Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The Vatican on Wednesday clarified statements by Pope Francis concerning the "sexual slavery" of nuns by a French order, saying he was referring to the abuse of power that is also present in cases of sexual abuse.
"When the Holy Father, referring to the dissolution of a Congregation, spoke of 'sexual slavery,' he meant 'manipulation,' a form of abuse of power which is reflected also in sexual abuse," said Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti, CNN Reported.
The pontiff's comments on Tuesday to reporters on his return from the United Arab Emirates to the Vatican after a historic trip to the largely Muslim country were the first time he has addressed the issue of sexual abuse against nuns by priests, calling the attacks a larger "cultural problem."
"There have been priests and also bishops who have done that, and I believe that it may still be being done," Francis said of the sexual assault of nuns. "It's not a thing that from the moment in which you realize it, it's over. The thing goes forward like this. We've been working on this for a long time."
"Pope Benedict had the courage to dissolve a women's congregation that had a certain level because this slavery of women had entered, even sexual slavery, by clerics or by the founder," the pontiff said.
The International Union of Superiors General, which represents female Catholic religious orders around the world, denounced in November what it called the "culture of silence and secrecy" in the church that kept nuns from speaking about abuse.
The Vatican newspaper's women's magazine, L'Osservatore Romano, last week blamed the all-male clergy for the crisis. Women Church World magazine reported allegations that some nuns were forced to have abortions after abuse by priests. Abortions are against Catholic teachings and the practice is considered a sin.
Francis said some priests have already been suspended and charges are being handled on a case-by-case basis. The pope added the mistreatment of nuns is part of a larger issue of women being treated as "second-class citizens."