Pope Francis has reportedly revealed that one in every fifty Catholic priests is a paedophile.
The pontiff was quoted as saying that advisors had told him that reliable figures show that "paedophilia inside the church is at the level of two per cent".
The Pope reportedly told Italian newspaper la Repubblica that abuse of children was like "leprosy" infecting the Church.
Francis said the "corruption of a child is the terrible and unclean thing imaginable" and vowed to "confront it with the seriousness it demands".
He said that paedophilia was unfortunately common and widespread.
"The church is fighting for the eradication of the habit and for education that rehabilitates. But this leprosy is also present in our house," he was reported to have said.
"Many of my colleagues who are working against it tell me that paedophilia inside the church is at the level of two per cent. Among the two per cent who are paedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals."
Many more are guilty of covering it up by keeping quiet, he said, adding, "This state of affairs is intolerable and it's my intention to tackle it with the severity it deserves".
According to the Daily Mail, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the newspaper's overall message was faithful to Francis' words, saying it "captured the spirit" of the conversation.
But he denied that Francis had said that there were some cardinals who were paedophiles.
Last week Francis issued his strongest words on the subject begging for forgiveness for the "sacrilegious" crimes committed by "the sons and daughters of the church who have betrayed their mission".