- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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Cardinal Vincent Nichols told the conference hosted by UN special envoy Angelina Jolie and Foreign Secretary William Hague that “sexual violence is always a crime; it is always an immoral act.”
“Sexual violence as an instrument of warfare and conflict is a deep wound on the body of humanity,” he told the four-day conference that has been taking place in London this week.
The conference aims to launch a new international protocol for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict, encourage countries to strengthen laws to enable prosecutions, and urge countries to train soldiers and peacekeepers to prevent sexual violence.
The cardinal was taking part in a panel discussion on Wednesday on the role of faith leaders in preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict. The panel included the Anglican Primate of Burundi, Bernard Ntahorturi, Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah of Saudi Arabia and representatives from Tearfund South Africa and UNAIDS.
“The Church wholeheartedly backs every initiative to prevent sexual violence being perpetrated against anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances,” Cardinal Nichols said.
Pope Francis also voiced support for victims of sexual violence, sending a message to the Global Summit. He tweeted: “Let us pray for all victims of sexual violence in conflict, and those working to end this crime.”
Mr Hague at Tuesday’s opening of the summit said that rape was one of the "great mass crimes" of modern times.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, sent a video message to a panel discussion on the role of faith leaders in preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict.
In it he said that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, churches are the “main bulwark” against the increasing brutalisation of the local population “by war, by rampaging militias, by extractive industries misbehaving”. He said church agencies give medical treatment to the women who come to them for help and teach them a craft so they can earn a living and re-enter society. He said churches are also involved in encouraging “proper relationships between men and women, in which there is equal valuing”.