For the first time, Pope Francis has acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops as a “problem” in the Catholic Church, saying that “we’ve been working on this for some time.”
The Pope’s comments, which came during a press conference aboard the papal plane on a return flight to Rome from the United Arab Emirates, come as the Catholic Church is dealing with sexual abuse scandals on several continents.
“There have been priests and also bishops who have done that,” the Pope said of sexually abusing nuns. “And I believe that it may still be being done. It’s not a thing that from the moment in which you realize it, it’s over. The thing goes forward like this. We’ve been working on this for a long time.”
Francis said the Vatican has “suspended some clerics, sent them away for this” and “dissolved” some orders of nuns “that were very tied up in this, a corruption.”
“Must something more be done? Yes. Do we have the will? Yes,” he said.
Francis mentioned the case of one order of nuns in particular, in France, in which his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had tried to take action but was thwarted by Vatican insiders. At the time, Benedict was a cardinal and head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office.
“But when he became Pope, the first thing (he said was) bring me this from the archives and he began,” Pope Francis said.
“Pope Benedict had the courage to dissolve a women’s congregation that had a certain level because this slavery of women had entered, even sexual slavery, by clerics or by the founder,” the Pope said.
Last week, Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, ran an article on the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy, saying that “in this last year many new papers have raised the veil on this tragedy, and many religious from third world countries but also more advanced countries, have begun to speak and denounce (it).”
“If we continue to close our eyes in front of this scandal – made even more serious by the fact that abuse of women includes procreation and so imposed abortions and children not recognized by priests – the condition of oppression of women in the church will never change,” said the article, written by Lucetta Scaraffia.
In India, a group of nuns who spoke out about alleged sexual abuse by a bishop in the southern Indian state of Kerala claim the church is attempting to transfer them to other parts of the country, in an apparent attempt to silence them.
The nuns recently asked the chief minister of Kerala to intervene on their behalf, after they say church officials ordered them to leave the state.
All the women who received transfer notices had supported a fellow nun who alleged last year that Bishop Franco Mulakkal had raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The incidents purportedly occurred in a guest house of the St. Franco Mission Home in Kerala.
Swati Gupta and Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah contributed to this report.