A senior American Catholic clergyman quit on Wednesday, the Vatican said, as the diocese of Buffalo continues to wrestle with an ongoing sexual abuse scandal.
Bishop Richard Malone, 73, has been accused in US media of hiding the names of accused priests and allowing some to remain in the ministry in his diocese in Buffalo in New York state.
He admitted last year he had “fallen short” in his handling of allegations of misconduct, particularly by priests accused of abusing adults.
Buffalo has been in turmoil since February 2018 when a retired priest admitted to sexually abusing children, sparking further allegations across the diocese.
The Church has already paid $17.5 million to victims, according to the Buffalo News, which says that 220 lawsuits have been filed by people claiming to have been abused by priests.
Malone, in his post since 2012, announced he was retiring early, explaining that Catholics in Buffalo would be “better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed”.
He added in a statement on Wednesday: “I have acknowledged on many occasions the mistakes I have made in not addressing more swiftly personnel issues that, in my view, required time to sort out complex details pertaining to behaviour between adults.”
In a brief communique, the Vatican said Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Malone and offered no further detail. The bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger, will take over until a new bishop is named.
The Catholic church continues to struggle with a worldwide sex abuse scandal. In the United States, a August 2018 grand jury report examining child sex abuse within six dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania found more than 1,000 child victims, underscoring the scale of the problem.
Pope Francis’ main bodyguard Domenico Giani, the Vatican’s security chief, resigned Monday over a leak to the media of details of a financial wrongdoing probe.
Francis accepted Giani’s resignation while noting he “bears no personal responsibility” for the leak, the Vatican said.
The Argentine pontiff was furious over the publication of an internal police notice which featured the photographs of five Vatican employees — including two senior figures — targeted in a probe reportedly into a real estate deal.
The notice, addressed to the Swiss guards and Vatican policemen who guard the gates of the tiny city state, said they had been suspended “as a precaution” while the investigation was carried out.
“This publication was prejudicial to the dignity of the people involved and to the image of the Gendarmerie (police),” said the Vatican, which has opened a probe into the leak.
Giani was dubbed the pope’s “guardian angel” by the media.
He served three pontiffs and could be seen on papal trips, dressed in a dark suit, standing close to the head of the Catholic Church or running beside the popemobile.
The 57-year old began his career in the Italian secret service, before joining the Vatican security forces 20 years ago and taking over as chief in 2006.
Vatican police earlier this month raided the offices of the Secretariat of State — the central governing office of the Catholic Church — and the Financial Information Authority (AIF), an independent anti-money laundering authority.
Prosecutors seized documents and electronic devices from the offices.
The five suspended included the number two at AIF and a monsignor in the Secretariat of State.
The Vatican had said the raids were linked to complaints presented by the Vatican bank and the Office of the Auditor General regarding financial transactions “carried out over time”.
The Italian Espresso magazine said the probe was into “real estate operations abroad,” notably in London.
Austrian far-right ministers on Monday were ready to quit their posts, the party chief said after the country’s coalition government collapsed over a corruption scandal days before European elections.
Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for fresh elections after a hidden-camera sting forced his far-right deputy to resign, bringing an end to a coalition many on the European right held up as a model.
With Kurz scrambling to regain control over the weekend, saying he can no longer tolerate the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) scandals, media speculation is growing he will also oust far-right Interior Minister Herbert Kickl.
The FPOe closed ranks behind Kickl, threatening to quit their cabinet posts, which besides the interior ministry include the foreign, defence, transport and social affairs ministries.
“We will give up our government offices if Interior Minister Herbert Kickl is forced out,” Norbert Hofer, who is infrastructure minister and took over the FPOe leadership on Sunday, told a press conference.
“I feel very sorry that such a great government project ends so soon… I think this government was very popular,” he said, adding that Kickl had done “nothing wrong”.
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Sunday suggested elections be held in early September with a date to be fixed after further talks with other parties.
Fake Russian backer
Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down as vice-chancellor and FPOe leader after recordings published by German media Friday showed him offering government contracts in return for campaign help to a fake Russian backer in a villa on the resort island of Ibiza.
Elsewhere in the footage, Strache appears to hint at ways political donations could escape legal scrutiny.
Kickl was FPOe secretary general at the time when any political donations would have been made. Strache on Saturday denied the party had received illegal funds.
“It is clear Herbert Kickl cannot investigate himself,” Kurz was quoted by the Kurier newspaper on Monday.
He has said the recordings were the final straw in a string of FPOe-related scandals.
The most damaging recent controversy linked to interior minister Kickl was last year when he ordered raids on the country’s own domestic intelligence agency BVT.
Numerous documents were seized, raising fears among Austria’s Western partners about the possibility of leaks to Moscow.
The FPOe has a cooperation agreement with President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Over the weekend thousands of people demonstrated in Vienna against the government at an impromptu gathering in front of the chancellery on Saturday, as well as at a previously planned pro-EU rally on Sunday.
In an emotional resignation statement Saturday, Strache said he had been “stupid” and “irresponsible” but was the victim of a “targeted political attack”.
In the recordings — of unknown origin — Strache and a colleague from his party, who has also resigned, are seen talking to a woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.
They discuss how she could gain control of the country’s largest-circulation tabloid, the Kronen Zeitung, and install editorial staff who would help the FPOe’s 2017 election campaign.
In return, Strache held out the possibility of awarding public contracts.
The Kremlin on Monday denied any involvement in the sting operation.
The scandal has already made waves outside of Austria.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend reacted to the scandal by warning of the dangers of far-right politicians “for sale”, who wanted to “destroy the Europe of our values”.
The scandal may also dent the prospects of the far-right populist alliance marshalled by Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, in which the FPOe plays a key part.
The scandal — which saw Alexandre Benalla fired last year after a video emerged of him roughing up protestors — continues to overshadow the Macron presidency.
A perjury probe has been opened targeting Benalla as well as Vincent Crase, a former staffer of Macron’s ruling party, and Strzoda, prosecutors said in a statement.
It comes after several protagonists in the case testified before the commission of inquiry of France’s upper house, the Senate.
The investigations were opened after the Senate signalled deficiencies in testimony to the Paris prosecutors.
The Senate complained of “incoherence and contradictions” in the testimony of Strzoda and two other top aides of Macron, chief of staff Alexis Kohler and presidential security chief Lionel Lavergne.
A former bouncer, Benalla began working as a bodyguard for Macron during the young candidate’s election campaign in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace following Macron’s election in May 2017.
After being given leave by the presidency to attend the May Day protest as an observer, he waded into the fray wearing a police helmet, grabbing a female demonstrator by the neck and hitting a male demonstrator.
The presidency initially held off reporting Benalla to the authorities.
Benalla was fired and placed under investigation after Le Monde newspaper broke the story in July 2018. It was Strzoda who authorised Benalla to attend the demonstration.
A French Senate commission of inquiry found “major flaws” in the government’s handling of the affair and said it suspected Macron’s aides of trying to cover up some of the details.
Perjury can be punished in France with up to five years in jail.
The sacking could impact legislative passage of an upcoming bill Bolsonaro is to present to Congress this week to reform Brazil’s unsustainable pension system. The reform is considered by investors to be the most crucial promise the president made to overhaul Latin America’s biggest economy.
Bebianno, who held cabinet rank and was the former leader of the ultraconservative PSL, was replaced by a retired general, Floriano Peixoto, boosting to eight the number of military men running Bolsonaro’s 22 ministries.
As chief of the ruling PSL party, Bebianno had been a key figure in Bolsonaro’s campaign last year that led to the 63-year-old politician being elected in October polls. When Bolsonaro took office at the beginning of January he rewarded Bebianno with the ministerial post by his side in the presidential palace.
But that close alliance became broken after a newspaper, the Folha de Sao Paulo, reported that the PSL was thought to have nominated fake candidates in the general election to divert public funds to its coffers.
Bebianno had denied involvement and sought to downplay the crisis. He also said he had spoken several times with Bolsonaro while the president spent the first half of this month in the hospital recovering from stomach surgery.
But one of Bolsonaro’s sons, Carlos Bolsonaro, who is a state legislator in Rio de Janeiro, said Bebianno was “lying” and no such discussions took place. He also said he had asked for a police investigation against Bebianno.
That triggered ructions in the PSL and among allies of the president, who questioned why Carlos — who has no position in the presidency or federal government — was permitted to act that way against Bebianno.
After several days of back-and-forth among top officials, Bolsonaro — who campaigned on pledges to clean up political corruption — acted Monday by firing Bebianno.
Bolsonaro’s reputation has been further sullied by suspicions of illegal financial transactions surrounding another of Bolsonaro’s sons, Flavio, who is a senator.
A third politician son, Eduardo, a federal lawmaker, has embraced a nationalist politics platform created by Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump’s former strategist.
Bebianno’s dismissal, anticipated by investors, prompted a 1.04 percent fall in the stock market Monday, and a dip in the value of the Brazilian real.
As Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives in Switzerland on Monday on his first trip abroad, to attend Davos, he is leaving behind a suspicious payments scandal involving his politician son Flavio Bolsonaro.
Flavio, a senator in the incoming Congress, is under growing scrutiny by a government financial watchdog because of 48 deposits made to his bank account in 2017 for a total $30,000, as well as persistent questions over $300,000 in transactions detected in the account of a former close aide.
The suspicions are an embarrassment to Jair Bolsonaro, who won the election on promises to stamp out the corruption that has long plagued Brazilian politics.
Flavio Bolsonaro has come out swinging, denying any wrongdoing.
“I have nothing to hide,” he told Brazilian TV network Record late Sunday, claiming he was the victim of “persecution.”
Waving documents, he said the money came from the sale and purchase of an apartment, adding that the payment of a million reais ($300,000) to a federal loans account was related to the property deal.
Brazil’s COAF agency tasked with monitoring financial transactions discovered that 48 deposits of 2,000 reais were made into Flavio’s account over five days in June and July 2017, many just minutes apart, according to media citing a COAF report.
The total deposited was 96,000 reais (equivalent to $30,000 at the average exchange rate for this year). The 2,000-real threshold is below a requirement for the person making a deposit to show their identity.
Flavio, in the interview, said “this money is mine, deposited in my own account… There is no mystery. Everything is declared, proven. If it was illicit, do you think it would be deposited in my account?”
The matter was to be detailed further on Monday, with prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro holding a media conference on the transactions.
Up to being elected to the Senate, Flavio Bolsonaro was a deputy in Rio de Janeiro’s state legislature.
The revelations come on top of transactions involving his former driver and bodyguard, a police officer named Fabricio Queiroz, between 2016 and 2017. Some money was deposited in the account of Jair Bolsonaro’s wife.
Queiroz has declined to testify to COAF over the money, asserting ill health. But he has told media the money came from side businesses he ran, mainly buying and selling cars.
Brazil’s supreme court last week suspended an investigation into Queiroz’s transactions at Flavio’s request.
Jair Bolsonaro has said the money put in his wife’s account came from an undeclared loan he made to Queiroz.
Adding to the suspicions, a columnist in the O Globo newspaper, Lauro Jardim, on Sunday wrote that seven million reais (around $2 million) passed through Queiroz’s account between 2014 and 2017.
The result for Jair Bolsonaro is an uncomfortable scandal at home while he meets with the world’s political and financial elite at Davos.
According to Brazilian reports, citing presidential spokesman Rego Barros, Bolsonaro has cancelled a planned media conference in Davos to avoid being questioned about his son’s transactions.
A court in southern China Monday sentenced over 20 people in connection with a series of deaths at a care center, where 21 people including a 15-year-old autistic boy perished under squalid conditions in 2016.
The director of the center, Li Cuiqiong, was given a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve, while another official who worked closely with Li was given a life sentence, state-run Xinhua news agency reported
The two men, who worked for the civil affairs department in Xinfeng County had “used their power to set up and illegally operate the care center,” Xinhua said.
Supervisory authorities in Guangdong have also taken “disciplinary action” against 107 civil servants for their role in the scandal, Xinhua said, without offering details.
An expose in March 2017 by state-run Beijing News found that poor conditions at Lianxi care agency for the homeless, elderly and mentally ill in Shaoguan, Guangdong province had led to the deaths within a span of a few months.
Accounts of crowded, unsanitary conditions at the facility triggered widespread outrage in China, with people pouring scorn on the government’s treatment of vulnerable members of society.
“Was it murder? Did the [center] pocket government subsidies instead of spending money on the patients?” a commenter on the Twitter-like Weibo asked at the time.
Lei Wenfeng, the autistic teenager, who had wandered away from home and got lost, died in December 2016 after staying at the center for just over a month.
The centre was privately run, but financed by the local government, according to the state-run China Daily.
Pope Francis has removed two prominent cardinals from his inner circle months after they were tainted by paedophile scandals.
Australian Cardinal George Pell and Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz were both removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals, an international advice body set up by Francis himself, the Vatican said Wednesday.
The last time the C9 met in September, Errazuriz, who is accused of ignoring reports of abuse in Chile, and Pell, who faces charges in Australia related to historical child sexual offences, were both absent, and the council said it was considering restructuring.
Despite being removed from the C9, Pell remains in charge of Vatican finances, the third most powerful position in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church has been hit by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years, with widespread allegations of cover-ups, including against the pope himself.
The pope clarified the composition of the C9 ahead of a February meeting with leaders of bishops’ conferences from around the world dealing with the “protection of minors”, to which victims of priest sex abuse have been invited.
A French priest from the town of Orleans was handed a two-year jail term on Thursday and a bishop was convicted for failing to report him in rare prosecutions that have shaken the French Catholic church.
Pierre de Castelet, 69, was sentenced to two years in prison, with another year suspended, after abusing children during a summer camp in 1993 where he touched them while pretending to carry out medical examinations.
His superior, the former bishop of Orleans Andre Fort, 83, was given a suspended prison sentence of eight months for failing to notify French police when he was made aware of the abuse allegations in 2008.
Both men are expected to avoid serving time behind bars, however, under French law that allows a convict to apply for a non-custodial punishment in cases involving short jail sentences.
Prosecutions of bishops are extremely rare in France, with the last case dating back to 2001 when a bishop in the town of Bayeux-Lisieux was given a three-month suspended jail term for failing to report abuse.
After the judgments in the court in Orleans in central France, one of de Castelet’s victims, Olivier Savignac, said he was satisfied with the outcome.
“We were heard. I am happy with my country,” he told reporters.
Savignac and other victims of sexual abuse in the French church were invited to a meeting of French bishops in the religious town of Lourdes in November to testify about their experiences.
The move was seen as a symbolic acknowledgment of the church’s responsibility amid a mounting number of scandals, which have hit the Catholic faith in other countries from Ireland, the United States to Australia.
The Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) said in early November they were setting up an “independent” commission to “shed light on the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church since 1950”.
The most senior French Catholic cleric to be caught up in the abuse scandal is Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is to go on trial in January for allegedly covering up for a priest accused of abusing boy scouts in the Lyon area in the 1980s.
A top football referee and a Belgian club executive were among the first suspects charged on Thursday in a massive fraud and match-fixing scandal that has engulfed Belgium’s elite league, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said more than 20 suspects were being investigated a day after hundreds of police carried out 44 house searches across Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.
The judge in charge of the case has also issued European arrest warrants to seek the extradition of suspects detained abroad, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office told reporters in Brussels.
The enquiry is focused on some of Belgium’s best-known football agents, including Mogi Bayat, the former manager of Sporting Charleroi, who was arrested in his home on suspected links to crooked transfer deals.
Another agent Dejan Veljkovic is suspected of both fraud and match fixing, according to Belgian media reports.
Suspicions of match-fixing emerged during the fraud investigation, with a focus on matches played in the 2017-18 season, prosecutors said.
Veljkovic is alleged to have engineered a match-fixing scheme with a Belgian referee in a failed effort to save club KV Mechelen from relegation.
The Mechelen financial director, Thierry Steemans, has been detained and charged in the match-fixing case, Flemish daily De Standaard reported.
The searches were carried out at the headquarters of nine football clubs, including Mechelen, Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Genk and Standard Liege.
Club Brugge coach Ivan Leko, whose team is playing in the Champions League this season, was released after questioning on Thursday.
The house searches outside Belgium were mainly connected to the suspect transfer schemes, said prosecutors.
The investigation started in late 2017 as a result of a report drawn up by the Sports Fraud Cell.
French President, Emmanuel Macron, has dismissed the scandal surrounding a top security aide who roughed up protesters as a “storm in a teacup”, as furious criticism from his opponents showed no sign of abating.
The former bodyguard in question, 26-year-old Alexandre Benalla, denounced what he said was a “desire to get at the president” over the scandal, the most damaging since Macron took office over a year ago.
Benalla, who faces criminal charges after videos emerged of him manhandling May Day demonstrators in Paris while wearing a police helmet and armband, admitted however that he had “made a mistake”.
“I feel like I have done something really stupid. And have made a mistake,” Benalla, who has been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer, told Le Monde newspaper.
“I should never have gone to that demonstration as an observer, then I should have held back,” he said of the incident, in which he was filmed hitting a protester and wrestling another to the ground.
Revelations that top officials in Macron’s office knew about the incident but did not report Benalla to prosecutors have prompted accusations of an attempted cover-up, which the government denies.
The centrist president sought to downplay the affair on Thursday.
“I’ve said what I had to say, which is that I think it’s a storm in a teacup,” he told AFP on a visit to the village of Campan in southwest France.
Christian Jacob of the rightwing Republicans, who like many opponents has charged Macron with displaying arrogance in his response, accused the president of “monarchical leanings”.
“We’re facing a very serious incident — the president must explain himself before the people, he cannot do it with the disdain and provocation with which he has done so thus far,” Jacob told Franceinfo radio.
Opposition lawmakers have repeatedly called on Macron to address the nation over the affair.
After days of silence, Macron gave a defiant speech to members of his LREM party on Tuesday which appeared to take aim at parliament’s relentless grilling of his aides over the scandal.
“The only person responsible for this affair is me,” he said, while describing Benalla’s actions as “a disappointment and a betrayal”.
“If they’re looking for someone to hold responsible, he’s right in front of you. They can come and get me.”
On Wednesday, he accused his opponents of “disproportionate actions”, adding he remained proud to have hired former bouncer Benalla as he was a “devoted” employee who had “taken an unusual path” professionally.
Two parliamentary committees have been grilling top Macron aides, with the president’s chief of staff Alexis Kohler the latest to take the stand before the Senate on Thursday.
Kohler acknowledged that officials’ initial decision to punish Benalla with a two-week suspension may “appear insufficient” but at the time it seemed “proportionate”.
Macron’s office director Patrick Strzoda told lawmakers Tuesday that he decided there were not enough elements to justify turning Benalla over to prosecutors, not least because no criminal complaint had been filed against him.
The opposition Republicans are set to file a vote of confidence in the government on Friday — a largely symbolic move, since Macron’s centrists hold a strong majority in parliament.
Macron’s approval ratings, already low, appear to have taken a further hit from the scandal, with a record 60 percent reporting an unfavourable opinion of him in an Ipsos poll published Tuesday.
Along with Benalla, Vincent Crase, an LREM security agent who was also at the scene, has also been charged over the affair, as have three police officers accused of giving Benalla surveillance footage so he could mount a defence.