Parolin's focus on social peripheries echo remarks from Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, president of the CCP and a member of Pope Francis' commission for protecting minors.
In a briefing with journalists Oct. 2, the day before the conference began, Zollner said the issues of child abuse and protection, widely spoken about in Western nations, are also of major concern for developing nations.
He said the problem “is everywhere and the risks are everywhere,” he said. “It is not a Western problem, although in many parts of the world, 75% of countries in this world, issues of child sexual abuse have not reached the level of discussion in Anglo and Western- European countries.”
On the opening night of the conference, the panel of speakers was preceded by a powerful video in which minors who have been abused either online or in person shared their stories, detailing instances of online bullying, body-shaming, sexual exploitation and pornography addiction.
The stories depicted included a 17-year-old girl who committed suicide after explicit videos of her, taken by a boyfriend, were posted online. Other stories were that of a young Filipino boy who fell victim to a sex-trafficking ring, and that of a 10-year-old boy who, despite feeling shame, became addicted to pornography.
In his opening remarks, Zollner said that “stories such as these are why were are gathered here.”
“We have listened to stories of victims, and now we are here to talk about hope,” he said, explaining that he has “conflicting emotions” about the conference. While he has a “somber feeling” due to the topic of discussion, the priest said he also has a “hopeful feeling” when he looks at the faces present in the audience and the various areas they represent.
Referring to the stories shared in the video, Zollner asked “how can we stop these terror attacks on the heart of the child?”
One thing is certain in the process, he said, which is that “there is not one single medicine that will fix it all.” Rather, “it is a combination of threads that weave this safety net,” and the threads are people.
According to statistics given by the panel of speakers, in Europe alone there are currently some 30,000 websites that portray children being sexually abused.
Several experts reported that in 2013 alone, 18 million children were sexually abused, amounting to roughly 30 percent of Europe's children. Numbers given by Interpol for 2016 show that at least 5 children fall victim to sexual abuse online per day.
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In his speech, Parolin also emphasized the need to form networks, reiterating concern that the sexual abuse of minors is “an immensely vast and widespread phenomenon.”
Over the past few decades, the reality of child sexual abuse within the Church has become more apparent, as “very serious facts have emerged,” he said. Parolin explained that as facts emerged, the Church became aware of the damage done to victims, and the need to provide “a new culture of child protection” which “effectively guarantees their growth in safe and secure environments.”
“This is a commitment that requires deep human attention, competence and consistency,” he said, adding that the efforts made must continue to “expand and deepen” with clarity and firm commitment.
Attention is necessary, he said, “so that the dignity and rights of minors are protected and defended with much more attention and effectiveness that has been done in the past.”
He noted that “the scourge of offenses against the dignity of minors” now “spreads and aligns itself within the new parameters of the digital world.”
“This plague meanders and infiltrates along a labyrinth of paths and through deep, hidden layers of reality,” he said, stressing that the digital world is not “a separate part of the world,” but an integral part “of a unique reality of the world.”