Pope Francis today made an apology for the harm done to children by priests who have committed sexual abuse. He spoke of this evil during an address to the International Catholic Child Bureau this morning.
The International Catholic Child Bureau, also known as BICE, is an NGO that protects children’s rights and fights against ill-treatment of children. The mission of this French non-profit, which was founded in 1948 and is active in 66 countries, is “to defend the rights and dignity of the child worldwide.”
Welcoming BICE to the Vatican, Pope Francis thanked them for their efforts in favor of children. “I like to say that, in a well constituted society, privileges should be only for children and the elderly,” he said, “because the future of a people is in their hands. The children because they certainly will carry force in face of history, and the elderly because they are the seat of wisdom of a people and they must contribute that wisdom.”
The Holy Father went on to say, “BICE was born of the maternity of the Church.” Francis explained that it had its origin after World War II had ended, when Pope Pius XII intervened in defense of children. Francis underscored that the organization has “always been committed to promoting the defense of the rights of minors, contributing also to the United Nations Convention of 1989.”
Speaking of the sexual abuse of minors by priests, he said he felt “called up to take charge of all the evil that some priests — quite a few, quite a few in number, not in comparison with the totality — to take charge and ask for forgiveness for the harm they have done because of sexual abuses of children.”
“The Church is conscious of this harm, which is a personal, moral harm of their own, but men of the Church. And we are not going to take a step back in regard to the treatment of these problems and of the sanctions that must be in place; on the contrary, I think we must be very strong; one does not fool around with children.”
He also emphasized that there must be projects that fight against slave labor, against recruiting child solders, and against any violence toward children.
Child’s right to mom and dad
Francis also discussed the role of family as necessary for child development, saying “it is necessary to reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family, with a father and a mother capable of creating an ideal environment for their development and emotional maturity.”
Putting emphasis on parents supporting religious and moral education of children, Pope Francis went an extra step in providing visual examples to explain his rejection of educational experiments with children.
He said, “I would like to express my rejection of all types of educational experiments with children. One cannot experiment with children and young people. They are not laboratory guinea-pigs. The horrors of educational manipulation that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the 20th century have not disappeared; they keep their currency under different clothing that, with the pretension of modernity, force children and young people to walk on the dictatorial path of the “single thought.”
He then honed in on working for human rights. He emphasized what it takes to be able to respond to problems and difficulties posed by society and the common mentalities which are spread through social communication. He said what working for human rights is and what it is not.
“Obviously, it is not about huddling up in protective shelters which today are incapable of giving life, which depend on cultures that are already passed. No, not that! That’s wrong! But it is to confront with the positive values of the human person the new challenges that the new cultures bring us.”
Concluding his address, Pope Francis emphasized the planning of educational projects. He acknowledged they “have to progress, have to mature, have to adapt to the signs of the times, always respecting human identity and liberty of conscience.”
After again thanking BICE’s leaders for their good work, the Holy Father pointed out the logo of the Commission for the Protection of Childhood and Adolescence in Buenos Aires, Argentina: “Sometimes one has to escape to defend. Sometimes one has to stay and protect. Sometimes one has to fight, but one must always have tenderness.” (D.C.L.)
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