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Report: Catholic Charity Founder Sexually Abused Women

A respected Catholic figure who worked to improve conditions for the developmentally disabled for more than half a century sexually abused at least six women during most of that period, according to a report released Saturday by the France-based charity he founded.The report produced for L’Arche International said the women’s descriptions provided enough evidence to show that Jean Vanier engaged in “manipulative sexual relationships” from 1970 to 2005, usually with a “psychological hold” over the alleged victims.Although he was a layman and not a priest, many Catholics hailed Vanier, who was Canadian, as a living saint for his work with the disabled. He died last year at age 90.“The alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions,” the report, commissioned by L’Arche last year and prepared by the U.K.-based GCPS Consulting group, said. It did not rule out potential other victims.Power imbalanceNone of the women was disabled, a significant point given the Catholic hierarchy has long sought to portray any sexual relationship between religious leaders and other adults as consensual unless there was clear evidence of disability.The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, however, have forced a recognition that power imbalances such as those in spiritual relationships can breed abuse.During the charity-commissioned inquiry, six adult women without links to each other said Vanier engaged in sexual relations with them as they were seeking spiritual direction.The women reported similar facts, and Vanier’s sexual misconduct was often associated with alleged “spiritual and mystical justifications,” the report states.A statement released by L’Arche France Saturday stressed that some women still have “deep wounds.”The report noted similarities with the pattern of abuse of the Rev. Thomas Philippe, a Catholic priest Vanier called his “spiritual father.” Philippe, who died in 1993, has been accused of sexual abuse by several women.Painful truthA statement from L’Arche International said analysis of archives shows that Vanier “adopted some of Father Thomas Philippe’s deviant theories and practices.” Philippe was banned from exercising any public or private ministry in a trial led by the Catholic Church in 1956 for his theories and the sexual practices that stemmed from them.In a letter to the charity members, the Leaders of L’Arche International, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates Carney, told of their shock at the news, and condemned Vanier’s actions.“For many of us, Jean was one of the people we loved and respected the most. … While the considerable good he did throughout his life is not in question, we will nevertheless have to mourn a certain image we may have had of Jean and of the origins of L’Arche,” they wrote.Other devoted fans and Catholic commentators voiced soulful disappointment at the findings. Some held up the case as a reason to bring long waits back to the saint-making process to make sure candidates for canonization hold up to scrutiny long after death.John Gehring, program director at the U.S. advocacy network Faith in Public Life, said Vanier attracted so many devotees because he was a “quiet refugee from that chaos” of the institutional Catholic Church.“Part of why the Vanier news is so gutting, I think, is that he offered an authentic path into deep spirituality for many detached from the institutional church and disillusioned with clerical leaders who abused power,” he tweeted. “The truth is painful.”L’Arche founded in 1964Vanier worked as a Canadian navy officer and professor before turning to charity work. A visit to a psychiatric facility prompted him to found L’Arche in 1964 as an alternative living environment where people with developmental disabilities could be participants in their community instead of patients.The charity now has facilities in 38 countries that are home to thousands of people, both with and without disabilities.Vanier, who was unmarried, also traveled the world to encourage dialogue across religions, and was awarded the 2015 Templeton Prize for spiritual work, as well as France’s Legion of Honor. He was the subject of a documentary shown at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival called “Jean Vanier, the Sacrament of Tenderness.”The allegations against Vanier reveal a major gap in the Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse allegations, even for Vatican-recognized associations of the faithful, such as L’Arche. Because he was a layman, Vanier was exempt from the church’s in-house sanctioning procedures for abuse, which only cover priests, bishops and cardinals. For these offenders, the worst penalty the Vatican can impose is defrocking — essentially, making the priests laymen again.

Brazil Fears Police Protests Will Spread During Carnival

A violent police strike in northeastern Brazil has shed light on dissatisfaction among cops elsewhere in the country, with some forces threatening to protest as rowdy Carnival celebrations start.The strike by military police demanding higher salaries in the state of Ceara, which led to a senator being shot, is a headache for President Jair Bolsonaro, a staunch supporter of police forces who has pledged to curb violent crime.“Of course, police strikes could spread,” said lawmaker Guilherme da Cunha of the state of Minas Gerais, where police obtained a 42% salary increase this year after threatening to strike. “From the moment people who have a monopoly on firearms discover the strength it has, there is a risk.”Violent crime increasesIn Ceara, violent crime has risen sharply during the police strike, with at least 88 people killed over three days, according to online news site G1, citing state officials. Bolsonaro has sent hundreds of national guard forces and 2,500 soldiers to maintain order.During the strike, Sen. Cid Gomes was shot in the chest as he tried to drive a backhoe through a police protest. He is in stable condition. Earlier that day, masked officers forced businesses to close, occupied barracks and damaged police vehicles.Mayors in several of the state’s small cities — 30,000 inhabitants or less — canceled Carnival celebrations. In Paracuru, where authorities were expecting 40,000 revelers a day, the mayor said he was no longer able to ensure security in his city’s streets.A reveler in a costume enjoys the “Ceu na Terra” or Heaven on Earth street party in Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 22, 2020. From very early in the morning revelers take the streets of the bohemian neighborhood Santa Teresa for one of the many block parties.Illegal police strikesEven though police strikes are illegal in Brazil, other states are at risk of seeing similar protests, lawmakers and public security experts told The Associated Press.In Alagoas state, civil police, in charge of investigating crimes, have been on strike for two weeks.“The governor has made a lot of empty promises to the military police. At some point, that bomb can explode,” said lawmaker Davi Maia, who has met police in Congress to discuss their demands.In Paraiba, military police organized a 12-hour strike on Feb. 19. In Santa Catarina, public security agents threatened to slow work to a bare minimum, paralyzing operations to an extent but avoiding illegal strikes.In Rio, one association of municipal guards, who police city parks and properties, began a strike Saturday, during Carnival.Police strikes aren’t new, according to Ilona Szabo, co-founder of a security research center, the Igarape Institute. A study by the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul showed that between 1997 and 2017, Brazil had 715 police strikes, but only 52 by military police.“More than ever Brazil needs to democratize and professionalize its police forces,” Szabo said.Many believe police officers are emboldened by the 2018 elections, in which Bolsonaro and other fervent law-and-order supporters were elected. A former army captain, Bolsonaro supported the armed forces during his 30-year legislative career and has said police who kill on duty should be decorated.States out of moneyMany Brazilians states’ finances are in the red, with public servants often receiving partial or delayed salaries. Carnival celebrations often prove a good opportunity for public servants, including police, to pressure authorities, who fear violence and looting during the festivities.Tourists and party-goers at Carnival are often targeted by pick-pockets. In the state of Sao Paulo, police have arrested 240 suspects as part of a carnival security operation.Last year, public security officers in Minas Gerais also chose February to threaten the newly elected administration of Gov. Romeu Zema Neto with strikes if he didn’t readjust their salary.“The government was pressured to choose between a terrible, and least worst option,” said state lawmaker da Cunha. Police shut down a motorway and armed men attempted to invade the governor’s office, according to witnesses who asked that their names not be used because of safety fears.As part of the negotiations, the governor obtained an agreement that the increase be postponed one year, meaning the proposal only landed this month in the state’s legislative assembly.The news of a 42% salary increase spread rapidly, boosting similar requests in Ceara and other states, and angering governors who have resisted threats of illegal protests.“Minas Gerais granted this increase, in a state that is not paying salaries, and is in a situation of bankruptcy,” said Ignacio Cano, coordinator of the Violence Analysis Laboratory at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.“It says a lot about the moment the country is going through, and the strength that public forces are acquiring,” he said.

US Pressures Spain on Chinese Tech Firms

The U.S. government warned Spain this week about the security risk inherent in opening its fifth-generation communications networks to Chinese mobile technology providers. In meetings Thursday and Friday, U.S. officials warned Spanish officials and telecommunications executives that the U.S. could stop sharing sensitive information with Spain if the Chinese firms reportedly involved in 5G technology were not excluded from local markets. Robert Strayer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for cyber and international communications and information policy, told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid that 5G pioneer Huawei was under the control of the Chinese government.Defense implications  “We cannot put our important information at the risk of being accessed by the Chinese Communist Party,” Strayer said, stressing that technology developed by Huawei to accelerate connections between billions of objects has inevitable defense implications. Huawei offers better 5G network equipment at lower prices than its competitors, according to telecommunications analysts. U.S. efforts to restrict the company’s access to major international markets have been rebuffed by allies in Europe and Asia. The U.K. announced in late January that it would allow Huawei to equip parts of its 5G networks. Similar decisions have been made by Germany and other EU governments. FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks on the tarmac as he leaves Germany after taking part in the 56th Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, Feb. 15, 2020.At an international security conference in Munich last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the creation of a Western alliance against China aimed at blocking cyberespionage.  “In recent years, we have witnessed an intense communications campaign to raise consciousness over the interference of the People’s Republic of China in companies that manufacture telecommunications equipment,” said Javier Cremades, a Spanish lawyer specializing in cybersecurity. ‘Criminalizing’ competitionCremades said Chinese laws allow official access to all information handled by technology firms. That provision, however, does not extend to European affiliates or commercial activity outside China, he said, adding that U.S. accusations against China might be aimed at “criminalizing” the competition in the rivalry with Beijing to control the world’s phone technology market. Spokesmen from the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center said it was “feasible” to implement security measures to separate “high-risk vendors” from sensitive data and functions, although it could require design restrictions that may slow 5G network performance. U.S. officials said other European and Asian firms that have been cleared to operate in American markets, including Sweden’s Ericsson and South Korea’s Samsung, offer 5G technology as advanced as China’s. Spain’s biggest telecommunications companies, including Telefonica and Vodafone, say they have taken steps to reduce Chinese input for their core systems of future data management in mobile telephones, according to the newspaper El Mundo. But U.S. appeals to European countries to restrict access to Chinese tech giants come at a sensitive moment in transatlantic commercial relations. Serious disagreement over European Union efforts to impose a new tax on American high-tech providers has already shaken the telecommunications sector. U.S. diplomats have threatened to retaliate against Spain and other countries for imposing taxes that target American firms that operate a majority of Europe’s digital networks.  U.S. President Donald Trump “cannot become a boss who tells European countries what they can do in the EU,” said Spain’s Treasury Minister Maria Jesus Montero, who defends the tax as a way of protecting local competitors. Spain has a had a close commercial and military relationship with the U.S. since the middle of the last century. But the influence of China has grown recently, with nearly 50% of Spain’s national debt now owned by Chinese banks. 

Erdogan to Hold Syria Summit With Russia, France and Germany

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said he would hold a summit with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany on March 5 to discuss the situation in Syria’s last rebel enclave of Idlib.”We will come together on March 5 and discuss these issues,” Erdogan said in a televised speech, following a phone call on Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his tele-conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.The Turkish leader did not say where the summit would be held but his announcement comes a day after Macron and Merkel called for a four-party Syria summit also involving the Russian leader.  A months-long offensive by Russia-backed Syrian troops against rebels backed by Turkey in northwest Idlib has seen close to one million civilians flee the violence.The two European Union heavyweights on Friday “expressed their willingness to meet President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan to find a political solution to the crisis,” the chancellor’s office said.Russia on Wednesday objected to the U.N. Security Council adopting a statement that would have called for a cease-fire in Idlib, diplomats said, after a tense closed-door meeting.Turkey, which has threatened an “imminent” operation in Idlib after its troops have come under intense fire from regime forces, has given Damascus until the end of this month to drive back its army positions.Syrian regime fire has killed 17 Turkish personnel this month alone, sparking a war of words between Ankara and Moscow, a key Damascus ally.

EU Searches for Way Forward After Budget Deadlock

European Union leaders are still seeking a compromise on their next seven-year, trillion-plus-dollar budget. But they ended two days of talks so divided they couldn’t set a date for their next meeting.European unity over Brexit was nowhere to be seen during this first meeting since Britain’s departure from the EU. Leaders of the 27 remaining members ended budget talks Friday acknowledging the gridlock.The tone was set by the EU’s most powerful members. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the differences were too big to overcome, while French President Emmanuel Macron said the deadlock was deeply regrettable. “We don’t need Britain to show disunity,” he added.But inaugurating the annual agricultural fair in Paris Saturday, Macron underscored just why the divisions remain so strong. He told French farmers he remained firm in defending the EU’s biggest budget item — agricultural subsidies — of which France is a top beneficiary.These kinds of no-go zones are being staked out by other member states. Poorer, mostly eastern European nations and five countries that currently get rebates want a more generous budget. Meanwhile the so-called frugal four, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, don’t want the budget to exceed one percent of the bloc’s gross national income.At the same time, the EU’s new executive arm has outlined ambitious new goals — including achieving zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Those also will need funding — or risk being scaled down. Then there’s the $65 billion budget hole left by Britain’s departure, which needs filling.Yet EU leaders say they are confident a compromise will be struck.European Council President Charles Michel says the bloc has no choice but to reach a decision. The question is when.  Analyst Marta Pilati, of the Brussels-based European Policy Center research group, says the longer talks drag on, the more likely EU-funded programs will be affected next year.”The first consequence of non-agreement is … that we have a delay in implementation, which in practice means that the EU will not be able to disburse funding to the programs so that they can start in January, but maybe that will happen in March and April next year,” Pilati said.The current budget expires in December. After EU leaders reach agreement on the next one, the European Parliament will need to ratify it, which also promises to be complicated. 

Mexico Extradites Son of Jalisco Cartel, Braces for Violence

Mexico extradited the son of the leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel to face drug charges in the United States, leading to fears his powerful gang may retaliate.Ruben Oseguera was handed over to U.S. authorities Thursday after he lost a long legal fight against extradition, Mexico’s top security official, Alfonso Durazo, said Friday.The U.S. Department of Justice said Oseguera will appear in a federal court in Washington Friday to answer a drug-distribution indictment.Oseguera is known as “El Menchito,” after his father, Nemesio Oseguera, alias “El Mencho.” The younger Oseguera was born in California and holds dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship. He was arrested in 2015 on weapons possession and organized crime charges, and had been fighting extradition.The Jalisco cartel is currently Mexico’s most violent and fastest-growing gang.Embassy warningThe move appeared to spark fears of retaliation.The U.S. Embassy issued a security alert saying “following previous high-profile security operations, criminal groups operating in Jalisco have responded by taking retaliatory actions including an increase in anti-government rhetoric (banners and internet threats) and blockades inside the city and on interstate highways.”“On some occasions, these criminals have seized private vehicles and set them on fire,” according to the alert.Durazo said Mexico had tried to extradite Oseguera before but “in fact, the process was a long one because of several legal appeals” filed by his lawyers, the last of which was rejected Wednesday.Victor Francisco Beltran, Oseguera’s Mexican lawyer, denied he was the son of Nemesio Osegura, suggesting he was instead a nephew.Beltran said the extradition shouldn’t have happened, because the younger Oseguera still had pending appeals.Fugitive fatherThe elder Oseguera remains a fugitive, despite the 2018 arrest of his wife.The U.S. has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the elder Oseguera.Jalisco New Generation has a reputation for battling with government agents. It brazenly shot down a Mexican military helicopter with a rocket launcher in 2015, prompting Mexican officials to declare an all-out offensive against the criminal group.

Sanders Condemns Any Russian Influence in Election 

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is condemning any Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election. The Vermont senator issued a statement immediately after The Washington Post reported U.S. officials told Sanders that Russia was trying to help his campaign. The statement did not confirm the report. Sanders wrote: “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.” Sanders continued: “Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia. Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election.” 

Greece Scraps Asylum Requests for Migrant ‘Troublemakers’

Greece says it will deport “migrant troublemakers” to their homelands in a bid to combat rising crime and surging migration inflows that have reached a breaking point for the refugee-swollen country.The announcement by Public Order Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis follows the recent deadly shooting of a 23-year-old Afghan man in a heated standoff with a rival Pakistani gang in central Athens. It also follows violent clashes between police and thousands of asylum seekers who took to the streets of Lesbos earlier this month to protest living conditions on the island’s overcrowded camp, and tougher asylum regulations enforced by the new conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis, arrives to participate on the first cabinet meeting of the new government, in Athens, on July 10, 2019.“These troublemakers and criminal offenders have no place in Greece,” Chrysochoidis said. “They have chosen the wrong country and society to behave criminally against.”“Rest assured,” he told Apotipomata, a leading current affairs program, “that migrant troublemakers will be hunted down and forced to leave.”More than 100 migrant arrests have been made in the past days in Athens alone. An additional 40 asylum seekers have been rounded up in Lesbos, the start of what authorities call sweeping operations to crack down on rival ethnic groups’ criminal activities, including sex trafficking and drug trafficking, while waiting for their asylum requests to be processed.“For years,” Chrysochoidis said, “there was no real attempt to penalize them. They would be rounded up, detained and then released, allowing them to resume their criminal conduct while waiting for their asylums to be processed.”Now, under new legislation adopted by the government, offenders will instantly be stripped of their asylum rights and detained until deportation, in closed facilities on a host of Greek islands.“You cannot expect a country to be rewarding criminal offenders and troublemakers with asylum,” Chrysochoidis said.Riot police scuffle with migrants during a protest in Mytilene port on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Feb. 4, 2020.Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees illegally crossed to the Greek islands from Turkey last year, roughly double the rate recorded in 2017 and 2018, according to the U.N. refugee agency.  The dramatic rise adds to more than 100,000 asylum seekers already in the country, mainly on the Greek mainland, waiting for their legal claims to be processed, with a backlog expected to last more than five years.Mitsotakis’ government surged to power in July vowing to combat rising crime and enforce a tougher stance on migration. That position includes plans to set up a floating barricade off the coast of Lesbos and reject 95% of asylum claims. Officials say it is a bid to sift through some 75,000 requests in fast-track procedures intended to ease overcrowded camps on five Greek islands at the forefront of Europe’s lingering refugee crisis.State data released this week showed authorities approving 79 of a total of 1,881 cases reviewed in the last month alone.Children play next to the fence of the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Feb. 18, 2020.The government’s hardened stance has stoked concerns by human rights and aid organizations that say the new fast-track asylum rules would allow only days for requests to be reviewed — a process that ordinarily requires months to be fairly considered.Aid works and charity groups have urged the government to ease overcrowded conditions at islands camps, adding that asylum procedures must be fair.”The government must urgently implement its plan to move people to the mainland, improve conditions and enforce a fast and fair asylum procedure,” said Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesperson for UNHCR Greece. He said it was also important for other regions in the country to accept migrants and that the EU should re-open an ill-fated relocation scheme.Meanwhile, residents of refugee-swollen islands are voicing anger over the government’s intention to set up new camps there, to serve as migrant holding centers.Locals on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros warn that their economies have already been shattered by the migration crisis with the business of many hotels and restaurants falling off by more than 50% in recent years.A new camp for migrants with a capacity of 1200 people is pictured in Zervou, on the island of Samos on Feb. 21, 2020.Tensions with the local communities are expected to heighten in the coming weeks as the government plans to use emergency legal powers to requisition large swathes of forest land on the five islands to create the contentious detention centers as it also speeds up deportations.Greece has been grappling with rising tides of illegal migration since the summer, receiving the biggest inflow in four years, or since the EU signed a landmark accord with Turkey to stem a mass migration move of some 1.2 million mainly Syrian refugees to Europe.While the 2016 deal has helped dramatically decrease illegal arrivals by as much as 97%, the contentious measures now adopted by the new government underscore how four years since the landmark EU agreement deal, Greece still remains ground zero for Europe’s migration crisis.“We’re changing the rules,” Chrysochoidis said. “And it’s not out of spite or because of some racist belief. We finally have to defend out people from the fallouts of this crisis.”

Italy Town Shuts Schools, Cafes as 6 Test Positive for Virus

Italian officials ordered schools, public buildings, restaurants and coffee shops closed in a tiny town in northern Italy Friday after six people tested positive for the new virus, including some who had not been to China or the source of the global health emergency.
The new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion and tripled the country’s total to nine. The first to fall ill met with someone in early February who had returned from China on Jan. 21 without presenting any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said.
Authorities think that person passed the virus onto the 38-year-old Italian, who went to a hospital in the town of Codogno with flu-like symptoms on Feb. 18 but was sent home. He returned to the hospital after his conditions worsened and is now in intensive care, Lombardy region public welfare director Giulio Gallera said.
The man’s wife and a friend who did sports with him have also tested positive for the virus. The Italian Health Ministry ordered anyone who came into direct contact with the three to be quarantined for 14 days. About 150 people, including medical personnel, were in isolation undergoing tests.
Another three people in the Lombardy region also tested positive Friday, the health ministry said later.