Pope Francis says Monday, for the first time, nuns were abused by priests and bishops in Africa, India, Central America and Italy.
Pope Francis says Monday, for the first time, nuns were abused by priests and bishops in Africa, India, Central America and Italy.

Pope Francis has acknowledged for the first time the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.

The women's supplement to the Vatican newspaper printed a story in its February issue on the abuse of women religious, including being used as sex slaves.

Asked about it, Pope Francissaid, "It's true, it's a problem," especially in some newer Catholic communities and congregations.

"There have been priests and even bishops who have done that," the pope said while onboard the Papal Flight after his historic flight to Abu Dhabi this weekend. "And I would guess that it still happens today, because it is not something that ends just because people know about it."

"We have been working on this for a while," Pope Francis said. "We have suspended some priests, sent them away for this, and -- I'm not sure if the whole process had been completed -- but we also have dissolved a few women's religious congregations," newer ones, where corruption and sexual abuse were found.

"Must more be done? Yes," he said.

More nuns, encouraged by the International Union of Superiors General, that represents over 500,000 Catholic Sisters, have talked about being abused by priests and bishops. The abuse reportedly happened in India, Africa, Chile and Italy.

The Catholic Church owes much to the "courage" of then-Pope Benedict XVI for beginning to tackle the problem, Pope Francis told reporters. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tried to investigate a congregation where women were allegedly being abused, he said, but the investigation was blocked.

Pope Francis did not provide more details, but said that as soon as Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, he called for the files he had compiled and began again.

The now-retired pope, he said, dissolved a congregation "because the slavery of women, including sexual slavery, had become part of it."

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said the dissolved congregation was the Sisters of Israel and St. John; he would not provide information about who initially blocked then-Cardinal Ratzinger's investigation.

Catholic News Service and Wire reports