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VATICAN CITY—The Vatican on Wednesday clarified comments by Pope Francis about a case of what he called "sexual slavery" within a French congregation of nuns, saying he was referring to an abuse of power that was reflected in instances of sexual abuse.

Francis cited the case when responding to a question about the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy during a press conference Tuesday returning home from the United Arab Emirates. It was the pope's first-ever public acknowledgment of the problem of priests and bishops sexually abusing nuns. He stressed that the Vatican had been confronting the issue for some time and vowed to do more.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Wednesday Francis "spoke of 'sexual slavery' to mean 'manipulation' or a type of abuse of power that is reflected in a sexual abuse."

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