Pope Francis confirms priests' abuse of nuns included "sexual slavery"

By Tucker Reals

/ CBS News

Nuns have suffered and are still suffering sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests and bishops, and even being held as sexual slaves, Pope Francis confirmed on Tuesday. The abuse was so severe in one case that an entire congregation of nuns was dissolved by former Pope Benedict.

The scope of the abuse of nuns by clergy members first came to light with the publication at the beginning of February of the monthly magazine "Women Church World." The edition included Francis' own take on the scandal — long known about by the Vatican but virtually never discussed — in which he blamed the unchecked power wielded by priests and higher clergy across the Catholic Church for such crimes.

An Associated Press journalist who first reported on the scandal last year asked Pope Francis on his flight home from the Arabian Peninsula on Tuesday whether enough was being done by the Church hierarchy to address the problem.

The pontiff conceded that it was a problem and said more action was needed, and insisted the will to confront the abuse was there. He stressed that the problem was not new, and that the Church has been working to address it for some time.

"It's a path that we've been on. 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," the pope conceded.

Pope seeks to "deflate" sex abuse summit expectations

A papal spokesperson confirmed later to CBS News that the order of nuns dissolved under Benedict was the Community of St. Jean in France. The reason the order was dissolved had not previously been made public.

The Saint Jean order was dissolved in 2005, the first year Pope Benedict served as the head of the Church. He stepped down and Pope Francis took over as pontiff in 2013.

"I would like to underscore that he was a man who had the courage to do many things on this topic," Pope Francis said of his predecessor on Tuesday.

The pope confirmed that the abuse of nuns was an ongoing problem, but said it was only in "certain congregations, predominantly new ones and in certain regions more than others."

While the pontiff did not provide further detail on Tuesday, nuns in India and Chile, at least, have previously reported abuse at the hands of priests.

Francis told reporters on his flight that the Catholic Church," shouldn't be scandalized by this," adding that "there are steps in a process," and "we are working on it."

Pope Francis will hold summit in 2019 on sexual abuse controversy

The Vatican's new openness in discussing the abuse of nuns comes after years of revelations about clergy abusing children, mostly boys, in their congregations across the globe, and senior clergy members covering up those crimes.

On his last flight home from an international trip, just last week, Pope Francis warned that expectations for an upcoming landmark Vatican summit on clergy sexual abuse should be "deflated," as the problem was unlikely to be resolved through it.

The pontiff's move to lower expectations was likely a disappointment to many Catholics, particularly in the U.S. where the last year has seen a string of revelations about senior church leaders covering up abuse.

First published on February 5, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tucker Reals

Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

Woman who confronted Jeff Flake going to State of the Union

Ana Maria Archila is known for confronting Jeff Flake in an elevator during the Kavanaugh hearings and telling him about her own sexual assault

updated 24M ago

Facebook messenger rolls out unsend feature

After Facebook came under fire for letting Mark Zuckerberg alter message history, it gave all users an "unsend" option

updated 31M ago

Nurse accused of assaulting patient pleads not guilty

Nathan Sutherland is accused of raping a patient at Hacienda HealthCare

updated 39M ago

New report finds no foreign interference in 2018 elections

The DOJ and DHS worked with federal, state and local officials in all 50 states and in more than 1400 local jurisdictions to safeguard the election

updated 54M ago

Boy bullied over his name going to State of the Union

The sixth grader, Joshua Trump, was bullied for his last name so much that his parents tried homeschooling

1H ago

Woman who confronted Jeff Flake going to State of the Union

Ana Maria Archila is known for confronting Jeff Flake in an elevator during the Kavanaugh hearings and telling him about her own sexual assault

updated 24M ago

New report finds no foreign interference in 2018 elections

The DOJ and DHS worked with federal, state and local officials in all 50 states and in more than 1400 local jurisdictions to safeguard the election

updated 54M ago

Boy bullied over his name going to State of the Union

The sixth grader, Joshua Trump, was bullied for his last name so much that his parents tried homeschooling

1H ago

White House responds to Trump inaugural committee subpoena

The sweeping subpoena is looking for records related to the Trump inaugural committee and donors

2H ago

The state of the facts on Trump's foreign policy

Trump's State of the Union address is likely to include the mention of some of these foreign policy challenges

2H ago

Pope says priests' abuse of nuns went as far as "sexual slavery"

Catholic leader admits sexual abuse of nuns by clergy members is still a problem but insists, "we are working on it"

updated 8M ago

Russia says it must develop new missiles as nuke treaty falls apart

Day after Moscow says it will not "strive for an arms race," Russian military announces plans for long-banned new weapons with Europe in range

1H ago

As Brexit looms, stockpiling goods hits high gear

Anticipating a split without a deal from the EU, businesses and consumers are preparing by stocking up

3H ago

How hunger is fueling Venezuela's fast-rising opposition

At least 38 countries now support opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and voices backing embattled President Nicolas Maduro are dwindling

updated 2M ago

"Where is my son?" One family's pain in the Brazil dam disaster

AP photographer documents story of a grieving mother, her family's anguish and anger at the company behind the catastrophe

6H ago

Watch the New England Patriots' Super Bowl LIII victory parade

Unlike the snowy, cold parade two years ago, Tuesday is supposed to be a beautiful day for a championship parade in Boston

2H ago

Andy Cohen welcomes baby boy via surrogate

Cohen's first child was born in Los Angeles on Monday evening

4H ago

Liam Neeson under fire for comments on race and revenge

Liam Neeson admits in an interview he once had violent thoughts about killing a black person after learning that someone close to him had been raped

3H ago

Grammy nominee H.E.R. on seeing her "vision come to life"

At 21 years old, the R&B singer-songwriter is up for five Grammy Awards including best new artist and album of the year

21H ago

Parkland dad who slammed Louis C.K. to attend State of the Union

A grieving father who responded to Louis C.K.'s jokes about the Parkland shooting with a standup routine of his own has been invited to Tuesday's State of the Union address

22H ago

What happened when I asked Alexa and Google Assistant for my data

As smart home devices become increasingly popular, concerns about data collection aren't going away

updated 46M ago

Crypto company out $137M after passwords die with owner

The founder's widow said "repeated and diligent searches" for a password have failed

13H ago

Tech investor says Facebook is "terrible for America"

"Zucked" author Roger McNamee says Facebook is a threat to democracy, public health and privacy, and makes everyone vulnerable to bad actors

Feb 4

Meteorite appears to hit Cuba

In a tweet, the National Weather Service said its radar "may have detected the meteor" at 1:21 p.m. near Viñales, Cuba

Feb 1

"Lies spread faster than truth" on social media, journalist says

The CEO of Rappler alleged the online news website has been targeted by social media disinformation campaigns after its tough reporting on the government

Feb 1

Women's brains appear "years younger" than men's, study finds

New research offers clues as to why women tend to outlive men and stay mentally sharp longer

updated 6M ago

Pot for pets? Cannabis products marketed for animals

Some animal lovers are giving the supplements a try, but experts caution they aren't necessarily a good fit for every pet

21H ago

3rd poultry firm recalls chicken on fears of tainted goods

Pilgrim's Pride recall follows Tyson and Perdue moves to stop sales of food possibly tainted with extraneous material

22H ago

Obesity-linked cancers rising for young Americans

Cancers tied to extra weight keep climbing among those aged 25 to 49, a new study finds

17H ago

Bill would eventually make Hawaii first state to ban cigarette sales

Measure would gradually raise minimum age of people allowed to buy them to 100

Feb 4

Facebook messenger rolls out unsend feature

After Facebook came under fire for letting Mark Zuckerberg alter message history, it gave all users an "unsend" option

updated 31M ago

Ban on foie gras in NYC restaurants proposed

Bill would have the Big Apple following California in outlawing delicacy that animal advocates say involves cruelty

updated 55M ago

The state of the facts on U.S. economy, taxes and more

Solid economic growth gives President Trump something to brag about in State of the Union address, though clouds hover

2H ago

As Brexit looms, stockpiling goods hits high gear

Anticipating a split without a deal from the EU, businesses and consumers are preparing by stocking up

3H ago

Super Bowl betting: Fans wager $185.5 million legally in three states

The game was the first major pro sports event to be posted on the boards of sportsbooks outside Nevada

3H ago

Nurse accused of assaulting patient pleads not guilty

Nathan Sutherland is accused of raping a patient at Hacienda HealthCare

updated 39M ago

Va. state trooper, drug suspect shot to death during home search

Authorities say suspect fired at officers who entered a home to look for drugs, killing trooper, and officers then shot suspect

5H ago

Lawsuit alleges "inhumane" conditions in cold Brooklyn jail

A lawsuit filed Monday says a weeklong power failure at a federal jail in New York City caused "inhumane conditions" for inmates

17H ago

Judge lets church shooting victims sue gun retailer

Families of those killed in the 2017 massacre in Sutherland Springs argue Academy Sport & Outdoors is liable

17H ago

Jury begins deliberations over fate of infamous drug lord El Chapo

The jury has heard months of testimony about Joaquin Guzman's rise to power as the head of the Sinaloa cartel

16H ago