Calling the church sex abuse scandal a "leprosy in our house," Pope Francis tells an Italian newspaper that 1 in 50 Catholic clerics are pedophiles.
In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari, the 90-year-old founder of La Repubblica, Francis is quoted as saying that advisers in the Church "reassure me" that the problem amounts to "about 2 percent."
"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," he was quoted by the newspaper as saying, according to a translation used by Reuters.
Most pedophilia takes place in family situations, but "even we have this leprosy in our house" he is quoted as saying of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church must "weep and make reparation" for its crimes, he is quoted as saying.
Scalfari also quotes Francis as noting that the requirement of celibacy in the priesthood is a "problem," and that "there are solutions and I will find them."
The pope said that celibacy was instituted "900 years after Our Lord's death" and that in some Eastern Churches under the Vatican's purview, priests were already allowed to marry.
Reuters says the La Repubblica article was a reconstruction of an hour-long conversation between the pope and Scalfari,
The Vatican, in a statement said that Scalfari — the country's best-known journalist who is also a prominent atheist — normally conducts long interviews with public figures without taking notes, quoting them later from memory.
Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that the quote on celibacy, as well as another in which Francis says cardinals were among the sex abusers, are inaccurate. Lombardi accused La Repubblica of trying to "manipulate naive readers," according to Reuters.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, reporting from Rome, notes, "This is not the first time Francis' off-the-cuff remarks have caused problems for his spokespeople."
Indeed, Francis has called atheists "precious allies" in building peace and even suggested that non-believers could go to heaven, a position his Vatican handlers quickly sought to clarify.
A few months later, in a discussion of homosexuality in the Church, Francis proclaimed: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
And, despite the Vatican's suggestion that the pope's comments on celibacy are not accurately quoted, they are largely in line with a message transmitted by the Vatican's secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, in September.