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Pope Francis Acknowledges Sexual Abuse Of Nuns


Pope Francis has acknowledged that the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops is a longstanding problem and that it still happens. The pope made these remarks during a press conference on his plane as he was flying back to Rome from the United Arab Emirates. And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has more.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: For years, cases of abuse of women in the church have long been known. The problem persists particularly in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Italy. And yet church authorities have rarely addressed the issue publicly. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, a #NunsToo movement has emerged, and the issue has been more widely reported. Last week, even the women's magazine of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported on nuns having abortions or giving birth to children fathered by priests or bishops. Asked about that by a reporter, for the first time, the pope acknowledged what has long been an open secret.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) There are priests and even bishops who have done that. And I believe it still happens because something doesn't stop just because you have become aware of it.

POGGIOLI: Just last month, a top official in the Vatican doctrinal office that handles allegations of clerical sex abuse resigned after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances during confession. And Francis acknowledged Tuesday that some priests have been suspended because of such abuse of women in the church.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) Should something more be done? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it is a path that we already began.

POGGIOLI: Francis pointed to his predecessor, whom he called a strong man.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) Pope Benedict had the courage to shut down a women's religious order because nuns had been reduced to slaves - even sex slaves by priests.

POGGIOLI: He did not name the order, but a Vatican spokesman said it was the French order Contemplative Sisters of Saint-Jean. Francis stressed that abuse of women is a persistent problem for society at large.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) I dare say that humanity has not yet matured. Women are treated as second class. It is a cultural problem. There are even countries where mistreatment of women reaches the point of femicide.

POGGIOLI: Last November, the International Union of Superiors General, the organization that represents the world's female Catholic religious orders, urged sisters to report abuse - publicly denouncing the culture of silence and secrecy that prevented nuns from speaking out. In the article last week in the magazine Women Church World, the editor, Catholic feminist Lucetta Scaraffia, pinned blame for the abuse of women in the church on the culture of clericalism that dominates in the Catholic Church - the same power dynamic that is seen as the main culprit for the continuing revelations of clerical sex abuse of minors around the globe. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF POPPY ACKROYD'S "RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.