Feb. 6 (UPI) — Pope Francis has for the first time addressed the issue of sexual abuse against nuns by priests, calling such attacks a larger “cultural problem.”
The pope made his comments to reporters Tuesday on his return from the United Arab Emirates to the Vatican after a historic trip to the largely Muslim country.
“There have been priests and also bishops who have done that, and I believe that it may still be being done,” Francis said of the sexual assault of nuns. “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.”
He said Pope Benedict XVI took on the French order the Community of St. Jean, which later admitted in 2013 several nuns had been preyed upon by priests.
“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 pontiff said.
The International Union of Superiors General, which represents female Catholic religious orders around the world, denounced in November what it called the “culture of silence and secrecy” in the church that kept nuns from speaking about abuse.
The Vatican newspaper’s women’s magazine, L’Osservatore Romano, last week blamed the all-male clergy for the crisis. Women Church World magazine reported allegations that some nuns were forced to have abortions after abuse by priests. Abortions are against Catholic teachings and the practice is considered a sin.
Francis said some priests have already been suspended and charges are being handled on a case-by-case basis. The pope added the mistreatment of nuns is part of a larger issue of women being treated as “second-class citizens.”