VATICAN – His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France represented His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the International Conference at the Vatican titled Promoting Digital Child Dignity from Concept to Action.
Pope Francis of Rome preside over the opening of the Conference, which was organized by Interfaith Alliance, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and the Child Dignity Alliance.
Metropolitan Emmanuel read in English the Patriarchal message to the Conference, which Patriarch Bartholomew noted, among other things, that “it is important to bear in mind that, as the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, convened in Crete in June 2016, stated in its Message (§11): “Young people are not only the future, but also the dynamic and creative present of the Church, both on a local and on a worldwide level, upon which the future is being built.”
He also said “our deepest gratitude goes to all the organizers of this joint ecumenical meeting for uniting all faith communities and other partners in a quest to safeguard our children, the most vulnerable people on earth. Their vulnerability is due not only to wars, crises, political instability, criminal networks, or climate change, but also due to the threats of the digital age. It is important to remember that, according to UNICEF, one in three internet users worldwide is a child, and young people are now the most digitally-connected of all age groups. From photos posted online to medical records stored in the cloud, many children have a digital footprint well before they can even walk or talk. In this sense, we are facing times of great sociological and anthropological transformations. The digital world has become a space of discovery, especially in terms of human behavior and relationship, but it is also a space of danger and uncertainty.”
In another instance the Patriarch stated that “television, the internet and the constant exposure of children to the digital world lead to the so-called ‘disappearance of childhood,’ resulting in a radical change in children’s lives, a decrease in the span of their childhood, and in an early induction into adulthood together with its problems and contradictions, as well as in a change in the relationship between parent and child.”
His All Holiness stressed that “new technologies have weakened the role of family in the education and formation of children, making the computer the main source of values. Computers, televisions, smart phones, and tablets are not good babysitters, nor are they good fathers, mothers, or teachers. Digital-media addiction leads us to a “superficial relationship” with ourselves and the world, and it promotes the identification of reality with virtual reality. On the one hand, ‘anonymity’ in the digital space lowers our self-control and our sensitivity to moral values. On the other hand, it empowers our propensity for aggression, and truly leads to an increase of violence and lawless activities in the real world. It is not a coincidence that we have experienced a significant increase in child crime. Additionally, through digital communications, children are forced to be part of a competitive lifestyle: they are transformed into consumers and they become accustomed to considering money as their highest value. And even worse, cruel and perverted minds exploit children through the internet, promoting child pornography, and cultivating fanaticism and aggressive behavior.”
He also said that “to tackle the above mentioned manifold challenges of today’s world, protecting children and their childhood is crucial. On November 21, 2018, during our Keynote Address at the World Children’s Day Celebration Event in Geneva, we stated that: “for Orthodox Christianity, the highest ethos is the renouncement of our individual rights in the name of love (ἀγάπη) – for the sake of the protection of the rights of the other. Consequently, we defend the rights of children and promote the protection of their integrity. We strive to uphold their dignity in the digital space, to eradicate their abuse and exploitation, together with all forms of violence and discrimination…In our 2016 Christmas Proclamation, we declared 2017 as the Year of Protection of the Sacredness of Childhood, appealing to all the world to respect the identity and sacredness of childhood and inviting everyone to recognize and respect the rights and integrity of children; in light of the global refugee crisis that especially affects the rights of children; in light of the plague of child mortality, hunger, child labor, child abuse, and psychological violence, as well as the dangers of altering children’s souls through their uncontrolled exposure to the influence of contemporary electronic means of communication and their subjection to consumerism.”