Rome, October, 10th, 2017 (RV). Pope Francis received the participants in the first-ever World Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World. The Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University hosted the four-day event, which brought experts in child care, internet security, law enforcement, education, and a host of other fields together to share experiences and best practices, with a view to addressing the problem of the effective protection of the dignity of minors in the digital world.

In remarks prepared for the participants and delivered to them in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis placed the challenges facing individuals and whole societies the world, over, in the context of the struggle not only to articulate, but effectively to guarantee, the rights and dignity of every person – especially the weakest and most vulnerable, and chief among these, children and young people – on which the human family has embarked and in which the Church has been engaged especially since the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

“As representatives of various scientific disciplines and the fields of digital communications, law and political life,” Pope Francis said, “you [participants in the World Congress] have come together precisely because you realize the gravity of these challenges linked to scientific and technical progress.” He went on to say, “With great foresight, you have concentrated on what is probably the most crucial challenge for the future of the human family: the protection of young people’s dignity, their healthy development, their joy and their hope.”

Speaking specifically of the danger the proliferation of pornographic material poses in the digital age, Pope Francis said, “The spread of printed pornography in the past was a relatively small phenomenon compared to the proliferation of pornography on the net.”

Pope Francis also spoke of the painful lessons the Church has learned through her recent experience with clerical sex abuse, saying that the Church has come to acknowledge her own failures in providing for the protection of children. “[E]xtremely grave facts have come to light,” he said, “for which we have to accept our responsibility before God, before the victims and before public opinion.”

The Holy Father also discussed the pernicious effects that the so-called “mainstreaming” of pornography – not only its broad and ready availability, but also the acceptance of it by society – on adults. “We rightly insist on the gravity of these problems for minors,” he said, “but we can also underestimate or overlook the extent that they are also problems for adults.”

The participants produced a final document, The Declaration of Rome, which includes its own urgent call to action. 

Pope Francis received the Declaration from a young girl participating in the Congress, who gave it to him “on behalf of millions of young people around the world who need information and far more protection from the risks of sexual and other forms of abuse on the internet."