ROME—Defying those who claim politics is not the province of the Church, Pope Francis on Friday said that the institution has “the duty to get involved with the ‘greater’ politics.”
“Politics is one of the highest forms of love and of charity,” the pope said, quoting one of his predecessors, Paul VI.
The Church, he continued, is also called to be faithful to people, even more so when situations where “open wounds and dramatic suffering are present, and where values, ethics, social sciences and faith are involved.”
Speaking at a Vatican-sponsored summit of judges, prosecutors and magistrates from around the world gathered to forge a commitment to eradicating human trafficking, Francis also said that ending modern day slavery, such as forced labor, prostitution, drug trade and organized crime, has to be a priority.
“As my predecessor Benedict XVI said, and I’ve affirmed it myself on several occasions, these are real crimes against humanity that should be recognised as such by all religious, political and social leaders — and reflected in national and international laws,” he said.
Speaking specifically to judges and prosecutors, Francis said they have an “irreplaceable mission” in facing the challenges produced by the “globalization of indifference.”
“Today being a judge, being a prosecutor, is risking your skin, and this deserves recognition, to encourage those who want to remain free in the exercise of their legal function,” Francis said after saying the legal system often faces pressures from governments, private institutions and “naturally, of structures of sin, particularly organized crime.”
“Without this freedom, a nation’s judiciary is corrupted and corrupting,” he said. “We all know the caricature of justice blindfolded, with the blindfold falling and covering her mouth.”
Francis also said that “justice” doesn’t simply mean punishment, but penalties given for the re-education of those responsible, so that they can hope for reintegration into society: “No penalty that doesn’t give hope is valid. If it doesn’t give hope, it’s torture.”
Here, he “forcefully reiterated” the Church’s position against the death penalty, joking that the Middle Ages theology that gave room for it within Catholicism has been overcome.
“Let it be God who chooses when the time has come,” he said.
Praising women, he said that his personal experience shows that prisons run by women are better at rehabilitation.
“This is not feminism … Women have a special touch in this thing of reinsertion,” he said.
But above all, he said, judges are called to help the victims, so they too can be reintegrated into society.
“They have fallen into the trap of the new slave hunters,” Francis said, adding that many were sold by their own families: “they were promised a spouse but end up being sold instead into the forced labour and prostitution market or selling them into the organ trade..”
The adage of “this has been happening since the world began” is not valid, he said.
The pope’s participation in the conference is part of a broader Vatican campaign to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery, an industry that affects 46 million people around the world. In 2014 the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences had a similar meeting for religious leaders, and in 2015 for mayors of some of the world’s most important cities.
At the end of his address, Francis and the participants of the Vatican-organized conference signed a 10-point declaration calling human trafficking a “crime against humanity” which, they say, should be prosecuted as such.
The declaration also pledges for an increase in international cooperation in the prosecution of traffickers and sex trade consumers. It also calls for a better support system for victims, including temporary residence permits.
Statistics show that today, more people than ever before are being trafficked, to be sold, bonded, traded, raped, and the numbers are on the rise.
Observers have pointed out that the global migration of people fleeing unstable environments, war and persecution increases the number of people at risk, not only among the refugees arriving to Europe, but also the thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America migrating north.
The June 3-4 event was put together by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, headed by Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo.
In his opening remarks Friday morning, Sanchez Sorondo said it’s “urgent” to fight human trafficking because this is a practice that “destroys the dignity of those suffering it, without distinguishing sex, age, ethnic origin or social condition.”
Participants came from over 20 countries, including the United States, Japan, England, Italy, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and Australia.
Gustavo Vera, a congressman from Argentina who’s long been fighting against the commerce in people arm in arm with Francis, back when the pontiff was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, insisted there would be no trafficking nor systemic organized crime without the “complicity of the state.”
Alison Saunders, British director of public prosecutions, spoke of a “shift in the profile of victims” in the past two years, with more adult men, rather than women, falling victims of forced labor in England, when traditionally women forced into prostitution represented the most affected.
“It’s important that prosecutors understand the changing trend,” so they are able to recognize what a victim of human trafficking looks like, she said.
“We can’t accept human trafficking, and we cannot combat it without addressing the root causes which are injustice and inequality” said Jonas Christoffersen, Executive Director of Denmark’s National Human Rights Institution.
Echoing Francis, he said that modern day slavery can’t be overcome without sustainable development.
“The pressing reality is that none of us can make the world sustainable, cooperative, just, equal, and human rights compliant,” he said. “That’s depressing sometimes.”
The uplifting reality, he added, is that everyone can help build a just and sustainable world by helping a neighbor, giving to a charity or speaking up.
“Isn’t that all we should do? Just do a little more. If we all do a little more, a lot of people would have basically done a lot more,” Christoffersen concluded.