Vatican Pushes Back After Report That Pope Said 2 Percent of Catholic Clergy Are Pedophiles

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Pope Francis speaks outside the Castelpetroso sanctuary near Isernia, Italy, on July 5, 2014. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

Pope Francis appears to have quantified the sex abuse scandal that constantly looms over the Catholic Church, telling an Italian newspaper that 2 percent of the clergy are pedophiles. 

Francis was quoted in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica over the weekend as saying that pedophilia is a “leprosy” within the Church and that while his advisers cite the 2 percent figure to try to reassure him, he thinks otherwise. “I find this situation very serious indeed,” he told the paper, adding, “I find this state of affairs intolerable.” Included among the global offenders are bishops and cardinals, the paper quoted Francis as saying. 

The Vatican swiftly pushed back against some of the quotes. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied that Francis said there are cardinals who are pedophiles, and the official Vatican news network said that Eugenio Scalfari, the journalist who spoke with the pope, transcribed his interview from memory alone and didn’t record his interview.

The 2 percent figure is being called incorrect for another reason. A statement released by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said, “The real percentage of predator priests is much higher.” It pointed to the 5.6 percent of priests who have been accused of abuse, nearly three times the number Francis gave.

There has been some very slight progress in holding the Church accountable for sexual abuse of children, ranging from a U.N. committee on torture questioning Vatican officials in May to the defrocking of the Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic over abuse allegations in June. Earlier this year, Francis issued the first public apology for what he called the evil” of abuse by priests. But if the 2 percent figure is accurate, that means a whopping 8,000 priests out of a global total of 414,000 are pedophiles, according to the BBC.