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Vatican Hosts Tech Giants For Online Child Safety Conference


The Vatican is hosting a conference this week promoting child safety online. Representatives from Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are attending. Pope Francis opened the conference yesterday by calling out tech companies. He told them not to sacrifice the protection of children for profit. Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter is in Rome. Welcome to the program.

JOSHUA MCELWEE: Yeah. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: What is the Vatican's goal here?

MCELWEE: Well, it seems a bit like the Vatican and the digital Internet companies are kind of using each other a little bit. I think the Internet companies want to show how serious they are about the problem of protecting children online. And obviously the Vatican wants to show how serious it is also about protecting children after all the revelations of the past year and a half, especially in the United States, about the need to protect children.

So it's interesting that they're having this event. It's coming, actually, as some bishops of the United States are having a once-every-6-to-7-year visit. Included among those is the bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., who is under fire himself for possibly covering up for sexual abusers. So it's an interesting juxtaposition at this moment.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Well, you have gotten right to the heart of the issue. It's not just the last year and a half, it's a couple of decades now of revelations, of stories going back many decades in many cases. Does the Catholic Church have any credibility on this issue at all?

MCELWEE: Some of the organizers spoke to us in the press about what they were trying to achieve. And they basically said they want to show that the Vatican is serious about the issue. The pope mentioned the church's painful and tragic experience, as he put it, on the front of protecting children.

And I think they want to show they're serious about this and willing to engage with outside leaders, these heads of Internet companies, as well as other religious organizations to try and find a way to make sure children are safe online.

INSKEEP: Well, you mentioned that everybody is kind of using everybody else here. But let's just take this at face value. It's a serious issue. Maybe it's an area where the church and tech companies can do something. So what is the specific behavior online that they want to somehow address? And what are ways that tech companies can do that?

MCELWEE: Well, something the pope mentioned in his address opening the event was the fact that there appears to be signs that children, now, as early as age 11 are being exposed to pornography online. The Vatican, I think, wants to find a way for tech companies to come to some agreement about how to limit that exposure.

And we heard from the conference earlier today that one of the executives at Google has suggested there be some sort of new group that can - where executives can come together from different Internet companies and come up with measures to help protect children.

INSKEEP: OK. Mr. McElwee, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

MCELWEE: Yeah. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Joshua McElwee is with the National Catholic Reporter. He's in Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.