Pope summons bishops for abuse prevention summit

Pope Francis is summoning the presidents of every bishops conference around the world for a February summit to discuss preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children — evidence that he realizes the scandal is global and that inaction threatens to undermine his legacy.

Pope Francis Source: Associated Press

Francis' key cardinal advisers announced the decision on Wednesday (local time), a day before Francis meets with U.S. church leaders who have been discredited anew by the latest accusations in the Catholic Church's decades-long sex abuse and cover-up scandal.

The Feb. 21-24 meeting of the presidents of the more than 100 bishops conferences is believed to be the first of its kind, and signals a realization at the highest levels of the church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem and not restricted to the Anglo-Saxon world, as many church leaders have long tried to insist.

Earlier this year, Francis faced what was then the worst crisis of his papacy when he repeatedly discredited victims of a notorious Chilean predator priest. He eventually admitted to "grave errors in judgment" and has taken steps to make amends, sanction guilty bishops and remake the Chilean episcopacy, which he accused of helping to fuel a "culture of cover-up."

More recently, Francis' papacy has been jolted by accusations from a retired Vatican ambassador that he rehabilitated a top American cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI for having molested and harassed adult seminarians.

The Vatican hasn't responded to the accusations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, but has promised "clarifications" that presumably will come sometime after Francis' meeting Thursday with the U.S. delegation.

The Vatican said Tuesday the delegation would be headed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and also include Francis' top sex abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

Di Nardo has said he wants Francis to authorize a full-fledged Vatican investigation into ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was removed as cardinal in July after a credible accusation that he groped a teenager.

The Vatican has known since at least 2000 that McCarrick would invite seminarians to his New Jersey beach house and into his bed.

DiNardo has also said recent accusations that top Vatican officials - including the current pope - covered up for McCarrick since 2000 deserve answers.

The Vatican in 2011 ordered every bishops conference around the world to develop written guidelines to prevent abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. The Vatican said the guidelines should specify how bishops should tend to victims, punish offenders and keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.

While most have obliged, other conferences particularly in Africa have not, either citing lack of resources or other impediments.

Remarkably, Vatican City itself has no such policy, even though the Holy See promised the United Nations five years ago that it was developing a "safe environment program" — including written guidelines — to protect children inside the 110-acre (44-hectare) Vatican City.

The U.S. conference of bishops issued what is considered the gold-standard policy in 2002, requiring accusations of abuse to be reported to police and the permanent removal from ministry of any priest found to have abused a minor.

But that policy has been questioned recently, given it exempted bishops like McCarrick, who according to the church's own laws, can only be judged by the pope.

The credibility of the U.S. church leadership is now in tatters over the McCarrick scandal and recent revelations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which found that some 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s — and that a string of bishops in six dioceses covered up for them, including the current archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburg for some 18 years, offered to resign nearly three years ago when he turned 75 but Francis hasn't accepted it. In a letter to priests on Tuesday, he said he would be returning to Rome soon to discuss his resignation, aware that it's time for new leadership.

Since the Pennsylvania report was issued last month, prosecutors in a half-dozen U.S. states have announced plans for similar investigations.

The U.S. isn't alone in digging into its past. On Wednesday, German media reported that a church-commissioned study on abuse in the German church detailed 3,677 abuses cases between 1946 and 2014, with more than half of the victims aged 13 or younger and most boys. Every sixth case involved rape and at least 1,670 clergy were involved, according to Spiegel Online and Die Zeit, which said they obtained the report that was due to be released Sept. 25.


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'Welcome to the PC World' - Melbourne newspaper reprints controversial cartoon of Serena Williams

A controversial cartoon of Serena Williams that has been widely condemned as a racist depiction of the tennis great has been partially reprinted on the front page of the Melbourne-based newspaper that initially published it.

The Herald Sun newspaper printed an edited portion of the cartoon - featuring 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams jumping on a broken racket during her dispute with a chair umpire in the US Open final - among caricatures of other famous people Wednesday under the headline "Welcome to the PC World."

The newspaper has defended its cartoonist Mark Knight's depiction of Williams and is asserting the condemnation, which has come from all parts of the world, is driven by political correctness.

"If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed," the paper printed on its front page.

Williams has won the Australian Open singles title seven times at Melbourne Park, including 2017 when she was pregnant. She is a crowd favorite at the first tennis major of the year, which is held each January at a venue that is within sight of the Herald Sun's headquarters.

In comments published by News Corp., Knight said that he created the cartoon after watching Williams' "tantrum" during her US Open final loss to Naomi Osaka on Saturday and that it was designed to illustrate "her poor behavior on the day, not about race".

Knight reportedly has disabled his Twitter account after his post of the cartoon attracted tens of thousands of comments, mostly critical.

During the final against Osaka, Williams got a warning from the chair umpire for violating a rarely enforced rule against receiving coaching from the sidelines. An indignant Williams emphatically defended herself, denying she had cheated. A short time later, she smashed her racket in frustration and was docked a point. She protested and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalised her a game.

Critics of Knight's cartoon described it as a clear example of a stereotype facing black women, depicting Williams as an irate, hulking, big-mouthed black woman jumping up and down on a broken racket. The umpire was shown telling a blond, slender woman - meant to be Osaka, who is Japanese and Haitian - "Can you just let her win?"

"I was deeply offended. This is not a joke," said Vanessa K. De Luca, former editor in chief of Essence magazine, who wrote a column about the US Open furor.

The cartoonist "completely missed the point of why she was upset," De Luca told The Associated Press. "It was about her integrity, and anybody who doesn't get that is perpetuating the erasure that so many black women feel when they are trying to speak up for themselves. It's like our opinions don't matter."

In a social media post, Peter Blunden, managing director of News Corp's operations in the state of Victoria, said: "Australia's finest cartoonist Mark Knight has the strongest support of his colleagues for his depiction of Serena Williams' petulance. It's about bad behaviour, certainly not race. The PC brigade are way off the mark ... again."

NZ Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson has come to the defence of Australian colleague Mark Knight, who is denying claims of racism. Source: 1 NEWS


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Monster Hurricane Florence nears Carolina coast as fleeing residents strike empty petrol stations

Coastal residents fleeing a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane Florence encountered empty gasoline pumps and depleted store shelves as the monster storm neared the Carolina coast with 225 km/h winds and drenching rain that could last for days.

While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings that include the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the US East Coast, many weren't taking any chances.

A steady stream of vehicles full of people and belongings flowed inland on Tuesday (Weds NZT), and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper tried to convince everyone to flee.

"The waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you've ever seen. Even if you've ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don't bet your life on riding out a monster," he said.

Forecasters said Florence was expected to blow ashore late Thursday or early Friday local time, then slow down and dump 0.3 to 0.6 metres of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid. He said the federal government is "absolutely, totally prepared" for Florence.

All three states ordered mass evacuations along the coast. But getting out of harm's way could prove difficult.

Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 485 kilometres ahead of its eye, and so wet that a swath from South Carolina to Ohio and Pennsylvania could get deluged.

People across the region rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies, board up their homes, pull their boats out of the water and get out of town.

At 2am (Weds evening NZT), the storm was centered 1,005 km southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 28 km/h. It was a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm but was expected to keep drawing energy from the warm water and intensify to near Category 5, which means winds of 253 km/h or higher.

Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac was east of the Lesser Antilles and expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba, while Hurricane Helene was moving northward away from land. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.

Described as a monster, the eye of Hurricane Florence continues to grow. Source: 1 NEWS

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Plane makes emergency landing in Boston after engine issue leads to smoke and gas-like odour filling cabin

An engine-related issue forced an Iberia Airways flight en route to Madrid to make and emergency landing at Boston's Logan Airport.

The Boston Globe reports an Iberia Airways spokeswoman says the plane landed without incident and there were no injuries to any of the 265 passengers.

The flight originated Tuesday around 9:15pm (local time) at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The spokeswoman said about 90 minutes into the flight crew members noticed an engine-related issue. The plane landed safely in Boston.

Melissa Miller, of New York, says she was on the flight and that passengers "knew something was up" when a smoke and gas-like odour filled the cabin.

Miller said passengers were bussed back to New York to re-book flights.

Massport and FAA officials did not respond to requests for comment.

There have been delays at Auckland Airport
Plane (file). Source: 1 NEWS


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Indian man told police how he befriended truck drivers then murdered them and sold their vehicles and goods

Indian police have arrested a 48-year-old man who they say has confessed to killing 33 truck drivers and their helpers over the past decade, then selling the vehicles and the goods they were carrying.

The man was arrested two weeks ago near the central town of Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, police officer Rahul Kumar Lodha said Wednesday.

Police stumbled across the man's name as they investigated a string of recent murders of truck drivers in Madhya Pradesh.

While the man was apparently not connected to those killings, some of the seven men arrested told police they had helped him in similar robberies.

The man told police he would befriend drivers in roadside eateries and slip drugs into their food so they would fall asleep, Lodha said.

He would then drive their trucks to isolated areas, strangle them and their helpers, and dump the bodies in forests.

He and his accomplices would then sell the trucks and their goods, Lodha said.

Indian drivers often travel with assistants who help clean their trucks, change tires and other chores.

Dharmendra Choudhary, another police officer in Madhya Pradesh state, said the suspect was arrested in western Maharashtra state some years ago in connection with similar robberies, but was freed on bail and fled.

Between robberies, he worked as a tailor in a small shop in Mandideep, a village on the outskirts of Bhopal.

Truck
Truck Source: istock.com