Pope Francis has for the first time admitted the Catholic Church has an ongoing problem with priests and even bishops who sexually abuse nuns, saying that more must be done to prevent it.
Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane as he returned to the Vatican after a visit to the United Arab Emirates, he said some of the nuns had been used as sex slaves.
“It is true … there have been priests and even bishops who have done this. I think it is still going on because something does not stop just because you have become aware of it,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
“We have been working on this for a long time. We have suspended some priests because of this.”
The Pope made the comments in response to questions about an article that appeared last week in a Vatican monthly magazine about the abuse of nuns in the church.
The magazine, Women Church World, revealed that some nuns were forced to abort the priests’ children or bear children that the priests refuse to recognise as their children.
“Should more be done? Yes,” the Pope said. “Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”
The AP said in recent months, more and more nuns had been coming forward to report abuse, encouraged by the #MeToo movement, which drew strength from a flurry of revelations of assault and abuse against celebrities and senior figures in industry and the media in October 2017. Producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been charged with assault, has denied the allegations.
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The news agency said that in 2018, the International Union of Superiors General, which represents more than 500,000 Catholic nuns, urged their members to report abuse.
The Pope said that former Pope Benedict dissolved a religious order of women shortly after his election as pontiff in 2005 “because slavery had become part of it (the religious order), even sexual slavery on the part of priests and the founder”.
He did not name the group, but Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said it was a French order.
Before he became pope, Benedict was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that investigates sexual abuse. The pope at the time was John Paul.
Then-cardinal Ratzinger wanted to investigate the religious order where women were being abused but he was blocked, Pope Francis said, without saying who prevented the probe.
Pope Francis has summoned key bishops from around the world to a summit later this month at the Vatican to find a unified response on how to protect children from sexual abuse by clergy.
Asked if there would be some kind of similar action to confront abuse of nuns in the church, he said: “I want to move forward. We are working on it.”