Pope Francis called the Catholic church's sexual abuse scandal a "leprosy" infecting "the house" that must be handled "with the seriousness it requires." In an interview with La Repubblica published Sunday, the pontiff estimated 2 percent of priests are pedophiles.

The pope said pedophilia often runs in families, "practiced by parents, grandparents, uncles, family friends. Often other family members are aware of [it] but do not intervene. …

"We also have this leprosy in the house," he added. "Many of my co-workers who struggle with me reassure me with reliable data that assess pedophilia within the church at the level of 2 percent. This finding should reassure me but I must tell you that I do not [find it] reassuring at all. I consider it very serious indeed. ... I find this situation intolerable and I intend to tackle it with the seriousness it requires."

The BBC reported the Vatican issued a sharply worded statement saying the conversation between the pope and La Repubblica editor Eugenio Scalfari was not really an interview. The church had been avoiding quantifying the number of clerics involved in sexual abuse.

The pope's estimate would represent about 8,000 priests of the 414,000 worldwide, the BBC said.