By Shelley Marsden
POPE Francis has been quoted as saying that reliable data indicates that “about 2%” of clergy in the Catholic Church are paedophiles.
In another example of the Church reacting in an unprecedented way to the abuse scandal since his appointment, Pope Francis has told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that sexual abuse of children was infecting the Church like “leprosy”, and he pledged to “confront it with the severity it calls for”.
“Among the 2% who are paedophiles are priests, bishops and cardinals. Others, more numerous, know but keep quiet. They punish without giving the reason,” Pope Francis was quoted as saying. “I find this state of affairs intolerable,” he continued.
He said the figures given him were meant to reassure him, but “I have to say that they do not reassure me by any means. On the contrary, I find them deeply disturbing.”
Pope Francis said more were guilty of covering up the abuse of others.
The interview in question – above which ran the headline: “Pope says: Like Jesus, I shall use a stick against paedophile priests” – was conducted by the newspaper’s editor, 90 year old professed atheist Eugenio Scalfari last Thursday. It appeared as a cover story which ran over three pages in La Repubblica’s Sunday edition.
Mr Scalfari famously does not use a recording device during interviews, and the Pope did not check the accuracy of the article before it went to print, and Papal spokesman Father Lombardi has since said that the extraordinary admissions that appeared in the newspaper did not correspond to Pope Francis’s exact words.
He added that it was not an ‘interview’ in the strictest sense of the word, though he confessed the piece conveyed the “sense and the spirit” of the pair’s conversation.
The Pope’s reported comments about 2% of clergy being paedophiles, a percentage which he said came from Vatican advisers, would translate as around 8,000 priests worldwide out of the total number of priests around the world, which stands at around 414,000.
These comments constitute the first time that the Vatican has chosen to quantify the extent of clerical abuse in its global Church. Normally, statistics are only available for the developed world, with rather more vague information on the developing world. Father Lombardi denied that Pope Francis had said that there were cardinals who were paedophiles.
Fortunato di Noto, the founder of the Meter Association, which fights against paedophilia, said that with Pope Francis, as revealed in this latest interview, a form of revolution is underway: “The key reform that the Pope is making since he took up his post is on the crime of paedophilia, a stain on the Church (and not only the Church) which is finally being talked about without simplifications.”
He added: “I have read the interview. If that figure of 2% is true, it’s incredibly worrying. It means more than 8, 600 priests involved in abuse across the globe. It’s shocking.”
One of those working closely alongside Pope Francis to lift the taboo on addressing sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is Irish priest Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, part of a new air zero-tolerance stance which is running like a breath of fresh air through the Church.
It is no coincidence that the Pope put O’Malley in charge of the Pontifical Commission of the Protection of Minors, which he created last December.
One of its members, Dubliner Marie Collins, a survivor of clerical abuse in the 60s who became a campaigner demanding justice for victims, told La Repubblica in March: “It was an important decision, to create this group. Nothing will change unless the voices of those abused are not listened to.”