ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE: Pope Francis said Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church has faced a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and even bishops, the first time he has publicly acknowledged the issue.
Catholic nuns have accused clerics of sexual abuse in recent years in India, Africa, Latin America and in Italy, and a Vatican magazine last week mentioned nuns having abortions or giving birth to the children of priests. But Francis has never raised the issue until he was asked to comment during a news conference aboard the papal plane returning to Rome from his trip to the UAE.
“It’s true,” Francis said. “There are priests and bishops who have done that.”
The pope’s admission opens a new front in the long-running scandal of sexual abuse by priests, recognising nuns who have tried for years to call attention to their plight. In November, the organisation representing the world’s Catholic women’s religious orders, the International Union of Superiors General, publicly denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” that contributed to abuse, and urged nuns to report abuse to law enforcement.
A top official in the Vatican office that handles sexual abuse allegations resigned last month after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances during confession. The official, the Rev Hermann Geissler, chief of staff in the Vatican’s doctrinal office, denied the allegation, the Vatican said.
An article last week in Women Church World, the women’s magazine of Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, blamed the abuse on the outsize power of priests.
“The abuse of women results in procreation and so is at the origin of the scandal of imposed abortions and children not recognised by priests,” wrote the article’s author, Lucetta Scaraffia, a feminist intellectual and editor-in-chief of Women Church World.
Asked about these developments Tuesday, Francis said that it was a continuing problem and that the Vatican was working on the issue. Some priests, he said, have been suspended.
“Should more be done? Yes,” Francis said. “Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”