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Paying for Sex Is Like Torture and Slavery, Says Pope Francis

Pope Francis used strong words to condemn men who pay for sex with prostitutes during a meeting in Vatican City on Monday.

Around 300 young people were invited for the meeting ahead of the Synod of Bishops scheduled for October, which this year focuses on youth involvement in the Church as its main theme. In opening the conference, the Pope invited participants to ask questions freely, without fear.

He got what he asked for. Blessing Okoedion, a 32-year-old human trafficking survivor who was brought to Italy from Nigeria, asked Francis about the high number of Catholic men who use prostitutes. "I ask myself and I ask you, is it possible for a Church that is still too male chauvinist to be able to question itself truthfully about this high demand by clients?" she said, quoted in Reuters.

"Who does this is a criminal," the pontiff replied. He then acted as a so-called Devil's advocate, asking rhetorically: "But Father, does this mean one can't make love?" He then firmly replied: "This is not making love, this is torturing a woman. Let's not confuse terms. This is criminal."

The pontiff acknowledged that the vast majority of men who use prostitutes in Italy are baptized Catholics. "I want to ask for forgiveness to you, to society, for all the Catholics who carry out this criminal act," he said, quoted in the Italian press, comparing prostitution to slavery. "I think of the disgust these girls must feel when men make them do these things," he added.

03_19_Pope_Francis Pope Francis delivers a speech during a pre-synodal meeting with young people at the Collegio Maria Mater Ecclesiae on March 19 in Rome. Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

The root cause of this behavior, according to Francis, is a "sick mentality" dictating that "women can be exploited," that the feminist movement has yet to eradicate from the collective conscience.

The Pope told young people to fight to end sex trafficking. "This is one of the battles I ask you, young people, to fight for women's dignity," he said.

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