Protection of minors a global mission

It is important to restore the credibility of the Catholic community as an educator and reliable guide

Mar 01, 2019

By Fr Federico Lombardi SJ
In a gradually globalising world, awareness of the need to protect minors found its expression in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was approved by the United Nations Assembly (1959), and later in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), signed over time by 196 countries (practically every nation, except for the United States).

Article 3 solemnly states: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
Firmly convinced of the dignity of every human person created in the image of God and aware of Jesus’ privileged attention for the smallest and weakest, the Holy See adhered to the Convention on the Rights of the Child as early as 1990. It has committed to implementing its provisions within the territory of the Vatican City State, as well as on those who directly fall under its jurisdiction, that is, the officials of the Roman Curia and diplomatic personnel.

Outside this limited geographical territory, the Holy See disseminates principles recognised in the Convention to all states and to all people of goodwill so that, within their own nations and jurisdictions, they can strengthen their own laws and operational norms for the protection of children. In fact, the Social Doctrine of the Church strongly points out that the dignity and rights of children must be legally protected within judicial systems as extremely valuable assets for the entire human family.

Unfortunately, data available on the problem of violence against children collected by various organiz\sations and institutions is still very limited and is generally to be considered as underestimated, because many cases are not reported. An interesting issue in studying violence against children is that it is now clear that “official” reports are unreliable, and those based on personal testimonies must be taken into consideration.

However, a group of American pediatricians, making use of 38 quality reports on 96 countries, prepared an interesting study to assess in a reliable way the global situation of violence against children over a one-year time span. There were six main forms of violence taken into consideration: maltreatment; bullying and cyberbullying; youth violence; intimate violence between partners and domestic violence; sexual violence (including online traffic and exploitation); emotional or psychological violence.

The results are striking: over half of the world’s children — over one billion, aged 2-17 — had suffered violence in the past year. The World Health Organisation has referred to this situation in its information.

Believers, especially faith educators, think that they have to enter into the depths of each soul and heart in order to help people find the meaning of their life, the keys to the joy in life, their meeting with God. How is it possible to achieve this without the greatest and purest respect for the dignity and beauty of God’s creatures, their rich feelings and their intense emotions, which find in sexuality one of their most effective dimensions? So how should we be, in order to help children grow?

Today, it is important to restore the credibility of the Church community as an educator, an authoritative and reliable guide and companion of the growth of human persons created and loved by God. This credibility needs to be restored not only at the level of external acceptability but at the far more radical one of the inner passion for the service of the other, the discernment of the roots of evil in order to effectively combat and extirpate these roots.

Above all, this is true for those who bear greater religious and moral responsibilities so that they may become worthy servants of others. In this way the Catholic Church will be able to resume its task with confidence, its mission of serving humanity in our time. 

-- Fr Federico Lombardi SJ was a moderator of plenary sessions at the Vatican meeting on protecting minors from sexual abuse Feb 21-24. This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in La Civilta Cattolica.

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