"Among the 2% who are paedophiles are priests, bishops and cardinals. Others, more numerous, know but keep quiet. They punish without giving the reason," Francis told Italy's La Repubblica in an interview published Sunday. "I find this state of affairs intolerable."
Out of an estimated global total of 414,000 priests, Francis has conceded that about 8,000 have unnatural attractions to children.
Francis also took the unprecedented step of hinting that the Catholic Church may eventually reconsider requiring priests to take a vow of celibacy, noting that men of the cloth were able to marry for 900 years after the death of Jesus Christ and that some Eastern churches under Vatican tutelage allow the practice.
Is this really so stunning? Sexual abuse by Catholic priests affects parishes all over the world. The pontiff's estimate is still lower than a previous John Jay College of Criminal Justice study, which analyzed "plausible" reports from 1950-1992 and arrived at a rate of 4%. Even that study, though, might have significantly underestimated the problem. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says that a conservative estimate is that 1 in 10 males in the general population have committed sexual abuse.
Would ending celibacy fix anything? It's not clear. The Economist noted in 2010 that no one has shown a statistical correlation between celibacy and abuse. Instead, it suggested a major contributing factor was that church leadership "saw paedophilia not as a crime with victims but as a sin that endangered the perpetrator's soul: along the lines of alcoholism, or pilfering church funds." The director of Johns Hopkins' Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit, Fred Berlin, points out that other organizations like the Boy Scouts of America "have had comparable problems."
So what now? Also unclear. Vatican spokesmen are already trying to take back the interview, indicating that there's still an unhealthy apprehension within the Church to tackle the problem of paedophilia. Sigh.