Pope Francis has admitted that sexual abuse of nuns by priests – up to and including “sexual slavery” – is an ongoing problem in the scandal-plagued Catholic Church, but stresses that the Vatican is “working on it.”
“I can’t say ‘this does not happen in my house.’ It is true,” Francis said, when a reporter brought up a recent article in the Vatican’s women’s magazine about the sexual abuse of nuns. “Do we have to do more? Yes. Are we willing? Yes.”
“We have been working on this for a long time. We have suspended some priests because of this,” he added, without volunteering further details.
Asked if he planned to call a bishops’ conference similar to this month’s summit to address clergy sex abuse of children, the Pope declined to answer. “I want to move forward. We are working on it,” he repeated.
Francis praised his predecessor, Pope Benedict, for dissolving one congregation of nuns “because slavery had become part of it – even sexual slavery on the part of priests or the founder.” A Vatican press director confirmed the pontiff was referring to the Community of St. Jean in France, which was dissolved during Benedict’s first year as Pope after he was blocked from investigating the order as a cardinal. That was in 2005.
Francis insisted the will to “confront” the abuse exists among senior clergy, but admitted “more action was needed.” He stopped short of explaining what that action might be, or when it would take effect, instead telling reporters that the Church – already besieged by an international sex abuse scandal implicating thousands of priests – “shouldn’t be scandalized by this.”
“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 recognized by priests – the condition of oppression of women in the church will never change,” wrote Lucetta Scaraffia in the February edition of Women Church World, the Vatican’s women’s magazine. The piece encouraged nuns to report their abusers, while also admitting that the problem of abuse by priests was neither new nor rare – citing the Pope’s own words to explain how it was entrenched in the very structure of the Church.
Public awareness of priests’ sexual abuse of nuns was an unexpected consequence of the #MeToo movement, which caught on among the Catholic sisters last year. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Catholic Church, which was already mired in a massive child sex abuse scandal involving thousands of priests and even more victims. Francis has called on the guilty parties to turn themselves in and “prepare for divine justice,” and a bishops’ summit later this month was called to address the problem.