The pontiff on Tuesday said Catholic priests and bishops had been sexually abusing nuns, and that his predecessor Benedict XVI had dissolved a religious order of women because of "sexual slavery on the part of priests and the founder".
"There are some priests and also bishops who have done it", the pontiff said in response to a journalist's question on the abuse of nuns, speaking on the return flight from his trip to the United Arab Emirates.
Last week, Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, ran an article on the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy, saying that "in this a year ago many new papers have raised the veil on this tragedy, and many religious from third world countries but also more advanced countries, have begun to speak and denounce (it)".
The Church has "suspended several clerics" and the Vatican has been 'working (on the issue) for a long time, ' he said.
Although the church has been embroiled in child abuse scandals carried out by the clergy, the widespread problem of abuse within the church has been less publicised. "Are we willing? Yes", he said.
The issue was raised amid the Catholic Church's overarching scandal of the sexual abuse of minors as hundreds of clergy have been identified over the a year ago with decades-old abuses that have been covered up and the "Me Too" era awareness that women, nuns in this case, can be victims of abuse when there is an imbalance of power in the relationship.
Before he became Pope, Benedict was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that investigates sexual abuse.
Pope Francis said sexual abuse of nuns was an ongoing problem, but happened largely in "certain congregations, predominantly new ones". "It continues. And for some time we've been working on it". It also alleges that reports of priests abusing nuns in Africa were filed to the Vatican in the 1990s and that nothing was done.
"It's a cultural problem".
Last November, the organisation representing women's Catholic orders around the world denounced the "culture of silence and secrecy" that helped cover up and perpetuate abuse.
Francis said Benedict had attempted to look into the order before he become pope. On Tuesday, he spoke out about the abuse of nuns by priests.
Worse still, acccording to CNN the Vatican has downplayed expectations for a highly anticipated global meeting of bishops slated to take place in February, where they were supposed to discuss the sexual abuse scandals and formulate a global plan of attack.
The faithful greet and take photos of Pope Francis, center left, as he arrives for the weekly general audience on February 6, 2019 at Paul-VI hall in the Vatican.