Police from around the world and religious leaders pledge to work together and to fight against human trafficking
Lizzy Davies in Vatican City
theguardian.com, Friday 11 April 2014 03.23 AEST
Pope Francis met privately with four women, all former sex workers who were the victims of trafficking. Photograph: ZUMA/REX
Pope Francis has described human trafficking as “a crime against humanity” as international police chiefs and religious figures pledged in the Vatican to work together to fight modern-day slavery.
At the end of a two-day meeting, organised by the bishops’ conference of England and Wales and chaired by the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Pope Francis met privately with four women, all former sex workers who were the victims of trafficking.
In his address, the Argentinian pontiff said: “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.”
Attended by the home secretary, Theresa May, as well as Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, the conference was designed to encourage cooperation between the Catholic church and law enforcement officials on the ground.
The pope’s backing for the project was invaluable, said Hogan-Howe, not only for the moral stance it would send and the network of 1.2 billion Catholics it would reach but also for his sheer pulling power.
“If I’d asked 20 police chiefs from Thailand [and] Australia to travel to London, they may have, but I can guarantee that if the pope shows his interest, people will be interested. And that leadership is so powerful,” he said.
The pope’s backing of the conference could help move human trafficking up the agenda of governments throughout the world, added Hogan-Howe. “Apart from its mere statement, it encourages governments to pass laws. It seems to me that by making such a declaration it encourages governments to take this as a very high priority.”
The conference heard that only 1% of human trafficking victims currently come forward and the church believes it can play an important role in providing sanctuary for them, as well as support in reintegration, regularisation and psychological recovery.
Participants of the conference have dubbed themselves the Santa Martha group because many were accommodated in the Vatican guesthouse, or Casa Santa Marta, where the pope lives. They have agreed to meet again, in London, in November, said Nichols.