Pope Francis has publicly acknowledged for the first time that priests and bishops have sexually abused nuns, including one case where sisters were reduced to “sexual slavery”.
The pontiff added that he believes the abuse is still going on.
In a news conference on board his plane while returning to Rome from the UAE, he told reporters: “It’s not that everyone does this, but there have been priests and bishops who have.
“And I think that it’s continuing because it’s not like once you realise it that it stops. It continues. And for some time we’ve been working on it.
“Should we do something more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it’s a path that we have already begun.”
However when asked if there was a universal approach being formulated to deal with abuse of women in the church by priests, he implied that at the moment incidents were being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“There are cases, usually in new congregations and in some regions more than others,” he said. “We’re working on it.”
The Pope’s acknowledgement of the problem comes as he prepares to decide the fate of the disgraced US ex-cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of abusing minors as well as adult seminarians.
That case also cast a spotlight on the issue of abusive power relationships, and whether the Catholic Church ought to consider seminarians and sisters as “vulnerable adults” when compared to the priests and bishops who control everything from their vocations to their studies and salaries.
The Pope added that sisters had been reduced to “sexual slavery” at the hands of the Reverend Marie-Dominique Philippe and other priests.
Mr Philippe died in 2006.
The Community of St Jean admitted in 2013 that the reverend had behaved “in ways that went against chastity” with several women in the order, according to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix.
The Pope’s comments about “sexual slavery” suggested that the relations were not consensual and could have involved abuse of conscience and power as well.
Last November the organisation representing all the world’s female Catholic religious orders, the International Union of Superiors General, publicly denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” that prevented nuns from speaking out and urged sisters to report abuse to their superiors and police.
And last week, the women’s magazine of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano identified the clerical culture of the all-powerful clergy as the culprit.
The issue has been highlighted as the Catholic Church struggles to cope with the scale of the scandal involving the sexual abuse of minors by priests and by the #MeToo movement, and the acknowledgement that adults can be victims of abuse whenever there is an imbalance of power in a relationship.
In a fortnight’s time senior bishops will meet with the pontiff to try to come up with a regulatory framework for dealing with abusive priests and their superiors who cover up their crimes.
Last August Pope Francis begged forgiveness after admitting the Catholic Church let down children and “showed no care” to victims of sexual abuse.
The plea came in the form of a letter issued around the world by the Vatican, in which he demanded greater accountability in the face of new revelations over decades of misconduct by the church in the US.
It followed a Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania that said the abuse of more than 1,000 youngsters by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania was systemically covered up by church officials for years.
(c) Sky News 2019: Pope Francis admits abuse of nuns including ‘sexual slavery’