Calling the problem “a leprosy in our house,” Pope Francis said that about 2 percent of the world’s Catholic clerics are pedophiles, an Italian newspaper said Sunday.
Pope Francis vowed to “confront it with the severity it demands,” the newspaper said.
But the Vatican quickly dismissed the report, saying that the Italian newspaper La Repubblica was being manipulative and that parts of the article were inaccurate, including a section quoting the pope as saying that there were cardinals among the abusers.
“Many of my collaborators who fight with me reassure me with reliable statistics that say that the level of pedophilia in the church is at about 2 percent,” Francis said, according to the newspaper.
“This data should hearten me, but I have to tell you that it does not hearten me at all. In fact, I think that it is very grave.”
According to the newspaper, Francis said that, while most pedophilia takes place in family situations, “even we have this leprosy in our house.”
According to church statistics for 2012, the latest available, there are about 414,000 Roman Catholic priests in the world. That would mean by Francis’ reported estimate that about 8,000 priests have sexually abused children.
“Others, more numerous, know but keep quiet. They punish without giving the reason,” Francis was quoted as saying. “I find this state of affairs intolerable.”
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, issued a statement saying that not all the quotes that appeared in the article could be attributed “with certainty” to the pope.
Lombardi acknowledged that the pontiff had, in fact, talked with the reporter, but accused the newspaper of trying to “manipulate naive readers.”
Lombardi noted that the article’s author, and the newspaper’s founder, Eugenio Scalfari, had a tradition of having long conversations with public figures without taking notes or taping them, and then reconstructing them from memory.
Scalfari, 90, is one of Italy’s best-known journalists. He is also a prominent atheist.
The pope is also quoted saying the church’s celibacy requirement is a “problem,” and that “there are solutions and I will find them.”
Last week, Francis held his first meeting as pope with victims of sexual abuse by priests.
He told them the church should “weep and make reparation”
for the crimes, and vowed zero tolerance for abusers.