They are broken, if you can't initiate the fight and land the first hit then you have about one chance to parry (even I can pull it off most of the time, which is strange), after that you are pretty much dead. There are two openings if you can survive that long: their ranged attack takes forever, and they have a charge slash attack which also provides a window to stagger them. 99% of the time there is no fight just instant death for them or for you. The problem is that you have to fight about 4 to 6 of them between bonfires and you only have to **** up once.
During my first and second playthrough I tought they were easy, as a pyro I had range and they don't like fire, and before 1.06 there was the Estoc bestoc, but today I learned that the 1h longsword is less than an ideal.
And the Pontiff is the ultimate version. In the end I gave up and waited till the RNG smiles at me and the two NPC phantom kill him for me.