Pope Francis told the founder of an old Italian newspaper that he had been told that around 2% of priests in the Catholic Church engage in pedophilia. According to the New York Daily News on Sunday, the pope was reported as saying that his reliable data showed that this figure regarding the Catholic Church abuse scandal applied not only to priests but bishops and cardinals. With 414,000 priests around the world in 2012, that translates to approximately 8,280 Catholic clergy who are sexually abusing children.
Assuming that each priest abuses more than one child, the figures are shocking. The Vatican must have thought so, too, because they have been working overtime trying to refute the statements made by the outspoken Pope Francis to Eugenio Scalfari, the 90-year-old founder La Repubblica, published in a story on Sunday. Father Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican, quickly issued a statement that the interviewer did not record the conversation but operated from memory. (The inference was that the interviewer was 90 years old.) A denial was also issued claiming that the Pope did not approve the story nor did he say that there were cardinals included among the pedophile clergy to whom he referred.
The Washington Post cast some doubt on the status of the exchange that took place between the two men. Meetings such as this, the newspaper claims, are often understood to be off-the-record. Nevertheless, the general gist of the conversation has not been refuted. It is important to note that Scalfari is an atheist. He also mentions that Pope Francis was open to rethinking the Church’s centuries-old policies on a celibate priesthood. Prior to the 10th century, this lifestyle was not required.
This pope has often said and done some unexpected things, certainly not fitting the normal style mode for recent popes. There have been reports that this very characteristic of the first Latin-American pope is why he was elected. In the spirit of the Biblical book of Esther, some feel that he was chosen for “such a time as this.” His honest and obvious attempt to get to the bottom of the scandal involving priests and pedophilia shows promise for the ancient Catholic Church. The first step to healing is to acknowledge the illness.