Speaking about the urgency of protecting children in global affairs, the Vatican foreign minister told the United Nations on Monday that the Catholic Church “is committed” to addressing the “heinous scourge of sexual abuse.”

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, was addressing the UN General Assembly in New York to mark the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Vatican – known as the “Holy See” – is an observer state at the United Nations, and Gallagher has been participating in a series of events of the past week marking the opening of the 73rd Session of the General Assembly.

On Monday, Gallagher said it was “scandalous” that human rights continue to be violated decades after the adoption of the document by the international community.

“In particular, it is urgent to promote the protection of children today, as children are regularly victims of armed conflict, violence, various forms of exploitation and abuse, and are exposed to hunger and extreme poverty. The way we care for every child shows the depth of our humanity and of our appreciation for the dignity and rights of every person,” the archbishop said.

“For its part, the Catholic Church, at all levels, is committed not only to promoting the protection of children, but also to creating safe environments for them in its own institutions, in order to address the heinous scourge of sexual abuse and violence against children,” he continued.

Gallagher also told the world body that the Vatican is especially concerned about the “increasingly narrow interpretation of the right to life,” noting this is true both on the national level and at the level of international institutions.

“That tendency is particularly apparent within a current of the human rights discourse that refuses to recognize the inherent value and dignity of human life at every stage of its beginning, development and end. That approach seeks to create a hierarchy of human rights, by relativizing human dignity, assigning more value and even rights to the strong and healthy, while discarding the weak,” the archbishop said.

“That ideology, unfortunately present in various parts of the UN human rights system, leads to some grave inequalities and injustices, often ignoring children in the womb and treating the lives of the elderly and persons with disabilities, as expendable or indeed as a burden to society,” he continued.

Gallagher said the Vatican “reaffirms that the quality of a civilization, depends also on how it treats the weakest, the indigent, the elderly, the person with disability, and by the place it gives them in community life.”

The Vatican diplomat also encouraged the international community’s efforts to deal with the worst migration crisis since the end of World War 2, and called on international agreements to “respect migrants’ and refugees’ rights and dignity in a spirit of international solidarity while recognizing the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy in light of their obligations under international law.”

Gallagher noted it was the anniversary of the end of World War 1, and said armed conflict can only be prevented by “promoting and protecting the dignity of every human life and by fostering a culture of peace animated by sincere mutual respect, dialogue and solidarity.”

“The pursuit of peace requires renouncing violence to vindicate one’s rights, since countering violence with violence leads to more death and destruction, deeper resentment and hatred lasting for decades, atrocities and forced mass migrations and the diversion of vast amounts of resources from development to military ends,” the archbishop said. “Fostering a culture of peace likewise entails intensifying our efforts toward disarmament and disowning the use of force in the conduct of international affairs. Every effort in this direction, however modest, helps to build a culture of peace.”

Gallagher also told the General Assembly that peace requires forgiveness.

“Forgiveness is not opposed to justice but it is rather its fulfilment, since it leads to the healing of the wounds that fester in human hearts while acknowledging the evil that has been committed. A culture of peace involves therefore the courageous choice of not allowing the wounds of the past to bleed into the present so that we can walk together towards reconciliation,” he said.