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Expert ‘shocked’ at lack of awareness about online abuse

October 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Oct 9, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At the close of a Rome conference on child protection online, a leading expert in the field said that while the statistics are well-known, he was surprised by the lack of awareness about the problem.

He added that all sectors of society need to take a more pro-active approach to the difficulty.

“If you study this field and if you work in it, you know about the numbers. I am more amazed about the lack of realization in many people about the scale of the problem about which we speak,” Fr. Hans Zollner SJ told CNA Oct. 7.

President of the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center of Child Protection (CCP) and a member of Pope Francis’ commission for the protection of minors, spoke to CNA at the close of a four-day conference on “Child Dignity in the Digital World.”

Organized by the CCP in collaboration with the UK-based global alliance WePROTECT and the organization “Telefono Azzurro,” which is the first Italian helpline for children at risk, the conference took place Oct. 3-6 in Rome and was the first of its kind on a global scale addressing the issue of online safety.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin opened the conference on day one, and other participants include social scientists, civic leaders, and religious representatives. Discussion points include prevention of abuse, pornography, the responsibility of internet providers and the media, and ethical governance.

In his comments to CNA, Zollner noted that the European Union currently has a campaign called “One in Five,” referring to the fact that one in five young people in Europe has, at some point, been sexually abused.

“If you realize, if you think a little bit, I’m shocked, so I don’t know why the existential and the psychological harm that is done does not really translate into concrete political action to counteract this,” he said.

“(It’s) for me one of the mysteries that I can’t explain” other than perhaps “it’s too big, it’s too shocking, so you put it away because nobody can deal with it,” he said. “So we need to start dealing with it step by step, and bringing down the numbers of those who have been harmed.”

Zollner also touched on what he believes were the main takeaways of the conference, the role of both the Church and society at large in safeguarding from online exploitation, and action points for the future, which he said need to have a more “preventative approach.”

Please read below for CNA’s interview with Fr. Zollner, edited for length and clarity:

What, for you, are some of your impressions after the conference? How do you think it went? What are some of the highlights?

I’m really amazed and I’m very happy because this conference was the first of its kind in bringing people together of different areas, of different levels of responsibility in society, in business, on the internet, social media corporations, different religion and so forth. So it was the first of its kind and it went very well, I heard it from I believe every single person who participated, because it was not sectoral. On other occasions we would have only the business people, and here the government people and here the scientists. They were really together and they were discussing, so the format worked really well, where in the morning we would have sessions with top experts who have done research for many, many years and decades. And in the afternoon we would have all these people in mixed groups, meaning from different countries, languages, professions and so forth, to get together and they spoke to each other and challenged each other, and they came up with very interesting ideas, reflections and proposals.

There were outstanding experts in the research in what do we talk about, what is online sexual abuse of minors, what is the impact on the brains, the relational developmental and emotional side of young people when they watch pornography or when they themselves are abused as objects of sexual abuse which is then posted and sold on the internet. What can we do to prevent such uploading of material of that kind, and what can we do so that the people who are likely to become offenders don’t do what they do now? Very often in a hidden space where people say, even police say, there are very few means to tackle that.

We’ve heard from Interpol that if you take together all the sex offenders who commit crimes online, we wouldn’t have enough prisons to put them in. So we need to have a preventive strategy so that people don’t commit crimes. And we need to do that by bringing that together lawmakers, law enforcement, companies who have the technological means with the algorithms and photo DNA recognition which is out there already, but it is not applied thoroughly enough and consistently enough, so we really need to work together.

This was our intention, bringing people together so they enrich each other and they enhance what we can do so that young people grow up in a safer world, also a safer online world. The networking has created so many new relationships and there are so many ideas and concrete proposals for follow-up conferences in different parts of the world: Latin America, Asia, Africa. The ripple-effect is there, so we are happy about that.

So you think some of these regional conferences will actually happen before a second global conference?

Sure, sure. We have worked for more than two years to organize this one, so it’s not around the corner, but I have heard that next year there are concrete ideas and they are already talking to each other, people from Asia, people from Africa, people from Latin America, people who would like to have something among religious leaders, an interreligious prevention conference, if you wish. So the faith communities talk to each other and help each other to understand how much they can do in their schools, in their communities, in their institutions whatever they are, to have for example risk-free WiFi access, so we could do much in terms of preventing abuse happening in open space WiFi for example. Unlimited access doesn’t mean there is an unlimited possibility of crime.

In terms of bringing all these people together, you said it was a model that worked. How was the interaction, and do you expect these connections to continue in the future?

Absolutely. All of the feedback that I’ve heard from the working groups was that it was very interesting, interesting for the participants, interesting also because we invited 10 representatives of the ‘digital native’ generations, so young students here from around Rome, and they brought into the discussion the voices of young people and how they perceive what the adults talk about and what those decision makers think is necessary, whether that’s something reasonable for young people, or they don’t see a need, of they think you should invest here. So we have a lot of leads. It will will be the task, in the aftermath of this congress, that we will concentrate on 3-4 lines that we can really follow through. Some of the major foundations that were represented here, big foundations, gave us the prospect that they would actually help us to find funding for some of these projects. On a large scale there are a lot of possibilities.

One needs to be focused, one needs to be on target, but you can do many things at the same time. For example, one could ask advertisement companies to do their job and help young people become more aware of the risks that are connected to access to internet, engaging in chats and the exchange of messages with unknown people. So all this is a wide range of measures and possibilities and people who were here were probably in this moment, I believe there were no better prepared people to talk about this than these ones. They have a lot of passion for the protection of minors, you could feel it in the big hall, in the small groups. It was just a spirit of communion and a spirit of common intention and interest.

You mentioned that there have been offers for specific investments. What would be the areas that you think should be targeted first if you had the funding?

Of course, the scientists and the governments said, the government responsibles who were here, ministers, those who were the independent commissioners in their country, etc, all of them said they need reliable data. And interestingly enough, for example the question of work in prevention has not been researched well enough. So we need to go into depth and breadth, because we’re talking about millions and millions of young people who are at high risk of being abused, and becoming abusers of other young people when they do ‘sexting’ or even ‘sextortion.’

So one area for scientists would be research in different kinds of prevention measures, safeguarding measures, and finding out where are the keys, so that young people don’t become victims. In the same line, but on the other side, so to say, how can we prevent people who are at risk of becoming abusers, adults who have sexual interest, sexual attraction to minors, how can we prevent these people from acting out? So this would be on the scientific side, but many, many more projects can be thought out. On the side of lawmakers, they need to come up with something that transcends national, legal boundaries, because internet companies are multi-national, and if there’s one thing that became clear in this conference it’s that there is no institution, no science, no single approach, no single nation that can tackle this, because it goes far beyond, in any sense, far beyond what the internet offers, where the access is possible, where the servers are, where things are uploaded, etc. So there needs to be serious thinking about how there can be a joint-effort on the sides of governments.

So we are happy that the WePROTECT initiative partnered with us in our effort, as well as Telefono Azzurro. But there is already an initiative by the British government, and the foundress, Baroness Joanna Shields, was a member of our steering committee, so very dedicated persons who have already had much impact on at least a certain number of governments, even if you can’t ask how much they really then really implement, but there are 70 governments already on board. Then of course we would expect, and in one of the interventions yesterday there was a very strong call on internet providers and software companies like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever to do what they can and to maybe even pay a price in their economic profit, because we’re talking here about billions of dollars and euros, so it’s a big business out there, and having more coherence in the policies that all these companies claim to have and more implementation of that would be a huge step forward. Another area would be in law enforcement, when we talk about the ‘dark net,’ so the hidden traffic that happens below the radar, purposely hidden, how can police intervene if you know that 83 percent of traffic that is going on in the ‘dark net’ has to do with sexual images of children.

Both Microsoft and Facebook attended the conference. What kind of feedback and interest did you see from them on this point?

We really appreciated Facebook’s help, they supported us, they brought it on Facebook live, the major events were streamed with their help. I’ve seen very dedicated people. As the Baroness, who is the British government’s internet safety person, who was at Facebook and I believe also worked for Google and Microsoft, she said in her speech that there are people very committed to the ethical code.

But then we see, obviously, that other interests come into play and there are hard decisions to be made.

Either you protect children coherently or you make more money because you don’t follow your own ethical standards. We heard yesterday that if you compare the use of pornography by young people to the use of cigarettes by young people, maybe in a few years’ time it will be possible to sue pornography companies for bringing out in an unrestricted manner pornographic material that is freely accessible, and if one day it is convincingly shown, robustly shown and scientifically proven that watching pornography at the age of five or eight or 10 has this harmful outcome in young people and for adult life, then the companies will be sued on that.

There are many areas where we need to act, and what I perceive is that everyone has taken something for him or her self back home, and I think this is a good starting point for something that could become a movement.

In listening to the talks and hearing the information, many of the numbers and content were shocking for me personally. Was there anything you heard that was new for you or that you were surprised by?

If you study this field and if you work in it, you know about the numbers. I am more amazed about the lack of realization in many people about the scale of the problem about which we speak.

The European Union has started a campaign called “One in Five,” saying that one in five young persons in Europe is sexually abused, online or offline; one in five, which means every fifth young person you see on the street, the European Union officially says has probably been abused sexually. So 20 percent of the whole population. If you realize, if you think a little bit, I’m shocked, so I don’t know why the existential and the psychological harm that is done does not really translate into concrete political action to counteract this, (it’s) for me one of the mysteries that I can’t explain. Except if I say it’s too big, it’s too shocking, so you put it away because nobody can deal with it. So we need to start dealing with it step by step, and bringing down the numbers of those who have been harmed.

Looking at some of these phenomena, some of the general developments in this area, what are the next, most urgent steps moving forward in terms of action-points. You guys made a list of action-points in your declaration, but what are the most urgent right now?

Right now is to do and apply whatever can be applied in terms of technological means and measures on the side of internet companies and social media. They have many keys and they can and should apply them coherently and according to their own ethical standards. Secondly, governments need to talk together international bodies like UNICEF and the UN in getting governments moving.

Like the Italian government has now engaged in and committed to a very strong position in terms of wanting to do something for the online safety of children. And thirdly all of the scientists that were here, we will have a call for papers. We have invited all the participants here of a high level, the highest level, the stars in the field, to produce original research that will prove what is helpful in terms of prevention, in terms of creating a safe environment, what is helpful in dealing with perpetrators.

As far as the Church goes, both the Pope and Cardinal Parolin mentioned that the Church has learned a lot from her past mistakes in this area, and can given her experience can be a leading voice moving forward. How can the Church lead in this area?

Simply by offering a platform like this one. We asked people from different parts of the world, from different political backgrounds, from different religious backgrounds, from different attitudes towards this whole question of, for example, freedom of expression, and content limitation, and everyone whom we invited came. So it seems that the Catholic Church here in an academic setting here at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and our Center for Child Protection, offered a platform for discussion. We offered a completely free area of discussion of a time, of the forum for the working groups to engage. We chose the names, but not according to a preconceived criteria. We chose the best of the best and they came.

We had a UN person tweeting these days, who is responsible for cyber-crime in the UN, and he said this climate here is outside of political gain, so we can talk freely, we can share freely, and we can really focus on the real issues. So there is a role that we see and that the Catholic Church can play, humbly, within the limits of the surprisingly small resources that we have.

If you talk about the ‘foreign ministry’ or the ‘research ministry’ of the Church, this is but a very, very, tiny portion of what one ministry in one country would have in terms of personnel and so forth. But there seems to at least be this possibility to convene people. What you see in trafficking, the question of human trafficking, has happened with the Santa Marta Group, or with ecology and the climate change topic. So there are issues in which the Catholic Church is seen as engaged, but also as a neutral territory where you don’t need to come up with the ideological battles.

What gives the Church the authority to be able to speak on these issues and arrange these sorts of meetings?

If you show that you are serious about the issue and the scientific world wants to see data, wants to see results, wants to see proven statements. Of course from the political side it’s the pledge that the Holy Father has repeated today, and to do whatever can be done so that young people are safe and safer in the Catholic Church.

[…]

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Spanish religious who help trafficking victims celebrate order’s 75th anniversary

October 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Madrid, Spain, Oct 6, 2017 / 11:08 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Helpers of the Good Shepherd, an order of religious sisters dedicated to helping victims of sexual exploitation, drew praise from Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid for their witness to the dignity of women.

The order recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of their founding with a Mass celebrated by the cardinal.

The charism of the sisters focuses on “promoting, restoring, and respecting the dignity of women,” Osoro said. They work to provide homes for victims of sexual exploitation and organized slavery.

The sisters operate Villa Teresita Homes, which are small communities of sisters living alongside women fleeing sexual exploitation and their children. The homes are dedicated St. Therese of Lisieux.

Cardinal Osoro noted in his homily that the Helpers of the Good Shepherd were founded “to eliminate the exploitation of women who are treated as objects, and who suffer a lack of respect for their dignity.”

“You have given the best of your lives to improve the lives of those who are victims of trafficking, exploitation and organized slavery,” he said.

Cardinal Osoro also stated that the lives of the sisters and their programs are “for redemption and liberation,” and said that “every woman is a bearer of love, a teacher of mercy, a builder of peace, a communicator of warmth and humanity in this world which often judges the value of a person with the cold criteria of exploitation and profits.”

“God offers life so that we can make an offering of it always to others. That is what you Helpers of the Good Shepherd are doing,” the cardinal said.

He encouraged the sisters to to announce Christ as witnesses, reminding them that “what is opposed to the true faith is not unbelief but the lack of witness in our lives.”

The cardinal invited those at the Mass to “translate into deeds the beauty and joy of the Gospel” and thanked the sisters for their work. “There’s no disconnect between what we often say with words and what we live out in our everyday lives,” he said.

The Helpers of the Good Shepherd had their beginnings in Pamplona, Spain, in 1942. Isabel Garbayo, their foundress, opened the first Villa Teresita home, forming a small community of consecrated women, with a special concern for serving the most disadvantaged and marginalized women.

Garbayo wanted all women to know that “the home that we offer them is the home of God, to which all are invited, welcomed with joy and gratitude by sisters who love them, and look upon their arrival at the home as if a treasure walked in.”

The Helpers of the Good Shepherd have homes in the Spanish cities of Seville, Pamplona, Valencia, Madrid, and Las Palmas and conduct emergency interventions through a hotline they have established.

[…]

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Recent rector of a Legionaries of Christ-run seminary fathered two children

October 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 6

Rome, Italy, Oct 6, 2017 / 05:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Legionaries of Christ announced Friday that Fr. Óscar Turrión, who was of the Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae until earlier this year, has fathered two children and intends to leave priestly ministry.

Fr. Turrión had been rector of the seminary since 2014, and a formator there since 2007.

“As those responsible for an institutions that is dedicated to the formation of candidates to the priesthood, we are conscious of the impact that the negative example of a formator and rector has on them and the Christian faithful,” the Legionaries said in an Oct. 6 statement.

“We are deeply saddened that the recent history of our congregation has quenched the fervor of some of our members. We are firmly committed to accompanying our brothers in moments of difficulty. Likewise, we reiterate our commitment to the path of renewal that we continue to follow led by the Church.”

Mater Ecclesiae was founded in 1991, and is operated by the Legionaries of Christ.

The Legionaries of Christ has faced difficulties since it was discovered that the community’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, had been leading a double life. In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith imposed upon Fr. Maciel “a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry.”

Benedict XVI initiated a process of reform for the Legionaries, and in 2010 the then-Archbishop Velasio de Paolis was appointed as their papal delegate. New constitutions for the order were approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

The Legionaries’ Oct. 6 statement was accompanied by a letter from Fr. Turrión explaining his situation.

“Due to certain circumstances in the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and many other circumstances in the Church, I began to lose my grounding and became more and more disillusioned,” he wrote.

During what he called “a thorough and peaceful process of discernment,” he said he re-established contact with a woman he had gotten to know while he was a priest.

“From this relationship was born first a son and, a few months ago, a daughter.”

Fr. Turrión told his superiors March 27 about the recent birth of his daughter, and asked them to maintain confidentiality, the Legionaries’ statement said. The superiors then asked for the appointment of a new rector of the seminary, who began his term in August.

The priest then sought, and was granted, permission to live outside of community for a time of reflection and prayer, during which he could not exercise public priestly ministry.

It was on Oct. 5 that Fr. Turrión acknowledged that he had had another child with the woman several years ago. He expressed his intention to leave priestly ministry, and asked for a dispensation from the obligations of ordination.

In his letter, Fr. Turrión stated he had already decided to leave the priesthood while he was still rector of Mater Ecclesiae.

“Out of love and respect for my companions at Mater and the seminarians and their bishops, or out of weakness and shame as well, I did not ask to be relieved of my responsibilities. I did do it, though, when my three-year term as rector was up. I ask everyone forgiveness for the lack of trust that this implies.”

Fr. Turrión also noted in his letter that he had not used money from his position as rector to support his children, but only “donations that my friends gave me for my personal use.”

“I accept my responsibility. Without fear of the future, I put everything in God’s hands and am resolved to continue ‘doing the truth’ in my life. Yes, the truth, since although I have hidden this until recently out of weakness, when I began the canonical process a few weeks ago, I am ‘doing the truth’ before God,” Fr. Turrión wrote. “I am at peace and in harmony with God through the sacrament of confession. I am at peace because I have prayed, asking Our Lord to give me light and to come clean with myself and my superiors.”

Fr. Turrión wrote that “I write this to take full responsibility for my actions. I do not blame anyone except myself. With this text I want to leave things clear, ask forgiveness for the scandal, and request your prayers. I never felt I was above anyone else, and therefore I can consider my actions in great peace and humility and ask God and you for pardon.”

“I ask forgiveness for my bad example and the negative witness I have given … As always, I ask, if possible more than ever, that you pray for me and remember me before the Lord.”

[…]

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Religious, secular experts unite in call to protect child safety online

October 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Oct 6, 2017 / 12:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a joint declaration on the need to protect youth on the internet, leaders and experts from various fields stressed the need Friday to raise awareness of digital dangers and to collaborate on child protection.

“Every child’s life is unique, meaningful and precious and every child has a right to dignity and safety,” an Oct. 6 joint declaration from participants in a Rome conference on promoting online safety for children read.

However, “today, global society is failing its children.” Instead of being protected, “millions of children are being abused and exploited in tragic and unspeakable ways, and on an unprecedented scale all over the world,” the declaration lamented.

Titled “Pope Francis – A society can be judged by the way it treats its children,” the declaration was drafted by the participants in the conference and presented to Pope Francis during their audience with him Oct. 6.

The conference, held Oct. 3-6 and dedicated to the theme “Child Dignity in the Digital World,” was the first of its kind on a global scale, drawing social scientists, civic leaders, religious leaders, and representatives from major tech companies.

It was organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection in collaboration with the UK-based global alliance WePROTECT and the organization “Telefono Azzurro,” and addressed concerns surrounding abuse prevention, pornography, the responsibility of internet providers and the media, and ethical governance.

The declaration included 13 action points for the future directed at different sectors of society, including technology companies, law enforcement, governments, and religious leaders.

Key areas highlighted for protecting minors in the future were the fields of education and building awareness of the internet and the risks involved. Participants also advocated for more stringent laws and accountability for online crimes, training of medical and educational personnel in how to look for signs of abuse, and swifter reporting of suspected instances of abuse.

They also asked that major tech companies invest in developing new technologies aimed at protection and identification of online victims, as well as broader efforts to rescue victims and educate youth on what behaviors could put them in harm’s way.

“Technology’s exponential advancement and integration into our everyday lives is not only changing what we do and how we do it, but who we are,” the declaration read.

And while many of these changes are positive, “we face the dark side of this new-found world, a world which is enabling a host of social ills that are harming the most vulnerable members of society.”

Numerous benefits have come from the internet, but alongside these have also grown content that is “increasingly extreme and dehumanizing is available literally at children’s fingertips.”

“The proliferation of social media means insidious acts, such as cyber-bullying, harassment and sextortion, are becoming commonplace,” the document read, noting that both the range and scope of online child sexual abuse and exploitation “is shocking.”

“Vast numbers of sexual abuse images of children and youth are available online and continue to grow unabated,” participants said, adding that the “detrimental impact of pornography on the malleable minds of young children” is yet another increasing and “significant online harm.”

“We embrace the vision of an internet accessible by all people. However, we believe the constitution of this vision must recognize the unwavering value of protecting all children,” the said. And while the challenges are “enormous,” the response “must not be gloom and dismay.”

Instead, “we must work together to seek positive, empowering solutions for all. We must ensure that all children have safe access to the internet to enhance their education, communications and connections.”

Technology companies and governments have shown great leadership in this fight, they said, stressing that representatives of this field “must continue to innovate to better protect children.”

Families, neighborhoods and various communities around the world must also be awakened to the issue and the reality of the impact of the internet on children, including the risks.

Emphasizing the need for collaboration, participants stressed that online abuse and exploitation “is a problem that cannot be solved by one nation or one company or one faith acting alone, it is a global problem that requires global solutions.”

“It requires that we build awareness, and that we mobilize action from every government, every faith, every company and every institution.”

The declaration concluded saying that “the world faces unprecedented challenges if it is to preserve the rights and dignity of children and protect them from abuse and exploitation.”

These challenges “require new thinking and approaches, heightened global awareness and inspired leadership,” it read, and issued a global appeal for everyone “to stand up for the protection of the dignity of children.”

In an Oct. 6 news briefing with journalists after the audience with Pope Francis closing the conference, Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, president of the CCP, said the conference was “very intense and very successful.”

“There was a unique sense of unity” among participants across the board, he said, explaining that he “felt absolutely enthused about the way people were interacting, networking and comping up with interactive proposals.”

Also present at the news briefing was Baroness Sheila Hollins, a professor and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

In her comments, she said that when historians look back at the digital age, they will most likely say it was the age that “changed the world in one generation,” and we’ll be judged on “did we do enough?”

She spoke of the need to engage at various levels in order to address the problem, particularly with youth themselves, who are the “digital natives” most familiar with new forms of technology and therefore are the best interlocutors.

Another suggestion that came out of working groups was a possible encyclical on “on childhood and the social environment,” given the rapid changes society is undergoing.

Hollins also noted a proposal made by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, who during a keynote speech suggested an in-depth study be made on childhood from an anthropological, philosophical, and theological perspective, keeping in mind the different cultural perceptions of childhood, and that while some things are forbidden in some cultures, they might be acceptable in others.

Dr. Ernie Allen, Chair of the International Advisory Board for WePROTECT, said that the organization intends to get the topic of the digital world and safety concerns on the table at relevant events in the coming years, such as the 2018 Synod of Bishops on youth, the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin, and the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama.

[…]

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Threats force Catholic families out of their homes in Northern Ireland

October 5, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Oct 6, 2017 / 12:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A paramilitary hate group is behind threats that forced four Catholic families to flee their homes in Northern Ireland, authorities have determined.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which warned the families of the threats last week, announced this week that the threats have been linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group that claims to have links to a historically anti-Catholic group from the early 20th century with the same name.

The families were forced to flee a social housing project in east Belfast that had goals of unifying the community.

“What an irony that is,” Chief Constable George Hamilton told the Belfast Telegraph.  

Hamilton said the threats came from people “purporting to be of east Belfast UVF,” but  “(w)hether or not that is an organisational position we do not know because it is a chaotic disorganised crime group – that is how I would describe east Belfast UVF,” he added.

UVF flags that were being flown in the neighborhood were also removed on Thursday as a “gesture of goodwill”, according to an organization that claims to mediate negotiations between the UVF and authorities, the BBC reported.   

One resident who was forced to flee his home told the BBC anonymously last week that he was shocked by the threats, because everyone in the neighborhood had seemed peaceful and friendly.

“We’ve been living there for just over a year and never had a problem – talked away to the neighbors, everyone was really nice – then this just came out of nowhere,” he said.

The resident and his family – including his children and his pregnant partner – now have to find new housing.

Political leaders crossed party lines in Northern Ireland to condemn the threats in a joint statement on Monday, and promised support to the appropriate authorities and agencies to rehouse the families if they felt unsafe returning to their previous homes.

Religious disputes have long been part of the history of Northern Ireland, which is predominantly  Protestant and a part of the United Kingdom, while the majority-Catholic Republic of Ireland gained its independence in 1916.

The region has had ongoing religiously and politically based conflicts, most notably “the Troubles”, which included violent clashes that lasted from the late ‘60s until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was struck.

Hamilton said in a press conference that the UVF has “no legitimacy, they are a scourge on the community. People are giving us information out of fear and won’t translate into a written statement so that we can go into court and give evidence against these people.”

“We are 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement and I just wish the UVF wouldn’t be there anymore.”

The Catholic Church has long supported work toward peace and reconciliation in Ireland. On Sept. 29, 1979, Pope St. John Paul II celebrated Mass in Ireland, close to its border with the United Kingdom, calling for peace. “Further violence in Ireland will only drag down to ruin the land you claim to love and the values you claim to cherish,” he said.

“On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace,” the Pope pled.

 

[…]

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Microsoft rep calls Catholic Church a key ally in protecting kids online

October 5, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Oct 5, 2017 / 12:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The head of Microsoft’s office for online safety has said the Catholic Church is a key ally in the ongoing effort to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation online.

When asked why a major tech company would partner with the Catholic Church on such an important issue, Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer for Microsoft Inc., had a simple response: “why not?”

Beauchere spoke during an Oct. 3-6 conference on Child Dignity in the Digital World, addressing the topic of “How Do Internet Providers and Software Developers Define Their Responsibility and Limits of Cooperation Regarding Safeguarding of Minors.”

Speaking with a small group of journalists at the conference, Beauchere said, “why would you not take advantage of such a huge platform and such a huge array of people to make aware of the situation?”

Beauchere said she is willing to collaborate with “anyone who wants to talk about these issues,” because “we all can learn from one another. And the only way we’re going to get better, the only way we’re going to do and learn more is to really expand the dialogue.”

She also spoke on what future steps and investments technology companies can make in helping to fight online child exploitation, and action-points for the future, including some highlights from a joint-declaration from conference participants that will be presented to Pope Francis in an audience tomorrow.

Beauchere was one of two representatives of major tech organizations present at the conference, the other being Dr. Antigone Davies, Head of Global Safety Policy for Facebook.

Organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection in collaboration with the UK-based global alliance WePROTECT and the organization “Telefono Azzurro,” which is the first Italian helpline for children at risk.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin opened the conference as a keynote speaker. Other participants in the congress include social scientists, civic leaders, and religious representatives. Discussion points include prevention of abuse, pornography, the responsibility of internet providers and the media, and ethical governance.

 

Please read below for excerpts of Beauchere’s conversation with journalists:

Thank you for your time. It was very interesting to hear what Microsoft is doing to combat this issue. But many speakers that followed you said that more could be done as far as investments and money being put into helping in NGOs that are working to help in this issue, and technologies that can be put into fighting this issue. What is your response? What can be done in the future to address this call to action?

I would say the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, and we can all do more. We can all do better. We just have to determine what is going to be the best root to direct our resources. So we come at the at the problem from a technology perspective, from an internal governance perspective with policies and standards and procedures, with education and with partnerships. We are already supporting a number of organizations, which I noted in my remarks. We are on the board for the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, I personally sit on the board of the WeProtect organization. I sit on the board of the In Hope organization, I used to sit on the board, now another colleague does, of the Technology Coalition. That’s all technologies coming together to come up with technical solutions, other operational means, to alleviate the problem. So there are many things we are dong, it’s a question of we have so precious few resources – we’re given budgets like every one ounce. We don’t get an unlimited pot of money, so we have to decide where are we going to put our efforts and what is going to deliver the most bang for the buck.

And where do you see this money being used most importantly?

I think efforts like this that really bring together a multitude of stakeholders. As I said, technology companies work together. Sometimes I feel like I work and talk to Twitter and Google and YouTube and Facebook more so in a week than I do with my own colleagues at Microsoft, so we’re always working together. Civil society works together. Academia works together. Government works together. But now we need to bring all of those stakeholders together. WeProtect started that effort, but I could say that there are really only four stakeholder groups there: that would be the technology companies, governments, law enforcement and civil society. But now with this world congress we’re expanding to include the Church and faith-based organizations, to include a broader array of academics, to include the public health sector. Now, with more people it could sometimes present a little bit more conflict, or hiccups or hurdles that we’re going to have to get over, but we’re going to have to find a way that we’re all going to have to agree on certain things, and then build from there.

On a practical level, you’ve spoken about all the boards and committees that you are a part of, and it’s really important to be a part of that conversation, but if you were going to tell me now where you are going to allocate your resources next as the frontier of where to fight this issue, where do you see the challenges and problems? Where should that money be allocated?

It has to be invested in technology. But technology investments don’t pay off immediately, they take time. So a lot of people are asking, ‘can’t you just invent a technology that can determine that that’s a child sexual abuse image, and then it won’t be uploaded from the get-go?’ This is artificial intelligence, this is machine learning, it’s only been in recent years that we’ve been able to identify, via artificial intelligence and via machine learning, that a cat is a cat. So when you put in the complex scenarios of the parade of horribles that could happen to a child, and the different actors that are involved in those scenarios and the different body parts, and the different scenes and places where things could happen as far as these crimes, you’re adding so much more complexity. So there’s a lot of work. These technology investments are not going to pay off immediately. I think people look at technology and they think it’s a silver bullet, they think that technology created these problems, so technology should fix them. Number one, technology didn’t create these problems, and number two, technology alone cannot solve them. So technology investments are key, but they’re not going to pay off immediately. So these kinds of efforts that are multi-party, multi-focused, multi-pronged and faceted, that’s where we need to put our efforts and I think the money will follow. The money will follow what proves the most successful or will at least show the most promise.

In terms of investment, many of the speakers addressed or were from areas of the world that are not as developed in technology, but are starting to gain access to the internet and don’t have the background or the education about what it can do. In terms of investment, do you guys have plans to address this issue in some of these nations that are not as developed?

We have educational and awareness raising resources available everywhere. Personally I see the developing world as an opportunity. Yes they are gaining access to technology quicker, but they have the ability to learn from the Western world and the mistakes that we made, and they have the ability and the opportunity to do things right from the ground up. They just can’t let the technology get ahead of them, they have to really incorporate the learning and the awareness raising and some of the good, healthy practices and habits, developing those habits for going online and keeping oneself and one’s family safe. But I see it as more of an opportunity than as a problem.

You mentioned that you are also trying to broaden your network of allies in fighting this issue, so why broaden it to faith-based organizations, why come to a Jesuit university to participate in this conference?

I say why not? Why would you not take advantage of such a huge platform and such a huge array of people to make aware of the situation. These are very difficult conversations to have. People don’t want, whether it’s people in government or elsewhere, they don’t want to acknowledge that these issues exist. It’s a very delicate topic, it’s a very sensitive topic, in some instances it’s taboo, so it’s been very refreshing to have a new outlet, to have a new audience, to potentially involve new stakeholders, and to see how people are coming to the issue and addressing it very directly, and very head-on, and being very open and transparent about what’s happening in their countries, and about how serious these situations and these issues are. So I will collaborate, I will work with anyone who wants to talk about these issues, we all can learn from one another. And the only way we’re going to get better, the only way we’re going to do and learn more is to really expand the dialogue.

You mentioned that a lot of people say that it’s all technology’s fault. So what can technology do to help in the issue and what should people perhaps take into their own hands?

People need to own their own presence online and they need to know what they are doing. They need to safeguard their own reputation. So there are certain habits and practices that they could develop, we offer a wealth of materials on our website. One thing I want to point out about people and their own learning is sometimes, unfortunately, that leaning comes a little bit too late. We were discussing this in my workshop. It’s been my experience that what drives people to action, and I’m talking about pro-action, is something bad happening to them. Their identity has been stolen, so now I need to go figure out how to protect myself from identity theft. A child’s been bullied, now I need to go figure out what’s been happening with online bullying. Unfortunately we want to galvanize people and rally them to take some proactive steps to safeguard their reputations, to know who and with whom they are talking, to know what they are sharing online, to be discreet where discretion is warranted. That’s not suppressing the kinds of engagements, and connections and interactions they want to have, but that’s doing so with eyes wide open, and that’s doing so with a healthy dose of reality and of what could potentially go wrong and of being aware of risks. I know there was a first part to your question…

What can technology do when it comes to this issue, but what are it’s limits?

Well technology can always help, and we tell people to get help from technology. So technology can help determine for instance, what parents want their kids to see online, what websites they want them to go to, who they want them to communicate with. Some people call them “family controls,” at Microsoft we call them “family safety settings.” And they’re right there in your Windows operating system, in your Xbox live console, so that is our obligation, that is our obligation as a technology company, t put those kinds of tools and resources into the product itself to help people, and to give them the tools they need to better educate themselves, make them aware of these issues, and to hopefully get them to want to teach others, to inform others. So it very much is a multi-stakeholder issue, it’s everyone’s problem and it’s everyone’s opportunity.

Are you going to the meeting with Pope Francis tomorrow?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Are you Catholic?

Yes, I am. I spoke with my priest before I came here, because I was a bit overwhelmed.

What do you expect from that meeting, what do you hope is going to come out of that meeting tomorrow with the Pope?

Well he’s going to be presented with this declaration, which is a series of commitments, or calls to action, for every stakeholder group who was present at this congress, and it has the ability to be monumental. I really hope there is a follow-up and follow-through, because I have attended things like this before, not of this magnitude, where everyone is so excited and so jazzed to take this forward, and there’s very little follow-up and follow-through, and I personally am someone who always wants to do more and to continue. I don’t sign up to anything, I don’t commit to anything unless I’m going to be fully in.

In many ways Pope Francis has helped put climate change and immigration into the minds of policy makers. Do you think he has the ability to put the protection of minors up there?

Of course, of course.

Some have said there is perhaps anti-Catholic, anti-religious sentiment in Silicon Valley. Will they listen to the Church on this?

Well, we’re not in Silicon Valley, so I can’t attest to what’s going on in Silicon Valley, but I personally don’t see it. When I told my manager, my boss, that I had the ability to come here, he said, ‘get me an invitation, too.’ That was very wonderful to hear, and I did get him an invitation, but unfortunately he changed roles and he didn’t think it was particularly relevant for him to come and though that since he’s not in the same role perhaps he should not. So I’m the only one here for Microsoft, but I’m here.

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News Briefs

Internet porn is the ‘neon colosseum’ of the digital age, expert says

October 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Rome, Italy, Oct 4, 2017 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s well-known that in ancient Rome hundreds of thousands of people would to pile into the stacked layers of stone seating in the Colosseum to watch gladiators fight to their death, cheering on as the warriors met a bloody and often drawn-out end.

However, while being a “gladiator” in modern Rome has mostly become a way pick up extra cash in photo-ops with tourists, there are some who argue that the gruesome nature of the ancient battles, in which people would essentially celebrate and take pleasure in the pain of others, hasn’t gone away, but has rather taken on a new, less obvious form in the digital world: pornography.

When it comes to internet pornography, Dr. Donald Hilton Jr. of the University of Texas Health Science Center said we as a society have to learn to ask the “uncomfortable questions about our culture, why we’re so easily voyeuristic to watch people being harmed.”

While pornography has always been a problem, the new widespread access offered through the digital world has led to a culture that enjoys “watching women being hurt on screen,” he told CNA.

Hilton recalled that in a tour of the Colosseum, his guide explained that throughout the centuries of its of operation, the structure “had up to several hundred thousand animals and gladiators dying in the colosseum with people watching them and enjoying watching their pain.”

Now “I think we have a neon colosseum, a colosseum of screens where far more, now, are watching people being harmed. And people are enjoying it,” he said, adding that in his opinion, “we’re no better than the ancient Romans in that.”

“In fact, in some way I think we’re worse, because at least they did it openly, but we hide behind our screens at night and do it, and tell ourselves it’s okay.”

Hilton spoke as part of a four-day conference on protecting children in a digitally connected and global society. Titled “Child Dignity in the Digital World,” the conference is being held in Rome Oct. 3-6 and is organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin opened the conference as a keynote speaker. Other participants in the congress include social scientists, civic leaders, and religious representatives. Discussion points include prevention of abuse, pornography, the responsibility of internet providers and the media, and ethical governance.

Several leading personalities participating argued that given the easy access children have to the internet, they are increasingly falling prey to an industry that, without the proper protections, can ultimately leave them vulnerable, becoming victims to a wide variety of abuses.

On day two of the conference, Hilton was part of a panel of experts exploring the dangers of internet pornography and its impact on children, specifically the link between pornography and violence, and the effects of porn use on the human brain, particularly among youth.

A celebrated neuroscientist and world-renown surgeon, Hilton examined the scientific changes in the human brain when viewing pornography.

Essentially, he said human beings have “two brains,” one being the cortex, which he called our “thinking brain,” and the other being the brain stem, referred to by Hilton as our “wanting brain.” So while the brain might tell us to do something because it feels good, the cortex will tell us to slow down and think about the consequences.

Between the two is the “reward center” of the brain, he said, explaining that while it is intended to help motivate us, the reward center can be “hijacked and diverted” from this purpose if we take in “powerful rewards indiscriminately.”

In this case, the reward center can “reset the pleasure thermostat of the brain,” and a “new normal” is established, which can quickly become addiction, Hilton said, explaining that the brain structure is impacted by learning, and that “addictive learning sculpts the brain in a very damaging way.”

Referring to a recent study done by medical personnel, he said addictions to food and sex have now been put on par with substance abuse, because the same changes are found in brain studies “and the behaviors are almost identical.”

Children and young adults are particularly at risk from this, he said, because for one, the frontal-lobe control center of the brain don’t fully mature until the person is in their mid-20s. However, most exposure to pornography happens at a young age, leaving children particularly vulnerable to changes in the brain structure.

He said children are also more at risk because the chemicals for processing rewards and addictions are more potent brains that are not yet mature, so “an immature breaking system is essentially paired with an accelerated reward-seeking drive.” He also cited problems with brains systems that identify observers with the “motivational state” of those performing in the program, which in pornography is often linked to violence.

In his comments to CNA, Hilton said porn access at a young age is particularly concerning because since the brain of a child or teenager is not yet developed, it makes a strong imprint and “sets their template” in way that essentially sculpts the brain to prefer what they watch over reality.

Quoting American author, feminist, and political adviser Naomi Wolf, he said “pornified” boys are increasingly led to a mentality that “real women are just bad porn.”

Hilton said that in order to help counter the online porn industry, the issue has to be addressed in a new way. Whereas in the past it has primarily been relegated to the moral realm, he said the issue is wider, and that it’s important to bring the issue up in public settings “without mentioning religion.”

“Can we talk about exploitation not only of youth who are viewing pornography, but of young female performers that are being used up so quickly and exploited by a very powerful industry? Can we leave the religion out of it and talk about it from a public health perspective?” he said.

“This is a vast industry, the internet is a vast industry,” he said, adding that if any other industry had the same amount of disease, emotional health issues, and drug abuse involved, “they would cry out and there would be outrage.

However, “with porn, as long as they take their clothes off and put a camera there, you can do anything you want,” he said, comparing porn to “filmed prostitution.”

“Can we really say that porn is good and that people should view it if the people that make it are being harmed? Is it an ethical product then?” he asked, and noted that according to one study paper, 88 percent of the scenes in the 250 most popular porn movies show aggression toward women.

So when looking at the concrete numbers, “if it’s not ethical to produce it, is it ethical to watch it? What is the price someone is paying to film that?”

Also speaking at the conference was Dr. Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist and Director of Education for the University of Pennsylvania, who addressed the link between violence and pornography.

In her speech, she presented various research studies linking the use of pornography to increased aggression toward women. In youth particularly, various studies have proved that exposure to porn at a young age increases the likelihood youth will be promiscuous at an earlier age, and are more prone to partner abuse as they get older.

Porn use also and the misconceived belief that if access is so common, it isn’t harmful, and that women who are treated violently in porn films actually like it, she said.

In comments to CNA after her speech, Layden said pornography is especially dangerous for children because “everything children see is educational,” and since porn is typically the only imagery kids have when it comes to sex, they learn about it from “this toxic form.”

“Now their brains are absorbing this and they are getting these messages, and then they very quickly start to act on that,” she said, explaining that they “will likely start having sex earlier, they will likely think all relationships are sexual, they’ll start to try and get their partner to try and act out things they’ve seen in pornography.”

Pornography also leads to misconceptions about the human body and what constitutes abuse, she said, explaining that many young adults have come into her clinic complaining that their bodies “don’t work” because things don’t happen like they do in movies.

While numerous research studies have proven that performers in pornography films don’t enjoy what they do on-set, many people still believe the opposite, Layden said, because they don’t see the suffering the performers endure.

What most people don’t know, she said is that “on those porn sets there is a doctor, on every porn set,” and “he will give you any drug you can name – he will give you Percocet, he will give you Xanex, he will give you heroine, he will give you anything to get you to go through that scene, take that torture and smile while they’re doing it.”

She said that when children first come into contact with pornography their initial reaction is that “there’s something scary” about it, and even something violent, but that very quickly they start to learn from what they see that “violence is a sex act,” and this notion becomes more normal as they get older.

In terms of protecting children from harmful images, Layden stressed the importance of educating parents on the risks and finding the right software to block problematic content from popping up.

Unfortunately, she said around only 20 percent of parents have actually put protective software on their children’s devices and activated it.

But if parents are looking for a good company, she said “Covenant Eyes” has programs that work very effectively through blocks and accountability software that will send a list of their child’s search history to them at the end of the week.

While it might not be possible bring the porn access to zero, it is possible to reduce it, Layden said.

“The fact that we can’t reduce it to zero doesn’t make us stop anything else,” she said, naming youth smokers and cancer patients as examples. And concrete ways to reduce exposure is to put filters on computers in libraries and at schools, as well as personal devices children own, and to not let them put their computers in their bedrooms.

She also stressed the need to get legislators and governments involved, explaining that pornography sites have finally been legally required to check the age of someone trying to access their web-pages.

“That won’t stop the damage that’s done to adult men,” she said, explaining that pornography first of all does damage to those who use it, “but it will stop with the most vulnerable, which is the children.”

Perpetrators of pornography must also be held accountable, Layden said, because the industry ultimately makes money by “hurting children.”

“This is an absolute scandal, these are child abuse perpetrators, these pornographic websites,” she said, explaining that they ought to be treated as perpetrators and put in jail, because “if you actually enforce law against obscenity, you can actually take all of their profits.”

Doing this would also “send the message to culture that if we’re putting them in jail, this must be a bad thing,” she said. “The permission-giving beliefs that say everyone is doing it, it must be fine, is just one of the biggest damages, and we can start the sending the message that it’s not okay.”

“We’ve got to stop saying ‘boys will be boys,’” and instead begin educating families more effectively on what healthy sexuality entails, she said, because pornography “hurts everyone involved; men, women, children, performers…it hurts everybody that comes close to it.”

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Pope’s Bangladesh, Burma trip to emphasize peace amid conflict

October 3, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Rome, Italy, Oct 4, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA).- In November Pope Francis will visit Bangladesh and Burma, two developing countries in Asia, where he will bring a message of peace and coexistence amid persecution of minorities, a missionary priest said.

“The Pope’s visit, in my opinion, will help to emphasize that coexistence helps the future of the country, not conflict,” Fr. Bernardo Cervellera told CNA.

In particular, Pope Francis will address the plight of the long-persecuted Rohingya people, in whose defense he has spoken out many times.

Rejected by Buddhist fundamentalist groups – Burma’s religious majority – the Muslim ethnic group has been largely turned away from the Muslim country of Bangladesh as well, where they have sought refuge.

“So these people don’t have a country, they are migrants in the full sense of the term, they have nowhere to lie their head,” Cervellera said.

“And so the Pope defends them, to let Christians and Muslims know that we need to help people not on the basis of their creed, or on the basis of their wealth, or their abilities, but simply because they are human beings.”

Cervellera, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and editor-in-chief of AsiaNews, has spent time in both Burma and Bangladesh. He spoke about Francis’ upcoming visit to Bangladesh and Burma, also known as Myanmar, Nov. 27-Dec. 2.

Something to note about the visit, he said, is that Catholic population in both countries is very small. In Bangladesh less than three percent of the population is Catholic and in Burma it’s less than one percent.

So the Church there is undoubtedly a small minority, he explained, and on top of that, Burma and Bangladesh are still developing, very much placing these countries at the “peripheries of the world.”

“The Pope continues to say: I should go to the peripheries, go out to the peripheries. I find that the Pope really goes to the peripheries to meet with these Catholics and to sustain their mission,” he continued.

In addition to being a minority religion in itself, the Church in these countries is also made up of people from a variety of ethnic minority backgrounds as well.

Besides the Rohingya, during his visit in November the Pope will likely speak out strongly against the ongoing persecution of other minorities in these countries, and “in this case the two things coincide,” Cervellera said.

“That is, the Catholic minority is formed from many ethnic minorities. So the Pope speaks of defending minorities because in this way he also defends Catholics.”

“But in the defense of Catholics, the defense of minorities, he wants to speak to the whole society because the way of peace is the most fruitful for everyone,” he emphasized.

Cervellera also stressed that the Catholics in these areas, though a tiny minority, also have a very important mission in their contribution to development. Because of the Church “there are hospitals, shelters, clinics for the poor, schools, professional schools, colleges, work cooperatives,” he said.

“The Church is a help to the society, to evolve, to mature.”

He also said that he has been to both Bangladesh and Burma and can say that they are “very enthusiastic communities in their faith.” Their faith is “what gives meaning to their life, what gives it color and dignity,” he said.

Though they sometimes face persecution and oppression because of their minority status, this seems to only strengthen their catholicity, he pointed out, finding consolation in having a larger, universal identity to which they also belong.

Though the Catholics in these two countries are among the poorest, living in huts and sleeping on dirt floors, “they are joyous,” he said, and they wish to share the faith with others.

“I think that we can learn from them, this enthusiasm. And maybe we can support them in some way. Because their mission is also ours,” he pointed out.

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