Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the most senior Catholic in England and Wales and he has launched a battle against modern slavery that will put the victim at the center…
He described the crime as a “huge problem in the fabric of society” and he is bringing police, nuns, and bishops together to tackle it.
In frank comments to the Press Association, he admitted the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandals have left some doubting its credentials. But he said the Church’s past has motivated him to do all he can to work for the victims of modern slavery, many of whom end up being trafficked and sold into sex work.
As head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, he said: “What in this work we try to do is keep the victim right at the centre. So yes it is a terrible crime, and yes there is prosecution to be pursued, and yes it is fascinating listening to people talk about developing instruments that can help banks be aware of where money might be coming from. But we want to keep the victim at the centre of this. That is partly because over the last 15 years in my life, and I think in the life of the Catholic Church more broadly, there has been real difficult lessons to learn about understanding victims and opening your heart to victims, and realising how early experiences and experiences of total vulnerability can have a lifelong impact on a person.”
He continued, “So that in a way is a motivation. Here is a huge group of victims and their anger is not directed to the Church – unlike people who have been abused in Church circles, which makes it difficult for us to be directly assisting victims of abuse because they are understandably angry with us. But here there are people who are desperately caught and trapped and we can help them. And the learning from one, we can bring to this work.”
Modern slavery is steadily on the rise. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour, and in Britain an estimated 13,000 people work as modern slaves in fields, factories, fisheries, nail bars and prostitution.
Last year, the Modern Slavery Act was passed. It called for a life sentence for those found guilty of the crime. Cardinal Nichols supported the act and made modern slavery one of his main focuses. He was inspired by nuns who worked with the local police to assist women who had been trafficked to London and forced into prostitution. He began a Santa Marta group to bring clergy and police together globally to combat modern slavery. His work was endorsed by Pope Francis who told him to “keep this going”.
The UN is dedicated to ending modern slavery by 2030, but Cardinal Nichols thinks that while it is ambitious, it is doable.
With the war and chaos in the Middle East and the looming migrant crisis, it is likely that more and more will be lured into the hands of traffickers. Cardinal Nichols points out that victims come from Nigeria, Eastern Europe, and other foreign countries. No part of Britain, he says, is immune to it. “The very first person I met who suffered this was an English girl who was trafficked and deceived by a relationship with an Italian lad who invited her to Italy. She went and within no time was in to enforced prostitution for six years.
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