La Repubblica

Pope Francis Raises Eyebrows by Saying Pedophile Priests Include 'Bishops and Cardinals'

Vatican's media spokesman disputes accuracy of a statement attributed to Pope Francis. Image: Stefano Rellandini/CreativeCommons

Pope Francis has provoked a debate within the Catholic Church after being quoted as saying that one in 50 Catholic clerics is a pedophile.

In the latest example of his get-tough stance against sex abuse — and his signature style of frank answers to tough questions — the pope told the Italian daily La Repubblica that the sexual abuse of children was like “leprosy” in the church and he pledged to “confront it with the severity it requires.”

But the exclusive interview with 90-year-old veteran journalist Eugenio Scalfari published Sunday drew an immediate reaction from the Vatican that disputed the accuracy of the pontiff’s quotes.

Pope Francis Fires Warning Shot at Church’s ‘Top-Down’ Bureaucracy

Pope Francis I in Rome, Italy on September 4, 2013. Photo via Shutterstock, by Iacopo Guidi

Pope Francis has once again given a startlingly candid interview that reinforces his vision of a Catholic Church that engages the world and helps the poor rather than pursuing culture wars, and one “that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

The pope’s conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist and well-known editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, took place at the pope’s residence in the Vatican guesthouse on Sept. 24 and was published on Tuesday.

His newest bombshell come just two weeks after the publication of the pope’s lengthy, groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit journalist in which Francis said the church was “obsessed” with a few moral issues, like abortion and homosexuality, and needed an “attitude” adjustment if it hopes to strike a “new balance” in its approach to the wider world.

Pope Francis’ Outreach to Atheists Not as Controversial as it Seems

Portrait of Pope Francis by Debby Bird, Reston, Va. Via RNS

Pope Francis’ friendly letter to atheists, published this week by Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, has been cheered by Catholics who welcomed another sign of the pontiff’s new openness to the world beyond the Vatican walls.

But it has also prompted some gnashing of teeth among others, who are reacting to headlines about the pope’s letter like this one in the British newspaper The Independent:

“Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.”

Pope Francis Tells Atheists to ‘Obey Their Conscience’

Once again breaking with traditional Vatican protocol, Pope Francis on Wednesday penned a long letter to the Italian liberal daily La Repubblica to affirm that an “open dialogue free of prejudices” between Christians and atheists is “necessary and precious.”

Francis’ front-page letter was a response to two open letters published in previous months by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica and an avowed atheist.

The pope’s letter is especially notable for its open and honest assessment of the spiritual state of nonbelievers. And for an institution that long claimed sole jurisdiction on matters of salvation, Francis seems to open the door to the idea that notions of sin, conscience and forgiveness are not the exclusive domain of the Catholic Church.