The Catholic Church admitted Tuesday that it had dissolved a congregation of nuns in France because they were being used as sex slaves by priests.
Speaking on his tour of the Middle East, Pope Francis admitted for the first time that the Church has a major problem with the clerical abuse of nuns — and in at least one instance, the abuse had resulted in an entire order being disbanded.
“Pope Benedict had the courage to dissolve a female congregation which was at a certain level, because this slavery of women had entered it — slavery, even to the point of sexual slavery — on the part of clerics or the founder,” Francis told reporters on board the papal plane.
“Should we do something more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it's a path that we have already begun,” he added.
Pope Benedict dissolved the Community of St. Jean in France in 2005, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti subsequently confirmed.
The pope was questioned about the problem after a Vatican magazine article published last week detailed reports of sexual abuse by clerics resulting in nuns having abortions or giving birth to children fathered by priests.
The Catholic Church has been devastated by the scandal of clerical child sexual abuse in recent decades, while the #MeToo movement has prompted more women inside the Church to speak out about the abuse they also suffered.
The Associated Press last year published an investigation into the problem of priests abusing nuns around the world. At the time, the Vatican declined to comment or say what, if anything, it was doing to address the situation.
Francis said the Church was aware of the problem but that the issue remained a problem among “certain congregations, predominantly new ones.”
“I think it's still taking place because it's not as though the moment you become aware of something it goes away,” he added. The Vatican magazine article last week referenced cases of sexual abuse by priests on nuns in Africa, India and Chile.
Cover image: Pope Francis celebrates the Holy Mass on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, in St. Peter's Basilica on February 02, 2019 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)