London — Sexual violence "is always a crime, an immoral act" and the Catholic church is committed to prevent such offenses being perpetrated "against anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances," an English cardinal said.
Speaking at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said the rape and sexual degradation of civilians during conflicts inflicted a "deep wound on the body of humanity."
The violation of bodily integrity in sexual violence was "a most fundamental denial of human dignity and a most gross breach of a person's human rights," the cardinal said Thursday, the third day of the largest-ever summit held on the subject of sexual violence in war.
"It is a crime which ought to be eradicated with all vigor," the cardinal said at the event in London.
He said the damage caused by sexual violence "is so radical and so permanent that it defies description," especially because such acts were not random but part of a "deliberate and ordered tactic of oppression, domination and destruction."
"It is to the shame of our world that the systematic use of sexual violation is still today, in some places, considered as a duty of soldiers, an order that they must carry out," he said.
"The public tolerance of sexual violence leads to the inversion of human decency," he added. "It reinforces other forms of oppression and undermines the morals which uphold the rights of the human person."
Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said such violence stood in stark contrast to the teaching of the church that human sexuality is a means of uniting two people in love at the deepest level.
"What is most relevant in this teaching for us today is that there is no place in sexual relations for brutality, aggression or any kind of de-humanization of a person," he said, adding that the "justice at the heart of human sexual relations must be respected as integral to all justice, even in conflict and warfare."
Referring to the launch Wednesday of an international protocol to help strengthen prosecutions for rape during conflict, Nichols said it was right that perpetrators should be pursued as war criminals.
"In this initiative, the measures being proposed and pursued to strengthen the legal frameworks for the pursuit and prosecution of all war criminals are fully supported by the principles of morality and social justice and must be given widespread support," he said.
"War is no excuse. The demands of justice remain in place. A crime is a crime, whether committed in the context of conflict or not," the cardinal said, adding, "I assure you of my full support."
The summit was convened with the aim of "creating irreversible momentum" against sexual violence and to help to establish practical action "on the ground."
It was co-chaired by William Hague, British foreign secretary, and American actress Angelina Jolie, special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Nichols spoke as a member of a panel set up to focus on the role of faith leaders in combatting sexual violence.
On Friday, the final day, Hague and Jolie were to join U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in addressing the closing plenary session.
Join the Conversation
Send your thoughts and reactions to our online Letters to the Editor column. Learn more here