ALMOST 400 priests were defrocked by former Pope Benedict XVI in connection with the child abuse scandal which has dogged the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican confirmed yesterday that priests stripped of their posts in 2011 and 2012 were more than double the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided figures.

A further 400 cases were also sent to either be tried by a Church tribunal or to be dealt with administratively

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Statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase compared with previous years.

The file was part of Vatican data collected for a UN hearing on Thursday - the first time the Holy See was publicly confronted over the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Benedict, who was elected in 2005, took the helm as the scandal of child sex abuse by priests was breaking.

The flood of allegations, lawsuits and official reports into clerical abuse reached a peak in 2009 and 2010, which observers say may explain the spike shown in the document.

The Holy See is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding instrument which commits it to protecting and nurturing the most vulnerable in society.

It ratified the convention in 1990 but after an implementation report in 1994 it did not submit any progress reports until 2012, following revelations of child sex abuse.

Last month, the Vatican refused a request from the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child for data on abuse, on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.

In a homily on Thursday, Benedict's successor, Pope Francis, called abuse scandals "the shame of the Church".

He announced in December that a Vatican committee would be set up to fight sexual abuse of children in the Church.