Pope Francis has for the first time publicly acknowledged that priests and bishops sexually abused nuns, the latest scandal to hit the Roman Catholic Church.
Speaking to reporters while returning home from the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, Francis said, “It’s not that everyone does this, but there are some priests and also bishops who have done it.”
“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,” he said.
The February issue of Women Church World, a supplement distributed with the Vatican’s Osservatore Romano newspaper, stated that nuns have been silent over abuse for decades for fear of retaliation.
It added that the Vatican received reports of priests abusing nuns in Africa in the 1990s.
“If the Church continues to close its eyes to the scandal – made even worse by the fact that abuse of women brings about procreation and is therefore at the origin of forced abortions and children who aren’t recognised by priests – the oppression of women in the Church will never change,” editor Lucetta Scaraffia wrote.
The pope has summoned the heads of some 110 national Catholic bishops’ conferences and dozens of experts and leaders of religious orders to the Vatican from February 21 to 24 for an extraordinary meeting on the sexual abuse crisis.
Victims of clerical sexual abuse are hoping that the meeting will finally come up with a clear policy to hold bishops themselves accountable for the mishandling of abuse cases.
The issue hit the headlines last year after an Indian nun accused a bishop of repeatedly raping her in a case that triggered rare dissent within the country’s Catholic Church.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested on September 21 in the southern state of Kerala on suspicion of raping the nun in question 13 times between 2014 and 2016.
Pope Francis suspended him the day before his arrest, appointing another bishop in his place.
Mulakkal, 53, who headed the diocese of Jalandhar in the northern state of Punjab, denied the allegations.
The nun first spoke out in June but police only started formal questioning in September as fury over the case mounted.
Five nuns and dozens of supporters staged days of protests in a rare public show of dissent within the Indian Catholic Church.
Pope Francis said Pope Benedict XVI had taken action against a France-based order after some of its religious sisters were reduced to “sexual slavery” at the hands of the priest who founded the order and other priests within it.
Francis credited Benedict, pope from 2005 to 2013, with having had the courage to tackle the problem, saying Benedict took action against the French congregation “because a certain slavery of women had crept in, slavery to the point of sexual slavery on the part of clergy or the founder,” he said.
“Sometimes the founder takes away, or empties, the freedom of the sisters. It can come to this,” Francis said.