In this June 8, 2014 file photo, Pope Francis is flanked by Israel's President Shimon Peres, right, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during an evening of peace prayers in the Vatican gardens. Credit: Gregorio Borgia | AP

Pope Francis has acknowledged for the first time that members of the Catholic clergy abused nuns, adding to a string of recent allegations about widespread sexual abuse by priests and coverups by the church hierarchy.

“It’s not that everyone does this, but there have been priests and bishops who have,” Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The wire service and other outlets had reported on allegations of nun abuse over the past year, but the pontiff had not previously confirmed that such abuse took place.

Francis is due to host a gathering of senior bishops in two weeks to address the sexual-assault allegations and their superiors’ roles in keeping them secret. The Post’s Stefano Pitrelli and Chico Harlan wrote in September, when the meeting was announced, that the meeting “is believed to be unprecedented, indicating that the church recognizes that clergy sex abuse is a global problem — even in countries where the church maintains strong social power and cases have not come to light in great numbers.”

“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them,” Francis wrote in a letter to U.S. bishops last month. “This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful.”

Asked whether he would take a similarly broad approach to tackling the abuse of nuns, Francis signaled that he would. “Should we do something more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it’s a path that we have already begun,” he said, the AP reported.

Francis has been criticized in the past for his handling of sexual-abuse allegations. In January 2018, he dismissed accusations that Chilean bishop Juan Barros had covered up sexual abuse committed there by a priest named Fernando Karadima. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?” the pope said at the time. He later apologized and dispatched investigators to Chile but did not condemn Barros.

Some are also dissatisfied by what they consider a slow Vatican response to major sexual-abuse scandals that broke in other countries, including Australia and the United States.

“The church remains quiet about its investigations and disciplinary procedures,” Harlan reported last year. “It does not release any data on the inquiries it has carried out. A proposed tribunal for judging bishops accused of negligence or coverup was quashed by the Vatican department that was supposed to help implement it. And, rather than being fired and publicly admonished, offending church leaders are typically allowed to resign without explanation.”