ROME (AP) — The Vatican’s secretary of state is headlining an international conference on protecting children from online sexual abuse and exploitation, weeks after he recalled one of his diplomats who was caught up in a U.S.-Canadian investigation into child porn.
Organizers said the arrest warrant issued for Monsignor Carlo Capella showed the need for the conference, which opens today and ends Friday when participants bring a set of proposals to Pope Francis.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin will deliver the keynote address on “The Holy See and its commitment to combatting sex abuse online.” Panelists include leading researchers in public health, law enforcement, government as well as executives form Facebook and Microsoft — evidence of the across-the-board realization that the digital age is bringing exponential new threats to children.
“The risks are everywhere. It is not a western problem,” said the Rev. Hans Zollner, conference organizer and head of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Catholic Church’s leading research and education center on sexual abuse prevention and child protection.
Zollner cited a chilling statistic: In the coming years, it is estimated that 500 million more Indians will go online, many of them young Indians whose parents may not even have a smartphone, much less be aware of the “dark web” and the anonymous, unregulated regions of the internet where much of the traffic is related to sexual abuse.
Most of the panelists hail from the U.S. and Europe, where research into the issue of child sexual abuse is a generation ahead of other parts of the world where the issue is still so taboo it isn’t even spoken of, much less considered viable for research funding, Zollner said.
But invited guests hail from around the world, including delegations from China’s cyberspace administration, the head of the Russian internet industry association, the Saudi and UAE interior ministries, as well as a Brazilian federal judge and prosecutor, and NGOs from elsewhere in Latin America, said Ernie Allen, chair of the WeProtect global alliance.