Pennsylvania priests molested over 1,000 children: Report

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The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, discusses the release of the 40th statewide investigating grand jury clergy sex abuse report that identifies 59 religious leaders in his diocese, during a press conference in Scranton, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP)
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Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP)
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Victims of clergy sexual abuse, or their family members react as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP)
Updated 15 August 2018

Pennsylvania priests molested over 1,000 children: Report

  • US bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church
  • The investigation confirmed a “systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: Hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, and senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., systematically covered up the abuse, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.
The “real number” of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing. They hid it all,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg.
The report put the number of abusive clergy at more than 300. In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.
“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jury said.
Authorities evaluated each suspect and were able to charge just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty. Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.
Church officials “routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling” and simply “inappropriate conduct,” Shapiro said.
“It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape,” he said.
The grand jury accused Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who leads the Washington archdiocese, of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. Wuerl, who led the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the allegations.
“While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse,” he said in a statement. “I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report.”
The grand jury probe was the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state. Its findings echoed many earlier church investigations around the country, describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials’ concealment of it. US bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church.
Most of the Pennsylvania victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.
The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him. A 9-year-old boy was forced to perform oral sex and then had his mouth washed out with holy water. Another boy was made to pose naked as if being crucified and then was photographed by a group of priests who Shapiro said produced and shared child pornography on church grounds.
The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police and sent abusive priests to so-called “treatment facilities,” which “laundered” the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry,” the report said.
Shapiro said the investigation confirmed a “systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.” The report itself provided scant detail about the Vatican’s role, beyond describing a series of confidential reports that bishops made to the Vatican about abusive priests.
The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds. The grand jury said it found cases in which police or prosecutors learned of clergy sex abuse allegations but did not investigate out of deference to church officials.
The grand jury’s report comes at a time of renewed scrutiny and fresh scandal at the highest levels of the US Catholic Church. Pope Francis stripped 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his title and ordered him to a lifetime of prayer and penance amid allegations that McCarrick had for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.
Wuerl has come under harsh criticism over his response to the McCarrick scandal, with some commentators questioning his claims of surprise and ignorance over allegations that McCarrick molested and harassed young seminarians.
Wuerl replaced McCarrick as Washington’s archbishop after McCarrick retired in 2006.
The Pennsylvania grand jury, convened by the state attorney general’s office in 2016, heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half-million pages of internal documents from the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.
The Pittsburgh diocese said a few priests are still in ministry because the diocese determined allegations against them were unsubstantiated.
Tim Lennon, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged Pennsylvania lawmakers to lift civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex crimes, and to provide victims who no longer meet the age requirements in state law with a new window to file civil lawsuits.
Some current and former clergy named in the report went to court to prevent its release, arguing it violated their constitutional rights. The state Supreme Court said the public had a right to see it, but ruled the names of priests and others who objected to the findings would be blacked out pending a September hearing on their claims.
Twenty of the grand jurors said Tuesday they objected to “any attempts to censor, alter, redact or amend” the report.
Several dioceses decided to strip the accused of their anonymity and released the names of clergy members who were accused of sexual misconduct.


French court lengthens jihadist’s sentence on appeal

Updated 16 sec ago

French court lengthens jihadist’s sentence on appeal

PARIS: A French appeal court on Tuesday increased an extremist’s sentence for his senior role with Daesh group in Syria from 30 years to life in prison.
Frenchman Tyler Vilus had already been convicted for his work with the Daesh group there between 2013 and 2015.
On appeal, the court also ordered that the 31-year-old serve a minimum of 22 years in jail.
He was deemed a “major risk” to re-offend and still denied some of the charges.
Vilus led the “Al-MuHajjireen” (the immigrants) brigade, a squadron that tortured and carried out summary executions.
He was deported to France after being arrested at an Istanbul airport with a Swiss passport in July 2015 en route to Europe to carry out an attack.
His mother, dubbed “Mama Jihad” in the French press, traveled three times to Syria in support of her son and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for her “unfailing commitment” to jihad.
Among the charges, Vilus was found guilty of taking part in the public execution of two blindfolded prisoners, which was filmed for a propaganda video.
Vilus stood, head bowed, behind a glass screen to hear the verdict after an eight-day hearing under tight security in central Paris.

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

Updated 17 min 39 sec ago

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

  • FBI is confronting increasing threats from individuals motivated by racial and political grievances
  • The danger posed in Afghanistan by groups like al-Qaida and the Daesh is at the moment primarily a regional threat

WASHINGTON: The possibility of a 9/11-type attack has diminished over the last 20 years, but the Taliban victory in Afghanistan could embolden US-based extremists.
At the same time that the FBI is confronting increasing threats from individuals motivated by racial and political grievances, top national security officials warned Tuesday.
Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the terrorism threat to the country is less “acute” than it was two decades ago, and that the danger posed in Afghanistan by groups like Al-Qaeda and the Daesh is at the moment primarily a regional threat. And FBI Director Christopher Wray said that though extremist groups have never stopped plotting attacks against the US, the FBI is better positioned to stop them.
Even so, the officials said, the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the potential ascendancy of foreign terror groups there could inspire Westerners to commit acts of violence. That’s on top of a domestic terrorism caseload that Wray said has “exploded” since the spring of 2020 from about 1,000 investigations to around 2,700.
“We are concerned that, with developments in Afghanistan — among other things — that there will be more inspiration to the first bucket,” Wray said of the international terrorism threat. “So I think we anticipate, unfortunately, growth in both categories as we look ahead over the next couple of years.”
US officials say they’re monitoring the situation in Afghanistan following the speedy Taliban blitz, particularly with an eye on how Al-Qaeda or IS could rebuild to the point of being able to conduct an attack targeting the US
“I think it is fair to assess that the development of those groups’ external operations capability, we’ve got to monitor and assess whether that’s going to happen faster than we had predicted otherwise,” Abizaid said. “Afghanistan is a very dynamic environment right now.”
Officials also defended the vetting process they have in place to screen the backgrounds of Afghanistan refugees seeking entry into the US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the number of refugees denied entry has been minimal because “we have not found many people with derogatory information relative to those who qualify for admission to the United States by reason of their status.”
“The (screening) architecture that has been built over 20 years since 9/11 remains in place and has only strengthened,” he said. “We have a screening and vetting architecture. We have greater cooperation among the federal agencies in the counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement communities. We remain ever vigilant in that regard.”

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Qatar's ruler urges world leaders not to boycott Taliban

Updated 40 min 51 sec ago

Qatar's ruler urges world leaders not to boycott Taliban

  • The emir of Qatar says the international community must not to repeat the past mistakes in Afghanistan by imposing a 'political system from outside'
  • Sheikh Tamim says the world must continue to support Afghanistan and 'separate humanitarian aid from political differences'

DUBAI: The ruling emir of Qatar, whose nation has played a pivotal role in Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal, urged world leaders gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday against turning their backs on the country's Taliban rulers.

Speaking from the podium of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani stressed “the necessity of continuing dialogue with Taliban because boycott only leads to polarization and reactions, whereas dialogue could bring in positive results.”

His warning was directed at the many heads of state worried about engaging with the Taliban and recognizing their takeover of Afghanistan.

To date, no nation has yet formally recognized the Taliban’s ascension by force to power or its all-male Cabinet, which is stacked with senior figures who were previously detained in the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or are on a United Nations sanctions list. The group has said this exclusively Taliban-run Cabinet is only interim, offering hope that a future government could be more inclusive.

President Joe Biden, who also spoke earlier at the UN on Tuesday, said the end of American military operations in Afghanistan last month would be followed by "a new era of relentless diplomacy" with the rest of the world.

In that same spirit of diplomacy, Sheikh Tamim said Qatar agreed years ago to host the Taliban's political leadership in exile because “we were confident that war offers no solution and that there would be dialogue in the end.”

Qatar is a close US ally and hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East, but the tiny Gulf Arab state also has some sway with the Taliban. Because of its unique role, Qatar hosted direct US-Taliban talks around the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and helped facilitate evacuations from Kabul.

Now, countries like the US and Japan have relocated their diplomatic staff in Afghanistan to Qatar to continue diplomacy from there. Qatar is also assisting with the facilitation of needed humanitarian aid and with operations at Kabul airport.

Sheikh Tamim on Tuesday urged against repeating past mistakes in Afghanistan “to impose a political system from outside.”

“Regardless of intentions, efforts made and money invested, this experience in Afghanistan has collapsed after 20 years,” Sheikh Tamim said.

The 41-year-old leader said the international community must continue to support Afghanistan at this critical stage and “to separate humanitarian aid from political differences.” Afghanistan is among the world’s poorest countries and receives billions of dollars in foreign aid a year, though that could change with the US-backed government out of power and the Taliban now in charge.

Uzbekistan, another neighboring country to Afghanistan, has resumed the supply of oil and electricity to the war-torn country, according to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

“It is impossible to isolate Afghanistan and leave it within the range of its problems,” he said in remarks at the UN on Tuesday. He called for a permanent UN Committee on Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s foreign minister told reporters at UN headquarters that Taliban rulers should understand that if they want recognition and assistance in rebuilding the war-battered country “they have to be more sensitive and more receptive to international opinion and norms.” The top leadership of the Taliban for years has operated out of Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and is home to large numbers of Afghan refugees.

The Taliban say they want international recognition and have promised an open and inclusive system, one that would offer amnesty to all Afghans. They say it is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize their government and for other countries to have diplomatic relations with them.

Despite their pledges of tolerance, there have been numerous troubling signs that the Taliban are restricting women’s rights and targeting activists and those they battled against as they settle into government after taking control of the capital of Kabul last month. During their previous rule of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban had denied girls and women the right to education and barred them from public life.

Sheikh Tamim said it is up to the Afghan people to achieve a comprehensive political settlement and pave the way for stability. He touted Qatar's outsized role in assisting with the chaotic US-led evacuation of more than 100,000 Afghans and others from Kabul in August.

“This was our humanitarian duty,” he said.


UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

Updated 21 September 2021

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

  • British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban
  • “On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize," Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament

LONDON: Britain’s defense minister apologized and his ministry suspended an official Tuesday after a “significant” data breach involving the email addresses of dozens of Afghan interpreters hoping to settle in the UK
A Defense Ministry email to more than 250 Afghans who are eligible for relocation and still remain in Afghanistan was mistakenly copied to all applicants Monday instead of blind copied. British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban.
“It is an unacceptable level of service that has let down the thousands of members of the armed forces and veterans. On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize,” Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament.
Investigations are taking place, and officials will help provide security advice to those affected, Wallace added. He told lawmakers that authorities believe there are 900 “credible cases” of Afghan resettlement currently being processed.
The opposition Labour Party welcomed Wallace’s apology but said actions matter more than words.
“These Afghan interpreters worked alongside our British forces and the Government rightly pledged to protect them,” lawmaker John Healey said. “Ministers must make good on those promises now.”
Defense Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood, who like Wallace is a member of the governing Conservative Party, said: “The Taliban haven’t changed, they seek to exact revenge on anybody that worked for NATO. We must get these interpreters out or they’ll be hunted and killed.”
Britain’s government dispatched over 1,000 soldiers, diplomats and officials to Afghanistan in August to evacuate some 15,000 British nationals and Afghan allies after the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul.

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Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

Updated 21 September 2021

Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

  • Several small earthquakes shook the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday
  • Authorities said the new fissure demonstrated that the area was unstable and unsafe, and kept people at least 2 kilometers away

EL PASO, Canary Islands: As a new volcanic vent blew open and unstoppable rivers of molten rock flowed toward the sea, authorities on a Spanish island warned Tuesday.
Also more dangers lie ahead for residents, including earthquakes, lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.
Several small earthquakes shook the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday, keeping nerves on edge after a volcanic eruption on Sunday. The island, with a population of 85,000, is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, a key tourist destination for Europeans.
Authorities said the new fissure demonstrated that the area was unstable and unsafe, and kept people at least 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) away.
The rivers of lava, up to six meters (nearly 20 feet) high, rolled down hillsides, burning and crushing everything in their path, as they gradually closed in on the island’s more densely populated coast. One was bearing down on Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live, and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.
So far, the eruption has destroyed around 190 houses and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people.
“The truth is that it’s a tragedy to see people losing their properties,” said municipal worker Fernando Díaz in the town of El Paso.
The lava’s advance has slowed to about 120 meters (400 feet) an hour, according to the head of the Canary Island Volcanic Emergency Plan, Miguel Ángel Morcuende, and wasn’t expected to reach the Atlantic Ocean before Wednesday.
Canary Islands government chief Ángel Víctor Torres said “when (the lava) reaches the sea, it will be a critical moment.”
The meeting of the lava, whose temperature exceeds 1,000 degrees Celsius (more than 1,800 F), with a body of water could cause explosions and produce clouds of toxic gas. Torres asked locals to remember the island’s last eruption in 1971, when one person died after inhaling the gas emitted as lava met the water.
A change in the wind direction blew the ashes from the volcano across a vast area on the western side of the island, with the black particles blanketing everything. Volcanic ash is an irritant for the eyes and lungs.
The volcano has also been spewing out between 8,000 and 10,500 tons of sulfur dioxide — which also affects the lungs — every day, the Volcanology Institute said.
Adding to the dangers, the emergence of new cracks in the earth spewing lava cannot be ruled out, said Nemesio Pérez, head of the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, who noted there is “important superficial seismic activity in the area.”
The new fissure that appeared Monday night is 900 meters (3,000 feet) north of the Cumbre Vieja ridge, where the volcano first erupted Sunday after a week of thousands of small earthquakes. That earthquake swarm warned authorities that an eruption was likely and allowed many people to be evacuated, avoiding casualties.
The new fissure opened after what the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said was a 3.8-magnitude quake.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.
Torres described the lava-hit region as a “catastrophe zone” and said he would request money to rebuild roads, water pipes and create temporary accommodations for families who have lost their homes as well as their farmland.
Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are to visit the area on Thursday.