The Vatican secretary of state urged law enforcement agencies, governments and social media sites on Tuesday to take responsibility to protect children from online sexual abuse and exploitation — a statement that came even as one of his diplomats is caught up in an international child porn investigation.
Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the case of Monsignor Carlo Capella was "very painful" for all involved.
Parolin said the Vatican was treating the Capella case with "utmost concern, utmost commitment" but also confidentiality to protect the integrity of the investigation. He spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a Catholic Church-sponsored conference on protecting children from online threats.
Police in Windsor, Ont., said last week that Capella, 50, allegedly uploaded child porn to a social networking site while visiting a place of worship in the city between Dec. 24 and Dec. 27.
Capella is accused of accessing, possessing and distributing child pornography. Windsor police said they were alerted in February that someone in the city had allegedly uploaded child porn using a social networking site.
They obtained records of the internet service provider and determined the dates in question. Windsor police issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Capella, though it noted that he had returned to Italy.
The Vatican recalled Capella, the No. 4 official in its Washington embassy, after the U.S. State Department notified it Aug. 21 of a "possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images" by one of its diplomats in Washington.
Parolin — Capella's boss — headlined the opening of the four-day conference on protecting children online that has drawn leading researchers in public health, Interpol, the U.N., government representatives as well as executives from Facebook and Microsoft.
The conference ends Friday with proposals being presented to Pope Francis.
"How can we stop these terrorist attacks on the hearts of children?" - Rev. Hans Zollner, Center for Child Protection
Parolin urged participants to "regain control of the development of the digital world" to make sure children are protected, saying companies that promote and drive the digital world have a particular responsibility.
"This congress must take responsibility for those minors at the world's 'peripheries' of which Pope Francis continually speaks," Parolin said. "(They) are the preferred target of networks of exploitation and of organized online violence."
Participants offered sobering statistics about the problem. Last year, Interpol identified five child victims of online abuse every day. Also last year, the Internet Watch Foundation identified more than 57,000 websites containing child sexual abuse images.
Sixty per cent of all that material online is hosted in Europe, said Ernesto Caffo, who founded the Italian group Telefono Azzurro, which tracks online child abuse.
The conference is addressing both the harm done to children who are abused in child porn and the effects on children's development from being exposed to online pornography.
"How can we stop these terrorist attacks on the hearts of children?" asked the Rev. Hans Zollner, the conference organizer and head of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University.