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Vatican denies abuse of nuns is epidemic
    The Vatican on Tuesday denied a report in a US Catholic newspaper that sexual abuse of nuns by priests - especially in AIDS-ravaged Africa - is a serious problem.
    The article in the National Catholic Reporter is based on five reports compiled by senior members of women's religious orders and a priest and dating to 1994.
    Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls acknowledged there were isolated cases of priests sexually abusing nuns, but said the problem is "restricted to a limited geographic area."
    According to the National Catholic Reporter, priests afraid of contracting AIDS sometimes turn to young nuns, who are seen as safe sexual partners.
    "In a few extreme instances, according to the documentation, priests have impregnated nuns, then encouraged them to have abortions," the paper said.
    The Vatican statement was issued Tuesday after the Italian media reported on the article. The Vatican had refused comment to the National Catholic Reporter.
    Fr Bernardo Cervellera, director of Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm, said celibacy has always been a struggle for some priests, but he was surprised at the accounts of sexual abuse.
    "I was a missionary for 25 years and I never encountered such a problem," he said. "Instead, I found priests and nuns who gave themselves wholly to people with leprosy, with AIDS ... priests and nuns who live their love for Christ."