The pope made his surprisingly frank comments at a question-and-answer session with young people from around the globe at the Vatican, Reuters reports. The group came to Rome to prepare for a bishops’ meeting scheduled for October.
His comments came in response to questions he was asked about the number of prostitutes on the streets of Rome who were Catholic and whether it was a sign that the church was too chauvinistic to be truthful with itself about the matter.
“I ask myself and I ask you, is it possible for a Church that is still too male chauvinist to be able to question itself truthfully about this high demand by clients?” a Nigerian woman asked the pope. Blessing Okoedion is a Nigerian woman, 32, who wa once a victim of human sexual trafficking.
“I would like to take advantage of this moment to ask forgiveness from you (exploited women) and society for all the Catholics who carry out this criminal act,” the pope responded to her.
“I think of the disgust these girls must feel when men make them do these things,” he said.
He admitted that in Italy at least 90 percent of the male clients of prostitutes were baptized Catholics.
The pontiff further told the gathering of some 300 delegates at a university in Rome that the sexual exploitation of women stemmed from a “sick mentality” embedded within people. He said that feminism had not yet been able to root it and called on the young people to fight against.
“(It says) women are to be exploited in one way or another. And that is what explains this … it is a sickness of humanity, a sickness of looking at society in a certain way, a crime against humanity,” he said.
He went on to call visiting a prostitute a crime, and said that visiting a prostitute could not be considered harmless.
“Who does this is a criminal. This is not making love, this is torturing a woman. Let’s not confuse terms. This is criminal, a sick mentality,” he said.
Delegates were not afraid to soften their words with the pope.
“There is a tendency in the Church to avoid matters that are not-so-easy to talk about. This includes same-sex marriage, our sexuality, and also, the role of women in the Church,” Angela Markas of Australia, 22, told the pope.
Former Irish President Mary McAleese led a group of Catholic women earlier this month, who called on the pope to tear down the church’s “walls of misogyny” and create greater space for women within decision-making roles in the Church.