Pope Francis heads to the UAE on 3 February for the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, birthplace of Islam, where he will hold an open-air mass for tens of thousands of Catholics.
Pope Francis, whose papacy has been marked by efforts to quell a global crisis over sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, said on Tuesday he was committed to stopping the abuse of nuns by priests and bishops, some of whom had used the women as sex slaves.
"If the church continues to close its eyes to the scandal - made even worse by the fact that abuse of women brings about procreation and is therefore at the origin of forced abortions and children who aren't recognised by priests - the condition of oppression of women in the church will never change", she said.
In the United States, despite years devoted to uncovering and handling cases of priestly sexual abuse by minors, members of the Church heirarchy including former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, have been accused of sexually abusing young priests and seminarians as both the Church's American leadership and the Vatican stood idly by.
Francis mentioned the case of one order of nuns in particular, in France, in which his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had tried to take action but was thwarted by Vatican insiders.
Francis admitted to the problem for the first time in public during a news conference while returning to Rome from the United Arab Emirates. "Do we have to do more? Yes".
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"It's not that everyone does this, but there have been priests and bishops who have", Francis said on his way back home from the United Arab Emirates, the Associated Press reports.
"I think it's still going on, because it's not something that just goes away like that".
He said Benedict took action against the French congregation "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. The United States' bishops conference presented a plan to tackle abuse within the heiarchy of the Church to the Vatican late a year ago, but the Pope refused to sign off on the plan, and did not allow the bishops to discuss how to proceed against abusers within their own ranks.
Francis' open acknowledgment of the issue comes amid the Catholic Church's reckoning with sexual abuse that has persisted unaddressed and covered up for decades. Yes", Francis said. "Is there the will? Yes.
The nuns recently asked the chief minister of Kerala to intervene on their behalf, after they say church officials ordered them to leave the state. "We are working on it".