One in 50 priests is a paedophile, reveals Pope
Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30
POPE Francis has been called on to release further details of Vatican research into clerical sex abuse, after stating that one in 50 Catholic clergy is a paedophile.
The Pope described child sex abusers as "leprosy" within the church, adding that the offenders include "priests and even bishops and cardinals".
In an interview with 'La Repubblica' newspaper in Italy, the Pontiff cited aides as saying that "the level of paedophilia in the church is at 2pc".
"I find this state of affairs intolerable," he said.
With Catholic clergy numbers at 414,000, more than 8,000 priests fall into this category. Estimates of the prevalence of paedophilia in the wider population range from a fraction of 1pc to as high as 4pc.
In Ireland, the total number of priests and those in religious orders is almost 5,000 including those who are sick and retired.
That would suggest the number of paedophile priests in Ireland, on the basis of 2pc of the clergy, would be less than 100.
However, this would appear to be an underestimation based on the findings of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church reviews.
But a prominent child safeguarding expert said the figure raised more questions than it answered.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, the source said the Pope's statistic did not indicate whether he was talking about priests convicted of abuse, priests who were paedophiles, or those who targeted teens.
And responding to the Pope's comments, the Association of Catholic Priests has called on the Irish bishops to carry out research to establish the level of paedophilia among Irish clergy.
Its spokesman, Father Sean McDonagh, said this was necessary because the public often overestimated the number of clergy who were guilty of child abuse.
Fr McDonagh said a poll commissioned by the Iona Institute and carried out by Amarach Research had shown that nearly half of the public (42pc) believe that more than one in five priests is guilty of child abuse. And 5pc of the public believe that between 90pc and 100pc of all Catholic priests are guilty of child abuse.
"The tragedy in Ireland is that because of the way the scandals were handled by the bishops, there is a perception – verified by this survey – that people believe one in every five priests is a paedophile."
He said further research "would be good, because people have to have trust in their priests".
He criticised the Irish bishops for not doing more to challenge the public's perception.
Ian Elliott, the former head of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, called on further details to be released.
"Anyone who makes a statement about the incidence of abuse or the number of offenders in an institution should also make available the evidence that they have based the statement upon, if they wish it to be taken seriously," said Mr Elliott.
He added: "Perhaps a better starting point would be asking the heads of all of the 188 church authorities in Ireland if they are confident that they are personally aware of the known incidence of abuse that has been perpetrated by their members. If they are, would they be willing to share this?"
Pope Francis also promised "solutions" to the issue of priestly celibacy in his interview with the Italian newspaper. Asked whether priests might one day be allowed to marry, Francis pointed out that celibacy was instituted "900 years after Our Lord's death" and that clerics can marry in some Eastern churches under Vatican tutelage. "There definitely is a problem but it is not a major one. This needs time but there are solutions and I will find them," he said.
However the Vatican later appeared to try to backtrack on parts of the interview.
Father Federico Lombardi, its main spokesman, said: "This is not at all an interview in the normal sense of the word."
The Pope's comment about cardinals being involved "has attracted a lot of attention but cannot be attributed to the Pope", Fr Lombardi added.
Earlier, one of the Vatican's top prelates – who oversees thousands of nuns and priests around the world – told an Irish congregation that purification is needed in the whole church.
Speaking in Christ the King Cathedral in Mullingar on his first ever visit to Ireland, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who is Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, acknowledged that "parts of the church here in Ireland have suffered".