Pope Francis called for universal action to help combat the “exponential” increase in the abuse of minors in the digital world.

The Holy Father’s comments come from an audience last week during a meeting at the Vatican’s  Apostolic Palace on “Promoting Digital Child Dignity – From Concept to Action.” The congress was organized by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.

Speaking to experts in technology, media, businesses, legislators, parents, religious leaders and others, he spoke out against the “use of digital technology to organize, commission and engage in child abuse at a distance.”

“The spread of images of abuse or the exploitation of minors is increasing exponentially, involving ever more serious and violent forms of abuse and ever younger children.”

Pope Francis pointed out the blessing and bane that the “development of new technologies in the digital world” has been. While opening up “new horizons,” the challenge is to “ensure that minors have safe access to these technologies” while also “protecting them from unacceptable criminal violence or grave harm.”

“The potential of digital technology is enormous, yet the possible negative impact of its abuse in the area of human trafficking, the planning of terrorist activities, the spread of hatred and extremism, the manipulation of information and in the area of child abuse, is equally significant.”

He called for “concrete initiatives,” a “global movement” with the goal of “protecting the dignity of minors and every human person” that respects “freedom of expression and communication” while understanding the “need for a responsible use of technologies and consequently a recognition of their limits.”

“Indeed, it is not enough to understand; we must act. The longer we wait, the more entrenched and insurmountable this evil becomes. The safe and sound growth of our young is a noble goal worth pursuing; it has far greater value than mere economic profit gained at the risk of harming young people.”

He called upon “computer engineers to feel personally responsible for building the future,” using artificial intelligence to combat “the wrongful use of newly available technology.” He also called upon the “digital industry” to be “proactive and consistent in its approach to customer safety starting from the development of online products and services.”

“The identification and elimination of illegal and harmful images from circulation on the net by the use of increasingly refined algorithms, represents a very significant area of research.”

You can read Pope Francis’ full address here.

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