In his last two years as pope, Benedict XVI 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 a document obtained on Friday by the Associated Press news agency and an analysis of Vatican statistics, Benedict removed 260 priests in 2011 and 124 in 2012, a total of 384 - a sharp increase over the 171 priests 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 is likely far higher, since the numbers do not include sentences meted out by diocesan courts.
The surge 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 UN committee this week in Geneva, Switzerland, 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, referred to just one of the statistics in the course of eight hours of often pointed criticism and questioning Thursday from the UN human rights committee.
He said 418 new child sex abuse cases were reported to the Vatican in 2012.
The Vatican initially said the AP report seemed to be a misinterpretation of the 418 figure. However, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, later issued a correction based on confirmation of the AP calculations by the Vatican's former sex crimes prosecutor, Monsignor Charles Scicluna.
Violation by bishops
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.
Instead, bishops routinely moved problem priests from parish to parish rather than subject them to canonical trials, or turn them over to 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 against the Vatican from victims is that bishops put the church's procedures ahead of
civil law enforcement by suggesting that victims keep accusations quiet while they were 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.
The Vatican insists nothing in its church process prevented victims from going to police.
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
A total of 555 priests were defrocked from 2008 to 2012, according to the Vatican figures, though data from 2010 was not included.