Protect Children from All Abuses, Pope Says
By Philip Pullella
Reuters AlertNet [Vatican City]
January 29, 2004
VATICAN CITY, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Pope John Paul, whose Church is still reeling from a big sexual abuse scandal in the United States, on Thursday urged Catholics to defend children against all forms of exploitation and violence by adults.
The 83-year-old pope chose children as the theme for Catholic reflection during the 40-day season of Lent, which begins this year on February 25 and ends on Easter Sunday.
"There are young people who have been profoundly hurt by the violence of adults: sexual abuse, forced prostitution, involvement in the sale and use of drugs ...," he said in a message for Lent.
The scandal in the United States exploded two years ago with revelations of a cover-up of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston that led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law.
Law was accused of failing to act on evidence that priests were abusing children. The church covered up the facts and allowed offenders to be transferred to new parishes, where they continued to victimise children.
The crisis quickly spread to other dioceses, leading to the suspension of hundreds of priests and the resignation of several bishops. Last September, the Boston archdiocese offered $85 million to settle the claims of some 500 victims.
In his message, the pope did not specifically mention the scandal in the United States, where last month the Church claimed major progress in compliance with a charter to prevent abuse and deal with misconduct. Victims dismissed the results.
The pope included in his list of abuses "children forced to work or enlisted for combat; young children scarred forever by the breakup of the family, little ones caught up in the obscene trafficking of organs and persons." Earlier this month, the human rights group Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said there had been "a massive increase in recruitment" in 2003."
It identified 18 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East where child soldier issues loomed as human rights abuses in an armed conflict or its aftermath.
Children were being used as soldiers, sex slaves, labourers and spies, according to the report.
The pope also said Catholics had to devote greater attention to "the tragedy of AIDS and its devastating consequences in Africa," especially children affected by the disease.
According to the United Nations, 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, including an estimated 2.5 million children under 15 years old. About five million people were infected in 2003 and more than three million died.
The Catholic Church runs many programmes for AIDS victims throughout Africa but has been criticised for its opposition to condoms to stop the spread of the disease.
At the news conference presenting the pope's message, Archbishop Joseph Cordes, head of the Vatican's charity arm Cor Unum, said public pressure should be put on pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of AIDS medicines in Africa.
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