Vatican officials are in full damage-control mode after an interview published Sunday on the Italian newspaper La Repubblica credits Pope Francis as saying some 2 percent of Roman Catholic clerics are pedophiles.
The article was authored by La Repubblica’s co-founder, 90-year-old Eugenio Scalfari, based on a one-hour conversation with the pope.
Scalfari is a well-known journalist in Italy and also an atheist.
"We ... have this leprosy in the house," Pope Francis was reported as saying, according to a translation by the International Business Times.
"Many of my co-workers who struggle with me reassure me with reliable data that assess pedophilia within the church at the level of 2 percent. This finding should reassure me but I must tell you that I do not [find it] reassuring at all. I consider it very serious indeed. ... I find this situation intolerable and I intend to tackle it with the seriousness it requires," he reportedly said.
According to an estimate by the BBC, 2 percent would represent around 8,000 priests out of a global number of about 414,000. The extent of clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Church worldwide has never been officially quantified.
A few hours after the interview was published, Vatican's spokesman Federico Lombardi noted that the interviewer didn't make an official recording and the quotes did not correspond to Pope Francis's exact words.
“A lapse of memory or an explicit acknowledgment the naif reader is being manipulated?” Lombardi wrote in a statement published by Newsva.com, the official Vatican network.
The interview took place last Thursday, three days after Pope Francis held his first meeting with several abuse survivors and begged forgiveness.
The Vatican quoted Francis as expressing personal `'sorrow" in his homily at a private Mass with six victims for the `'sins and grave crimes" of clerical sex abuse against them.
Francis pledged "not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not," and promised that bishops `'will be held accountable."
"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," the pope said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.