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January 17th, 2014
04:29 PM ET

Vatican: Nearly 400 priests defrocked in two years

(CNN) The Vatican acknowledged on Friday that close to 400 priests left the priesthood in 2011 and 2012 because of accusations that they had sexually abused children.

That acknowledgment followed a report by the Associated Press that nearly 400 priests had been defrocked during those two years. The Vatican initially disputed that report.

Bishop Charles Scicluna, formerly the Vatican's top prosecutor of sexually abusive clergy, said 384 priests left the priesthood - either voluntarily or not - in 2011 and 2012, the last two years of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.

In 2011, 125 priests were dismissed from ministry by the Vatican because of accusations they had sexually abused children, Scicluna told CNN on Friday, citing the "Activity of the Holy See," a kind of Vatican yearbook. The same year, 135  priests were "dispensed," meaning they voluntarily resigned, Scicluna said.

In 2012, 57 priests were removed from the priesthood and 67 resigned, Scicluna said. Scicluna, who is now an auxiliary bishop in Malta, was the Vatican's top prosecutor of sexually abusive clergy for a decade.

Scicluna said he did not know why the number of defrocked priests spiked in 2011. "2011 was exceptionally high for dismissals," he said. "We don't really know why."

The AP reported on Friday that nearly 400 priests had been defrocked in 2011 and 2012, citing a document the Vatican prepared to defend its record on sexual abuse before a United Nations committee this week in Geneva.

The Vatican had rebutted that report, a denial previously reported by CNN. However, later on Friday, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN the AP report was correct.

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Vatican

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.

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