The level of paedophilia in Catholicism is at two percent, and includes bishops and cardinals, according to an Italian newspaper which had interviewed Pope Francis.
The interview also quoted the Pope as saying the Catholic Church could eventually lift a ban on priests being able to marry, but was quickly refuted by the Vatican.
Interviewed by Italy's La Repubblica daily, Francis condemned child sex abuse as a "leprosy" in the Church and cited his aides as saying that "the level of paedophilia in the Church is at two percent".
"That two percent includes priests and even bishops and cardinals," the Pope was quoted as saying.
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," Francis said, without giving further details.
But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the quotations in the newspaper on the existence of paedophile cardinals and the possible reform of priestly celibacy did not correspond to what the Pope actually said.
"This is not at all an interview in the normal sense of the word," he said, accusing the newspaper of "manipulating ingenuous readers".
The interview was the third in a series with the 90-year-old founder of the La Repubblica daily, Eugenio Scalfari, a famous journalist and known atheist.