Statement on Child Dignity in the Digital World

By Terence McKiernan, President of
October 5, 2017

The Vatican conference on Child Dignity in the Digital World has just concluded its speeches and workshops. There will be a reception this evening, and then a papal audience tomorrow, during which the conference’s Final Declaration will be presented to Pope Francis.

During the conference, Msgr. Carlo Capella has been the elephant in the room. The Vatican diplomat is the subject of an international child pornography investigation, yet he is being harbored by the Vatican while the conference about child abuse images/child pornography and related problems proceeds.

To my knowledge, none of the participants has confronted the ironies of this situation, certainly not Cardinal Pietro Parolin. He dealt briefly with the “very painful” matter of Msgr. Capella before the conference, and then in his keynote address invoked the “tragic reality” and “extremely grave facts” of the Catholic abuse crisis, mentioning them as qualifications for the Vatican’s hosting the conference: “We want to share the experience we have acquired.”

Cardinal Parolin went on to cite the Holy See’s “adherence” to the Convention for the Rights of the Child. Yet in its Concluding Observations (2014), the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated:

“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, nor taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have enabled the continuation of sexual abuse by clerics and impunity for the perpetrators.” (para. 43)

The concerns that the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed are ongoing, and the case of Msgr. Carlo Capella is by no means unique. Many priests have been convicted of possessing and trading in child abuse images, and many clerical abusers have photographed their victims, partly to memorialize the abuse and share it – even profit from it – and partly to menace their victims.

The recent child pornography cases of Archbishop Józef Wesołowski, Bishop Raymond J. Lahey, and Bishop Robert W. Finn’s handling of Father Shawn F. Ratigan, all show that the Catholic church has ongoing and serious problems with the digitally enabled abuse of children.

It is astonishing that those problems were not only swept under the rug at this conference, but treated as qualifications for sponsoring the event. Much better if the conference had been devoted to examining honestly the Catholic church’s own “tragic experience” with child abuse images and the digital harming of children.


Founded in 2003, maintains the world’s largest archive of documents on the problem of clergy sexual abuse, outside the Holy See’s own archives. We conduct research on child abuse by priests and religious and on the management of those cases by bishops and their staffs, superiors of religious orders, and the Holy See. An independent non-profit based in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, is not a victims' advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims' organization.























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