VATICAN CITY — In the thick packet of materials the Vatican released leading up to its high-profile sex abuse summit, one kind of information was missing: statistics about abuse cases.
The Vatican does not publicize the new cases that it handles, though some experts say it might have among the most comprehensive abuse-related data sets in the world.
But on Friday, an Italian journalist said he was tipped off by a Vatican source that some statistics were hiding in plain sight — buried in a section of the Holy See’s website. The collection of pages shows hundreds of abuse cases annually being handed by bishops to the Vatican’s disciplinary body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF.
“Somebody must have thought it was important for the size of the phenomenon to be public,” the journalist, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said.
The data, described in an article published Friday by the news magazine L’Espresso, gives a partial glimpse of the volume of abuse cases being handled under Pope Francis — while also providing a pointed reminder of the church’s slow road to transparency. The church is devoting Saturday, the third day of the summit, to improving its openness, and survivors of clerical abuse have long asked the Vatican to release the names and case files of priests convicted of clerical abuse.
The obscure Vatican Web pages show year-by-year data on the number of new cases sent to the Holy See concerning clerics accused of “serious offenses,” including abuse of minors but also possession of child pornography and spiritual offenses. The information is contained in a series of annual summaries, from 2012 until 2017, about the activities of the CDF. Although there is no specific data about how many clerics faced accusations of abusing minors, the 2017 report said the “majority” of serious offense cases involved such accusations.
The way the data is categorized varies slightly from year to year, making total tabulation difficult. But in most years under Francis, who became pope in 2013, the Vatican has seen between 400 and 500 new “serious offenses” cases.
In only one annual report did the Vatican discuss punishments, mentioning that the pope had defrocked or removed 16 clerics in 2016. No names of clerics were given in the reports.
The cases reported to the CDF represent only a fraction of clerical sex abuse, because many dioceses do not report cases to the Holy See. And scores of victims never disclose their experiences to criminal or church authorities.
A Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, said the CDF information is “published every year” and that it is “no news.”
But several people who closely follow the Vatican’s handling of abuse cases said they had not previously seen the data.
Anne Barrett Doyle, who runs BishopAccountability.org, a clearinghouse that tracks abuse cases, said the information was new to her. She said the last major public disclosure of Vatican abuse data came in 2014, when the Holy See’s ambassador to the United Nations reported to the committee on human rights that more than 3,420 credible abuse accusations against minors had been reported to the CDF over the previous 10 years. The Vatican defrocked 848 priests as a result of those cases.
“Numbers and names are better than just numbers,” Barrett Doyle said. “But when you even get just numbers, accountability begins. This all along has been a crisis about who controls the information about the crimes. It went from the church withholding it from everybody to now, where it’s a little less asymmetrical than it was. But still, the CDF is pretty much a black hole.”
This week, Vatican officials have been asked several times about their willingness to release statistics. Doing so could provide a clearer sense of where crimes are occurring, the ages of victims, and the punishments for those found guilty in church proceedings.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, of Malta, said Friday that the CDF has “wider information” and is willing to consider releasing more.
“This is a legitimate question,” said Scicluna, a sex crimes investigator for the Vatican. “Where are the stats?”
The day before the summit began, Phil Saviano, an American who helped expose widespread church sex abuses in the United States, was among the victims who met with Scicluna and other organizers of the event. Saviano provided the Vatican investigator with a letter urging the church to release the names and files of priests reported to the Holy See for abuse. Such a step would require the church to reconsider its use of pontifical secrecy codes.
Saviano said that before the meeting was over, Scicluna took him aside and said he would be in favor of that.
Saviano remembered Scicluna saying, “We should release that information.”