Pope Francis has revealed that “reliable data” collected by the Vatican suggests that one in every 50 members of the Catholic clergy is a paedophile.
Speaking in an interview with La Repubblica, the Pope said his advisers had tried to “reassure” him that paedophilia within the Church was “at the level of two per cent”.
He pledged that he would drive away the “leprosy” of child abuse that was infecting the “house” of Catholicism.
“I find this state of affairs intolerable,” he said.
Pope Francis said his advisers at the Vatican had given him the 2 per cent estimate, which included “priests, bishops and cardinals”.
He also warned of much greater figures for people who were aware of the existence of abuse – sometimes within their own families – but who stayed silent because of corruption or fear.
His comments came a week after the Pope met with six victims of clerical paedophilia to apologise for their abuse at the hands of priests.
The meeting, with six British, Irish and German Catholics, was designed to acknowledge the gravity of the Church’s guilt and complicity.
Despite Pope Francis’s popularity, there has been criticism of him for failing to take a high-profile stand against the global paedophilia scandal.
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, met with victims of sexual abuse by priests, in Washington in 2008. He then met with victims in Australia, Germany, Malta and the UK.
In February and May, critical reports released by two separate UN committees condemned the Church’s “code of silence” on paedophile priests. It said this silence was allowing known sex offenders to continue working with children.