockings dropped to 124, with another 418 new cases reported.

Rev. Fabian Baez is parish priest in Francis’ hometown of Buenos Aires

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis broke with papal protocol once again Wednesday, inviting an old friend for a spin in his panoramic white car during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The Rev. Fabian Baez, a parish priest in Francis’ hometown of Buenos Aires, didn’t have a VIP ticket granting him a seat close to the altar or a spot where the pope would chat with well-wishers. But as soon as Francis saw Baez in the crowd of several thousand people, the pope signaled for Vatican gendarmes to help Baez jump the barricade.

Francis then invited Baez to hop aboard his car, and the parish priest accompanied Francis through the square as the pope waved to well-wishers and kissed babies.

Baez said he was shocked by Francis’ invitation, telling reporters afterward: “I said to myself ‘What am I doing here? Mamma mia!'”

“The pope laughed and said ‘Come, sit down, sit down!’ And he continued to greet the people and kiss babies. I was very moved.”

Baez said the two had known each other since the 1990s; the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of the Argentine capital before being named pope.

Francis was in particularly good spirits at Wednesday’s audience, entertained by a circus troupe and greeted by Italy’s Sampdoria soccer team, who presented the soccer-mad pope with yet another jersey.

Francis has added a bit of spontaneity to the Vatican’s staid ways. He lives in the Vatican hotel, not the Apostolic Palace. He eschewed the armored popemobile for a simple Fiat during his trip to Brazil. And when he has left the Vatican, he has done so with a minimal security detail and no fancy motorcade.

Gregorio Borgia / AP

Pope Francis kisses a statue of baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, on Dec. 24.

By Elisha Fieldstadt, NBC News

The faithful flocked to St. Peter’s Basilica for Pope Francis’ first Christmas Eve midnight Mass, in which the pontiff once again preached the importance of acceptance and humility, qualities he has demonstrated continually in his first nine months as head of the Catholic Church.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Francis began, quoting from Isaiah, a book of the Bible that includes prophesies foretelling the birth of Jesus.

Pope Francis offered a traditional lesson of light and love during his first Christmas Eve midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. NBC’s Martin Fletcher reports.

Jesus brought light and grace to the world, and that grace “made salvation possible for the whole human race,” Francis said, choosing to highlight a scripture from the biblical book of Titus.

While Jesus embodied light and love, Francis said, those who hate walk in “darkness.”

Francis, who celebrated the Mass with more than 300 cardinals, bishops and priests, urged people not to be afraid to reach out to God – echoing the words of the biblical angel delivering news of Jesus’ birth.

“Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace,” he said.

Francis has sought to change the image of the Catholic Church as a judgmental, lavish, inflexible institution since his election in March.

Of gay priests, he has asked, “who am I to judge?” He has washed the feet of prisoners, refused to move into the papal palace and celebrated his recent birthday breakfast with three homeless men. On Monday, he made a Christmas visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict and asked him to pray for him.

“(He) is bringing a new era into the Church, a Church that is focusing much more on the poor and that is more austere, more lively, a Church that cares about everyone in the world,” said Dolores Di Benedetto, who travelled from the pope’s homeland, Argentina to hear him speak.

“I thought it would be very nice to hear the words of this pope close up and to see how the people are overwhelmed by him,” said Giacchino Sabello, one of more than 10,000 people who packed St. Peter’s Basilica or stood outside watching the ceremony on mega-screens.

In Christmas Eve’s Mass, Francis reiterated the importance of reaching out to the downtrodden, using the shepherds who were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth as an example. “They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast,” he said.

“We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable,” said Francis in thanks to God and also a clear indication of the humility he encourages his flock to emulate.

Ettore Ferrari / EPA

Pope Francis leads the midnight Christmas Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican late on Dec. 24.

In his address to Vatican administrators on Saturday, Francis said holiness was a practice of “deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers,” as he urged the cardinals, bishops and priests to avoid gossip.

Before the Mass, Francis further inspired meekness, when he personally placed a baby Jesus doll in a replica of a manger, a custom usually performed by an aid.

The 2 1/2-hour Mass was the first of many services Francis will lead during the holidays. On Christmas Day, he will deliver a “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the basilica’s balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

He will also hold mass on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and another on Jan. 6, for the feast of the Epiphany or “Three Kings’ Day,” celebrating the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images file

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013, in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

By Tracy Connor, Staff Writer, NBC News
Gregorio Borgia / AP file

A child takes off Pope Francis’ white zucchetto, or skullcap, during a meeting with children and volunteers of the Santa Marta Vatican Institute, at the Vatican, on Dec. 14, 2013.

Could five little words uttered in 2013 change the course of the Catholic Church?

Pope Francis — also known as Time’s Person of the Year and Twitter’s #bestpopeever — has done a lot of talking since he was installed on the throne of St. Peter in March, tackling everything from luxury cars to income inequality in a series of interviews, sermons and written exhortations.

But for veteran Vatican watcher John Thavis, the pontiff’s most significant pontificating came July 29 when he gave a press conference on a flight back from Brazil.

“Who am I to judge?” he asked.

Francis was addressing the issue of gays in the church, but it was the tone as much as the topic that caught the public’s attention.

“The fact is that previous popes in talking about homosexuality had always mentioned the word ‘disordered’ and when you use that term, it immediately alienates,” said Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diairies.”

“Not only did Francis not use that word. He avoided the whole concept.”

The fact that the pope — the infallible leader of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics — refused to sit in judgement of gay priests (who were banned by his predecessor) was hailed as remarkable, even revolutionary.

Luca Zennaro / Pool via AP file

Pope Francis blesses a child during his visit to the Varginha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 25, 2013. Francis visited one of Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns, or favelas, a place that saw such rough violence in the past that it’s known by locals as the Gaza Strip.

It’s an approach he has taken on any number of subjects — atheists, unwed mothers, divorcees. Scolding is out in Rome; hand-holding is in.

“This comes after Pope John Paul II spent 15 years rewriting the catechism of the Catholic Church and eight years of Benedict reinforcing that: ‘How do you measure up to our teachings? Are you qualified to call yourself Catholic?'” Thavis said.

“Francis is saying the church is a big tent and he has to be welcoming. It’s an incredible change.”

For Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest like Francis, the most important words from Francis this year were written, not spoken.

“Look at the title of his latest apostolic exhortation. It’s ‘the joy of the Gospel,’ not the ‘the truth of the Gospel,'” he said.

“He has rebranded the church as welcoming, compassionate, a church for the poor as opposed to a church that nags people and is worried about rules and regulations,” said Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican.”

“The analogy I love to use is when you go home for Christmas, what you want is a hug from your mom. You don’t want to be asked about your nose ring, or why you dyed your hair, or who are you sleeping with now? He is trying to turn the church into a loving parent, not a nagging parent.”

More often than not, when asked which of Francis’ comments this year resonated most with them, Catholics immediately mentioned his gestures, not his quotes.

Osservato Romano / Reuters file

Pope Francis holds a dove before his Wednesday general audience at Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on May 15, 2013.

Riding the bus back to the guest house after being named pope. Washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday. Turning an ’84 Renault into the Popemobile. Celebrating his birthday with the homeless. Embracing a disfigured fan. Cold-calling people who write to him.

Some have suggested it’s style over substance. Despite what he says and no matter how many selfies he takes with visitors, Francis has not changed church doctrine.

Priests still can’t get married, abortion remains a grave sin, and two men can’t walk up the aisle in a Catholic Church. Francis even excommunicated an Australian priest who advocated the ordination of women and gay marriage.

And yet his words have given hope to those pushing for change.

Deborah Rose Milovec, the head of FutureChurch, which supports the ordination of women, seized on this line from his November apostolic exhortion: “Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded.”

“Giving people permission to dialogue — that’s a breath of fresh air,” she said. “There are many ways he has held his hand up and said, ‘No, not yet,’ but that sort of statement begins to open a crack in the door.

“That kind of statement is important because it says to me we have something to work with here. I have real hope he will sit down with feminist theologians and listen to what they have to say.”

If there is one theme that has dominated Francis’ public pronouncements this year it has been his love and sympathy for the poor and downtrodden.

“How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor,” he said days after the black smoke wafted out of the Sistine Chapel chimney. His November exhortation slammed unchecked capitalism and income inequality.

Rush Limbaugh frothed that the new pope is a Marxist. But in Melbourne, Fla., Kathy Gilliland, 56, liked what she was hearing.

Visiting the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City this week, Gilliland said it both surprised and delighted her that her spiritual leader — who has forsaken the opulent trappings of the Vatican for a spartan guest house — understood the struggles of the middle class at a time when the wealthy are richer than ever.

“I think it shows he’s in touch with the modern world,” she said. “It shows he’s more humane.”

The magazine’s managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, tells Matt Lauer that Pope Francis was selected for changing the tone of the Vatican.

Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley to lead Maine Catholics

PORTLAND, Maine —Pope Francis on Wednesday appointed the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston to lead Maine’s Catholics.

The Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, a Massachusetts native, will become the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Portland. He succeeds Bishop Richard Malone, who left in May 2012 to become the bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y.

“I come with no set plan or program.  I come only as your new shepherd.  And as Pope Francis is fond of telling bishops, I will have to get to know the smell of the sheep so I can serve you as well as the Lord calls me to,” Deeley said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Deeley, 67, will be installed as bishop on Feb. 14 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, according to a press release issued by the Portland diocese.

Portland Catholics said they are glad to see Deeley embrace Pope Francis’ philosophy.

“He embraces humanity.  He embraces all people, and he’s not judgmental and he’s very loving and I think that’s what people need,” said Aileen Morrissey.

Deeley is one of five sons and grew up in Massachusetts.

His family belonged to the Sacred Heart Parish in Watertown.

As a child, he always respected priests and in his words, wanted to be like them.

“There’s a message at the heart of everything else.  And that message is connecting people to who Jesus is,” said Deeley.

Deeley was ordained to the priesthood in 1973 in Watertown, Mass. He has served as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Boston since January.

Malone said he and Deeley have known each other for nearly 50 years when they entered the seminary together.


Note said ‘Boston College loves our Jesuit Pope


BOSTON —Two Boston College students studying in Rome had an up-close encounter with Pope Francis and came away with a treasured souvenir.

Katie Rich of Minnetonka, Minn., and Ethan Mack of Portland, Maine, were along the barricade for an audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday when they held out a white zucchetto – or skullcap – they had purchased the day before as his vehicle passed.

Inside was a note that read “Boston College loves our Jesuit Pope!”

The pope had his driver stop and a guard took the skullcap from the juniors at the Jesuit university.

Mack says Pope Francis checked the skullcap for size, nodded and smiled at them, then put it on. He handed the zucchetto he had been wearing to the guard, who gave it to Rich and Mack.