MORE THAN 50 priests in England and Wales have been defrocked for clerical sex abuse over the past 13 years, it has been revealed.
Figures show that 52 priests have been laicised – evicted from the clergy – since 2001 when new, tougher rules were put in place to protect children and vulnerable adults in the Catholic Church.
But the Church, which has been rocked by a series of historic abuse scandals, received many more hundreds of complaints of sexual misconduct against the clergy over just more than a decade.
And officials admitted that a reluctance among many victims to report abuse meant they have “no real knowledge” of its true scale.
A decade-long study by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) shows that 487 allegations of sex abuse were made against members of the clergy from 2003 until 2012, while 31 more ministers were accused of having abusive images of children.
Of these, 203 are known to have been withdrawn from ministry, and 53 were convicted in a criminal court.
And there were 81 child protection allegations made last year – a leap from 59 in 2012.
Adrian Child, director of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, said the Church had put in “robust measures” to tackle abuse, including making it mandatory for all allegations to be immediately reported to police.
And perpetrators who were not defrocked were subjected to “covenants of care” withdrawing them from ministering and severely restricting what they could do in the Church, he said.
There were 384 “covenants of care” in place by the end of 2013 in England and Wales with either a priest or a lay person.
But Mr Child admitted they still do not know the true scale of how many fell prey to abuse as many victims stay silent for decades, while others take the secrets of their abuse to the grave.
Danny Sullivan, NCSC chairman, said the slew of celebrity sex abuse scandals which erupted in the wake of the late TV presenter Jimmy Savile’s unmasking as a paedophile had encouraged victims to come forward.
Peter Saunders, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said the defrocking of clerical abusers was “encouraging”. He said: “We cannot have people in this position of huge trust and responsibility being given free rein.”
It comes days after Pope Francis begged forgiveness from the victims of clergy sex abuse in his first meeting with abuse survivors.