Catholic social teaching proclaims the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of all human life. Each person is made in the image of God, is loved immeasurably by Him, and has inherent worth. Every person is precious, people are more important than possessions, and the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person. Because every life is a gift from God and is sacred, it deserves to be protected and nurtured; we each have a responsibility to fight against the violation and degradation of our brothers and sisters.
Modern-day slavery—where men, women, and children are bought and sold like merchandise—inherently rejects this principle, showing absolute contempt for human beings. For this reason, eliminating human trafficking and empowering survivors has been a historic concern of the Catholic Church.
We each have a responsibility to fight against the violation and degradation of our brothers and sisters.
Commitment to end slavery in all its forms is rooted in the Catechism of the Church, which forbids any act leading to the enslavement of humans—a sin against a person's dignity and fundamental human rights (2414). This commitment was reaffirmed during the Second Vatican Council, when the Church stated that "slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, [and] disgraceful working conditions where [people] are treated as mere tools for profit" are "infamies" and a "supreme dishonor to the creator."
Vatican’s Handbook on Combatting Trafficking
The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican has released a set of guidelines to help the Catholic community eradicate human trafficking. The publication, Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking, offers Catholic dioceses, parishes, religious congregations, schools and universities an in-depth reading and comprehension of modern day slavery to serve as much needed encouragement to anti-trafficking ministries. The publications’ points can be leveraged in homilies, education, and media. Download your copy at the Vatican’s website in various languages and formats.
Papal teaching prioritizes efforts to eradicate human trafficking. All three of the Church's most recent papal leaders, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, have publicly decried trafficking in persons, calling for its eradication and for the protection of survivors.
Pope John Paul II, highlighted the repugnant nature of the buying and selling of humans, "Such situations are an affront to fundamental values which are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person. The alarming increase in the trade in human beings…presents a serious threat to the security of individual nations and a question of international justice which cannot be deferred." Pope Benedict XVI insisted on the need to combat "trafficking in human beings, especially women, that flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited."
Since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has repeatedly urged Catholics and all people of good will to combat this "crime against humanity" which is "an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge against the body of Christ".
Archbishop Auza, the representative of the Holy See at the United Nations, has outlined Pope Francis' general message on human trafficking:
- Human trafficking is a crime that is happening in our local communities
- Root causes are economic, environmental, ethical, and political in nature
- Trafficking takes advantage of a widespread culture of indifference and exclusion
- Now is the time for action against modern day slavery
- Action must involve everyone
To that end, Pope Francis has launched the Interfaith Global Freedom Network to fight human trafficking with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby and initiated the Santa Marta Group, an international coalition of senior law enforcement chiefs and leaders of the Catholic Church working with civil society to end human trafficking. He also developed the #EndSlavery movement to investigate how human trafficking can be eliminated.
The Statements of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Statements of the Episcopal Conference of Mexico, and the Work of Women Religious
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops publicly condemns human trafficking, works toward its elimination, and cares for victims and survivors. In their pastoral letter on migration, "Strangers No Longer," American and Mexican Catholic bishops "call upon both nations to undertake joint efforts to halt the scourge of trafficking in human persons, both within our hemisphere and internationally. Trafficking in persons–in which men, women, and children from all over the globe are transported to other countries for the purposes of forced prostitution or labor—inherently rejects the dignity of the human person and exploits conditions of global poverty."
Women religious have played an integral role in combatting human trafficking and protecting victims. In 2001, 800 women leaders of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) passed a resolution dedicating over one million members "to work in solidarity with one another within our own religious communities and in the countries in which we are located to address insistently at every level the abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children . . ." These efforts in the United States fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, who strive for "a world without slavery with a network of services and resources to inform the public, prevent the crime and assist survivors to achieve a fulfilling life."