(BBC) – Pope Francis has admitted that clerics have sexually abused nuns, and in one case they were kept as sex slaves.
He said in that case his predecessor, Pope Benedict, was forced to shut down an entire congregation of nuns who were being abused by priests.
It is thought to be the first time that Pope Francis has acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by the clergy.
He said the Church was attempting to address the problem but said it was “still going on”.
Last November, the Catholic Church’s global organisation for nuns denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” that prevented them from speaking out.
The Pope’s comments come amid long-running allegations of sexual abuse of children and young men by priests at the Church.
Speaking to reporters while on a historic tour of the Middle East on Tuesday, the pontiff admitted that the Church had an issue, the roots of which lie in “seeing women as second class”.
He said that priests and bishops had abused nuns, but said the Church was aware of the “scandal” and was “working on it”, adding that a number of clerics had been suspended.
“It’s a path that we’ve been on,” he said.
“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.”
Pope Francis said sexual abuse of nuns was an ongoing problem, but happened largely in “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.”