ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis on Tuesday publicly acknowledged the scandal of priests and bishops sexually abusing nuns and vowed to do more to fight the problem, the latest sign that there is no end in sight to the Catholic Church’s abuse crisis — and that it now has a reckoning from the #MeToo movement.
Francis admitted to the problem for the first time in public during a news conference while returning to Rome from the United Arab Emirates. The acknowledgment comes just two weeks before he hosts an unprecedented gathering of bishops to craft a global response to the scandal of priestly predators who target children and the superiors who covered up the crimes.
Francis was asked about priests who target adult women — the religious sisters who are the backbone of the Catholic Church’s education, health care and social service ministries around the globe — and whether the Holy See might consider a similar universal approach to combat that issue.
“It’s not that everyone does this, but there have been priests and bishops who have,” Francis told reporters. “And I think that it’s continuing because it’s not like once you realize it that it stops. It continues. And for some time we’ve been working on it.”
“Should we do something more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it’s a path that we have already begun,” Francis said.
Francis noted that Pope Benedict XVI had taken action against a France-based order that admitted the priest who founded it had violated his chastity vows with his female recruits. Francis said the sisters had been reduced to “sexual slavery” at the hands of the Rev. Marie-Dominique Philippe and other priests.
He said Benedict acted “because a certain slavery of women had crept in, slavery to the point of sexual slavery on the part of clergy or the founder,” he said.
Asked if any universal norms might be in the works to tackle the problem — as has been done to handle cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors — Francis implied that the priestly abuse of nuns was still being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“There are cases, usually in new congregations and in some regions more than others,” he said. “We’re working on it.”
“Pray that this goes forward,” he said of the Vatican efforts to fight it. “I want it to go forward.”