Pope Urges Respect For Prostitutes At Crowded Bangkok Mass

Pope Francis (C) leads a Holy Mass at the National Stadium in Bangkok on November 21, 2019. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

 

Pope Francis led an impassioned mass for tens of thousands of emotional worshippers at a packed Bangkok stadium Thursday, urging respect for prostitutes and trafficking victims in a part of the world where sex work is rampant.

The remarks came at the end of a whirlwind day of meetings for Pope Francis, who is on his first trip to Buddhist-majority Thailand where he is carrying a message of religious harmony and peace.

He heads to Japan next, visiting the twin atomic bombs sites of Nagasaki and Hiroshima where he will seek a ban on “immoral” nuclear weapons.

The 82-year-old arrived at the stadium in a golden robe woven for him from Thai silk, greeting crowds of flag-waving faithful, some wiping tears from their faces at the sight of the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

An estimated 60,000 worshippers gathered for the mass, some pouring into a nearby stadium to watch the hymn-filled service on large screens.

Known for his down-to-earth style, the Pope did not shy away from difficult topics.

He focused on the importance of helping vulnerable children and women “who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, humiliated in their essential human dignity”.

He also referred to drug addicts, migrants and “exploited sinners and bypassed beggars”.

“All of them are part of our family. They are our mothers, our brothers and sisters. Let us not deprive our communities of seeing their faces, their wounds, their smiles and their lives,” said the Pope, after leading prayers.

The remarks were delivered in a region beloved by tourists but infamous for a thriving sex trade and unchecked human trafficking.

Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, home to at least 300,000 sex workers — some four percent of whom are believed to be trafficked, according to official estimates.

Many women are drawn to the work because they can earn up to 10 times more than the minimum wage, and critics say some corrupt Thai authorities turn a blind eye to the thriving trade.

Earlier, the Pope praised Thailand’s efforts to stamp out the “scourge” of exploitation and enslavement of women and children, urging a “dignified” future for vulnerable youth.

The Catholic Church has been shaken by child sex abuse scandals itself in recent years, with many high-profile cases brought against clergy.

– ‘Gift from God’ –
Thailand has not had a visit from a pontiff since John Paul II in 1984, and the small but spirited Catholic community was thrilled ahead of the mass.

Just over 0.5 percent of the population is Catholic but the community has been here for centuries.

For Pimrapat Panyawattanatikul, the service was her second shot at seeing a pope after John Paul II touched her head some 35 years ago.

Now she’s hoping her mother will get a similar honour, with the pair sitting right on the track Francis was set to drive past in his Popemobile.

“It’s a miracle we got these seats. It’s my mom’s dream to see the pope and to go to Italy. This is a gift from God,” Pimrapat told AFP, her mother next to her clutching a rosary.

The Pope’s colourful mass capped a packed schedule on the first full day of Thailand where he was welcomed Wednesday by cheering worshippers in Bangkok eager for a glimpse of his motorcade.

On Thursday Francis followed in the footsteps of John Paul II, paying a visit to the supreme Buddhist patriarch Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong at one of Bangkok’s famed gilded temples.

The pair sat before a brilliant gold Buddha statue inside the ornate temple, built 150 years ago by the former Thai King — the supreme patriarch barefoot and draped in orange robes as they spoke.

The Pope reciprocated the gesture, removing his shoes for part of the tete-a-tete.

In an earlier speech, the Pope said the meeting was “a sign of the importance and urgency of promoting friendship and inter-religious dialogue”.

– Nuclear ban –
This visit coincides with the 350th anniversary of the founding of the “Mission de Siam”, marking the first papal mission from Europe in the 17th century.

Though Christianity’s first visitors were initially met with scepticism, today Thailand’s nearly 400,000 Catholics face little discrimination.

The Pope also paid a visit to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha and King Maha Vajiralongkorn, gifting the top royal a colourful mosaic of a papal blessing in Vatican City’s Saint Peter’s Square.

On Friday the pontiff will host another mass, this one for young people, and meet with religious leaders in the city.

He jets to Japan Saturday, where he will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both devastated when the US dropped atomic bombs at the end of World War II in 1945.

The pope, who years ago had hoped to be a missionary in Japan, has made strong calls for a ban on nuclear weapons.

AFP

Five Suspended In Vatican Finance Probe

This photo taken from Via Della Conciliazione in Rome on October 2, 2019, shows the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica reflected in a puddle following heavy rainfalls. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Five Vatican employees, including the number two at its anti-money laundering authority, have been suspended following police raids linked to a financial wrongdoing probe, Italian media said Wednesday.

There was no immediate comment from Vatican authorities to the report which came the day after prosecutors seized documents and electronic devices from he offices of two key Vatican departments, the Secretariat of State and the FIA financial authority.

The L’Espresso magazine published a police circular dated Wednesday showing photographs and the positions of the five “suspended as a precaution”.

The circular said Vatican guards should no longer grant access to the five, except for healthcare purposes.

One of those suspended, secretariat head of information and documentation Mgr Mauro Carlino, will continue to be granted residence in the same hotel complex which is home to Pope Francis.

Also named was FIA director Tommaso Di Ruzza. The FIA is an independent anti-money laundering authority designed to lend transparency to operations by the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) — which acts as the Vatican Bank.

The three others suspended hold administrative posts in the secretariat.

The Vatican had said Tuesday’s raids, authorised by prosecutor Gian Piero Milano and his deputy Alessandro Diddi, were “linked to the complaints presented at the beginning of last summer by the Institute for Works of Religion and the Office of the General Auditor, regarding financial transactions carried out over time.”

The Secretariat of State, the Catholic Church’s governing body, works closely with Pope Francis.

L’Espresso reported that the investigation was looking into “real estate operations abroad,” notably in London with the alleged participation of British companies.

The magazine said investigators were analysing transactions on bank accounts which receive sums of money donated to the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis To Visit Thailand, Japan In November

Pope Francis attends the Festival of Families at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin on August 25, 2018, during his visit to Ireland.
Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Pope Francis will travel to Thailand in November, the Vatican said Friday, in a visit to Asia that will sweep in Japan and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which were both decimated by atomic bombs in 1945.

It has been nearly four decades since a pontiff visited Thailand and Japan, both Buddhist-majority countries.

The late Pope John Paul II went to the largely Shinto Buddhist Japan in 1981, and he travelled to Thailand three years later where he met with the late King Rama IX and the Queen Mother.

The Vatican announced Friday the current pontiff will travel to Thailand from November 20-23, and then Japan to November 26.

In Bangkok, Pope Francis will “preside at religious ceremonies and pastoral visits to Catholic communities”, said a press statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand.

Read Also: 12 Drown In India During Religious Ceremony

Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, the Pope’s second cousin who runs a Catholic girls’ school in Thailand, told AFP she would be with Pope Francis during his Bangkok visit.

“This visit shows his desire to improve the dialogue to other religions to bring a message of peace,” she told AFP.

The four-day papal visit will coincide with the 350th anniversary of the founding of the “Mission de Siam”, which was first established by Pope Clement IX in 1669.

A-bomb sites

Today, the Christian community make up an estimated 1 per cent in Thailand, with the majority residing in the north and many within ethnic minority groups like the Jarai and the Akha.

The Vatican also provided more details of a visit to Japan, which was announced in January. The Pope had wanted to work in the country as a missionary in his youth but the plan was abandoned following a lung operation.

The Shinto Buddhist country is home to some 450,000 Catholics and 510,000 Protestants.

“During the latter visit, the Holy Father will visit Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima,” said the statement, adding that an official schedule will be provided on a later date.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were decimated after the US dropped atomic bombs at the end of Second World War in 1945.

More than 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima, while the port city of Nagasaki suffered a death toll of 74,000 after the Americans dropped the atomic bombs.

The Pope has referenced the bombings in the past.

In January last year, he printed cards with a 1945 photo of victims of the Nagasaki bombing, inscribing the words “the fruit of war” in Italian on the card above his signature.

The photo, captured by American photographer Joe O’Donnell, showed a young boy standing ramrod straight carrying his dead younger brother on his back while waiting for his turn at a cremation site.

Since Pope Francis’ election five years ago, he has made two trips to Asia, visiting the Philippines and Sri Lanka in 2014, followed by Myanmar and Bangladesh last year.

Pope Pleads With Madagascans To Protect Rainforest

Pope Francis greets crowd as he arrives at the St. Michel complex in Antananarivo in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 8, 2019. MARCO LONGARI / AFP

 

Pope Francis on Saturday made an impassioned plea to Madagascans to protect the Indian Ocean’s unique environment from “excessive deforestation”, on the second leg of his African tour.

Weeks after a spike of fires in the Amazon, the Argentine pontiff told his hosts they should “create jobs and money-making activities which respect the environment and help people escape poverty”.

Madagascar — famed for its immense diversity of flora and fauna — is home to 25 million people, the vast majority of whom live in poverty on an income of less than two dollars a day.

More than half of its young people are out of work, even if many boast good qualifications.

The pope said there “were many causes driving excessive deforestation which benefits just a few people… and compromises the future of the country.”

The authorities should also ensure social justice, he added.

‘Alarm raised’

Madagascar’s British ambassador Philip Boyle told AFP the country loses around 200,000 hectares of forest each year, adding that “most of the tropical rainforest could disappear by 2040”.

he country’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture, the export of vanilla and cocoa in particular.

“The alarm has been raised by the pope and we are ready to take on the challenge,” environment minister Alexandre Georget told AFP.

He said Madagascar would do more to prevent forest fires, and use tree-planting drones and aerial seed bombing techniques to restore its forests.

“In six months we reached an objective of planting 40,000 hectares of land (98,000 acres), but this is pointless when there are forest fires” said Georget, adding that laws would be enforced and farmers made more aware of the issue.

Liberal-leaning president Andry Rajoelina was elected to a second term last year mainly on promises of jobs and housing.

“Corruption and inequality outrage us,” said Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, addressing the pope in his welcome speech.

Hope for the young

At Antananarivo’s Soamandrakizay stadium, thousands of young people – mainly scouts – gathered for a vigil. They waited for hours in the heat.

“I am here to ask for the pope’s blessing to face the harsh realities of life, insecurity, poverty and corruption,” said 17-year old student Njara Raherimana, who travelled hundreds of kilometres for the event.

“All this gives me hope for change in my country,” echoed fellow student, Antony Christian Tovonalintsoa, who lives in the outskirts of the capital.

During the vigil, Pope Francis lauded the “joy and enthusiasm” of the singing crowd.

He encouraged the youth not to fall into “bitterness” or to lose hope, even when they lacked the “necessary minimum” to get by and when “educational opportunities were insufficient”

800,000 faithful expected

Sunday will mark the high point of Francis’ visit with a huge mass in the capital expected to be attended by some 800,000 faithful.

Many had already started setting up tents on the outskirts of the city on Friday, armed with posters of the Argentine pontiff.

Prospere Ralitason, a 70-year-old farm worker, arrived with some 5,000 fellow pilgrims from the central eastern town of Ambatondrazaka, 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.

“We are tired, but it’s worth making all these sacrifices to see the pope with our own eyes and receive his blessing,” he told AFP,

John Paul II

The last pope to visit was John Paul II 30 years ago.

“I was a lieutenant when I helped with the security of John Paul II in 1989. Today I am a divisional general and overseeing security for Francis’ visit to Madagascar,” said Samuel Rakotomalala.

Some 700 police officers will be deployed at the site, which is also equipped with 200 surveillance cameras and the 12,000 young scouts will also help out.

In June, 16 people were killed and dozens hurt in a stampede outside a sports stadium in the capital during a free concert.

Francis visited Mozambique earlier in the week. He is also due to travel to the island of Mauritius, which like Madagascar is situated off the eastern coast of Africa.

Pope Francis In Mozambique Seeks To Strengthen Peace Accord

A girl celebrates after Pope Francis blessed her rosary during the Interreligious meeting with the Youth at the Maxaquene Pavillion in Maputo, on September 5, 2019. TIZIANA FABI / AFP

 

After a jubilant arrival in Mozambique at the start a three-nation African tour, Pope Francis on Thursday will meet with political and civil leaders to encourage them to consolidate a fragile peace accord.

The pope’s three-day visit to Mozambique comes a month after the government signed a historic peace treaty with the former rebel group Renamo, which is now the main opposition party.

Mozambique’s 16-year civil war devastated the former Portuguese colony, killing around one million people, and Renamo had never completely disarmed.

Francis, the first pope to visit Mozambique since John Paul II in 1988, was whisked away in his popemobile after arriving on Wednesday as crowds waved and danced in welcome.

He starts Thursday with a private meeting with President Filipe Nyusi, who wants to run for a second term in an election scheduled for October 15. The two men had already met one year ago at the Vatican.

As well as discussing the peace agreement, Francis is expected to address the devastation caused by two back-to-back cyclones earlier this year in the poor southeast African country.

He will not travel to Beira, the second city of the country swept away in March by Cyclone Idai, which left 600 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Even six months on, many people are without shelter and food.

“Even if I can not go beyond the capital, my heart is with you and embraces you all, with a special place for those who live in difficulty,” he said to the victims of the cyclone, before his trip.

‘Pope of the Poor’

On Friday, the pope will address a mass at the giant Zimpeto stadium in the seaside capital Maputo.

The pope may also address the issue of extremism in northern Mozambique where jihadist attacks have claimed more than 300 lives over two years.

Francis could also speak about climate change, a key topic for the pontiff who has organised in a global meeting of bishops in Rome dedicated to the Amazon, which has been hit by devastating fires.

According to the World Bank, Mozambique, with its more than 2,000 km of coastline along the Indian Ocean, is among the ten most threatened countries in the world due to the consequences of climate change.

The pope will later visit the large Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and its much smaller neighbour Mauritius — both situated off the eastern coast of Africa.

Mozambique and Madagascar are among the world’s poorest countries and Francis’ choice to visit has been seen as act of solidarity from a cleric who was often in shantytowns of Argentina and is now called the “pope of the poor”.

Pope Says Got Stuck In Vatican Lift, Freed By Fireman

Pope Francis 
Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Pope Francis said Sunday he was late to his weekly Angelus prayer because he had been stuck in a Vatican elevator and had to be freed by firemen.

“I have to apologise for being late. I was trapped in a lift for 25 minutes, there was a power outage but then the firemen came,” the smiling 82-year old pontiff said.

READ ALSO: Fire, Tear Gas And Petrol Bombs As Hong Kong Protest Turns Violent

Australia’s Cardinal Pell Loses Child Sex Abuse Appeal

 

 

Disgraced Cardinal George Pell lost his appeal against child sex abuse convictions Wednesday, prompting relief from those who fought to bring one of the Catholic Church’s most powerful men to justice.

Once the Vatican’s third-ranking official, Pell had been trying to overturn the verdicts and six-year sentence for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.

The high-profile case pitted the powerful 78-year-old — who previously helped elect Popes, ran the Vatican’s finances and was involved in the church’s response to child sex abuse claims — against a single surviving former choirboy.

Pell, dressed in a dark suit, occasionally bowed his head as Chief Justice Anne Ferguson dismissed his arguments and described his victim as “very compelling” and someone who “was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.”

The ruling prompted cheers to ripple into the courtroom from a large crowd gathered outside, and produced emotional statements from victims, their families and advocacy groups.

The now-adult victim — who cannot be named for legal reasons — said the “stressful” four-year legal fight had taken him “to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from.”

Dismissing vocal media critics, the man said the death of his friend, the second choirboy, from a drug overdose had prompted him to break his silence.

“After attending the funeral of my childhood friend… I felt a responsibility to come forward,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer.

“I am not an advocate. You wouldn’t know my name. I am not a champion for the cause of sexual abuse survivors.”

A lawyer for the father of the second victim said he felt “a weight had been lifted.”

“He feels that justice has been delivered today. He has a real sense of relief that George Pell is behind bars tonight,” Lisa Flynn told AFP.

Following the ruling, Pell — who will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months — maintained his innocence and said he was now considering a second and final appeal.

“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” said a statement issued through the church.

“His legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court.”

‘Done their job’

Pell’s lawyers now have 28 days to consider further legal steps.

They had raised 13 objections to his convictions, casting doubt on everything from the physical possibility of Pell removing his robes to carry out the act, to the credibility of the main witness.

The case was unusual in that it relied heavily on the closed-door testimony of the sole surviving victim.

The three judges unanimously dismissed two so-called “fallback” arguments for Pell related to alleged procedural errors during his trial.

His lawyers argued they should have been allowed to show an animated reconstruction of peoples’ movements in the cathedral on the days of the assaults.

They also took issue with the fact that Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury. The process was completed via video link so the large pool of potential jurors was able to watch.

Ferguson said that despite these complaints the judges “decided that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Cardinal Pell was guilty of the offence charged.”

Following Wednesday’s ruling Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed sympathy for the victims.

He said the “courts had done their job” and indicated Pell would be stripped of his Order of Australia honour.

During Pell’s trial under a court-ordered veil of secrecy, the Vatican gradually removed him from top Church bodies with little explanation.

Shortly after his conviction, Pell was removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that are effectively the Pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.

The Vatican dropped him as the Church’s finance chief and opened its own probe into his actions after his conviction was made public in February.

Cardinal Pell Appeal Ruling To Be Announced August 21

 

The ruling in Australian Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction on historical child sex abuse charges will be handed down on August 21, court officials announced Thursday.

Pell, 78, the former Vatican number three, was sentenced in March to six years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s.

A three-judge panel of Victoria state’s Supreme Court has been deliberating his case since hearing his appeal over two days in early June.

The judges can decide to reject the appeal, order a retrial or acquit Pell, the Catholic Church’s most senior convicted child molester.

Pell was convicted of sexually abusing the two choirboys in 1996 and 1997 after Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

His lawyers raised 13 objections to his conviction on five counts of sexual abuse, arguing it was “physically impossible” for the cleric to have committed the crimes in a crowded cathedral.

They cast doubt on everything from the timing of the incident following Sunday services to whether he would have been able to move his cumbersome archbishop’s robes enough to commit the assaults.

The appeal maintains that the case against Pell was unreasonably dependent on the testimony of a single victim –- the other died in 2014 — and fell short of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors insisted the jury verdict against the one-time top Vatican official was “unimpeachable”.

Whichever side loses the appeal is expected to take their case to Australia’s High Court — the country’s final court of appeal.

Since his conviction, Pell has been removed as the Vatican finance chief and lost his place in the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that is effectively the pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.

The Vatican has opened its own probe into Pell’s actions. If his conviction is upheld, it could lead to his expulsion from the priesthood.

AFP

Vatican Cancels Women’s Match After Anti-Abortion Protest

Solari - Five Things About Real Madrid's New Coach
Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

The Vatican called off a friendly football match involving its new women’s team in Vienna over the weekend after several Austrian players protested the church’s anti-abortion stance.

The game between the Vatican side founded this year and a Vienna outfit was cancelled Saturday when several Austrians lifted their shirts to reveal pro-choice messages painted on their stomachs and backs when the anthems were played before kick-off, media reports said.

“The game was called off because we are here for the sport, and not for political or other messages”, public broadcaster ORF quoted Danilo Zennaro, a representative of the Vatican sports association, as saying.

A player from the Austrian capital’s Mariahilf women’s team said they hadn’t expected the protest action to lead to the game to be scrapped.

The Vatican’s Vienna representative could not immediately be reached on Sunday for comment.

The Vatican women’s team was formed earlier this year, more than three decades after the men’s side.

Austrian media said the Vienna clash was supposed to be the Vatican women’s first international tie.

Pope Issues New Child Abuse Legislation For Workers

Pope Francis speaks as as Prefect of the papal household Georg Gaenswein (L) looks on during an audience with participants in the Course on the Internal Forum, on March 29, 2019 at Paul-VI hall in the Vatican. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Pope Francis issued stringent child abuse legislation for Vatican City employees on Friday, as part of the Church’s bid to address a wave of sex abuse allegations against priests.

The legislation requires officials and employees in the Vatican City State as well the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic Church, to immediately report any abuse against minors and vulnerable people or face fines or a prison sentence.

Anyone convicted of abuse must be “removed from office” under the new rules, which set a statute of limitations for such crimes at 20 years from the date victims turn 18.

Francis said in a letter released with his “motu proprio” decree that it was the duty of everyone “to generously welcome children and vulnerable persons, and to create a safe environment for them”.

READ ALSO: Pound Climbs Before Vital Brexit Vote

Previous church guidelines on handling sexual abuse cases did not cover officials and employees in Vatican City or the Curia.

The new legislation also mandates increased training for the affected staff on how to prevent abuse.

A new service will also be set up to provide victims and their families with medical, psychological and social support.

The Church is moving to tackle a series of recent scandals in Europe, North America, Latin America and Australia involving widespread claims of abuse — and cover-ups — by clergymen and lay members.

AFP

Top Vatican Cardinal Pell Found Guilty Of Child Sex Abuse

Police officers make way for Cardinal George Pell (L) as he leaves the County Court of Victoria court in Melbourne on February 26, 2019.  Asanka Brendon Ratnayake / AFP

 

Australian Cardinal George Pell, one of Pope Francis’ closest advisors, has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys, becoming the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes.

An Australian jury unanimously found Pell guilty in December on one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault against two boys at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell, now aged 77, was accused of cornering the boys — then aged 12 and 13 — in the cathedral’s sacristy following Sunday mass and forcing them to perform a sex act on him.

The cleric, who has remained free on bail, denied all the charges and an initial trial ended with a hung jury in September, but he was convicted on retrial on December 11.

A wide-ranging suppression order from the presiding judge had prevented the media from reporting even the existence of court proceedings and the ensuing trials since May.

The order was lifted during a court hearing on Tuesday when prosecutors decided against proceeding with a second trial for separate allegations against Pell dating from the 1970s.

There was no immediate reaction from the Vatican but Pell maintained his innocence Tuesday.

“Cardinal George Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so,” said a statement issued by his lawyers, who added that they had lodged an appeal against the conviction.

The statement noted that numerous allegations and other charges against Pell had already been withdrawn or discharged.

‘Rot in hell’

Of the two choirboys that Pell was found to have assaulted, one died in 2014 of a drug overdose that his family blamed on the trauma he suffered.

The second victim said in a statement issued by his lawyer Tuesday that the ongoing legal process was stressful and “not over yet”.

“Like many survivors, I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression, and struggle,” said the man, who has not been publicly identified.

“At some point, we realize that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust.”

Outside the County Court of Victoria, supporters of other abuse survivors yelled “monster” and “rot in hell” as Pell, walking slowly with the aid of a cane, entered a car after the hearing concluded.

“It is a miracle. It is unbelievable,” one child sex abuse survivor who only gave his name as Michael told reporters outside the court, adding that he wanted to see the cleric excommunicated from the Church and sent to jail.

A pre-sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday when Pell is expected to be remanded in custody. He faces a maximum 25 years in prison if his appeal is rejected, prosecutors have said.

Pell sat impassively during Tuesday’s court hearing, wearing a beige sports coat over a dark shirt and clerical collar.

His conviction is another hammer blow to the Church, which has struggled to convince the world it is serious about tackling widespread child abuse and pedophilia.

Pell was appointed by Pope Francis to manage the Vatican finances in 2014 and was one of the pontiff’s closest advisors as a member of the so-called C9 council until being dropped from that body the day after his December 11 conviction.

News of his conviction will be a serious setback as the pope pursues a campaign to show the church’s determination to fight sex abuse.

Just two days earlier, Pope Francis closed a historic Vatican summit on sexual abuse by priests by likening the abuse to “human sacrifice”.

“We are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth,” Francis said in closing remarks to the summit, vowing to deal with every case of abuse “with the utmost seriousness”.

But critics say the institution is still moving too slowly in dealing with a problem that is global in scale and, at a minimum, spans decades.

Gag order

Pell’s case has caused consternation in Australia, where he had once been praised by luminaries from a prime minister down and was a leading conservative voice on issues ranging from gay marriage to climate change.

For decades, Pell denied being an abuser or covering up sex abuse, but he did admit he “mucked up” in dealing with pedophile priests in the state of Victoria.

During his trial, defense lawyers ridiculed the charges against him, arguing that the cathedral sacristy was a hive of activity following Sunday mass and that it would have been impossible to assault choirboys in such circumstances.

Australia’s media has strongly protested the gag order imposed on the case, which forbade them from even mentioning the existence of the trial or the order itself.

Following Pell’s December conviction, some international media reported the verdict, while local newspapers published front-page stories informing readers that a prominent Australian had been found guilty of serious crimes, but they were not allowed to reveal what or who.

Australian media said Tuesday that they subsequently received “show cause” letters from the court explaining why they should not face contempt charges for their reporting on the case.

Around one in five Australians are Catholic, roughly five million people.

A five-year royal commission inquiry into child abuse said in a report issued last year that tens of thousands of children had been sexually abused in Australian churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools in a “national tragedy” over many generations.

Before Pell, the most high-profile case in Australia concerning sex abuse in the Church was the conviction earlier last year of the former archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, on charges of concealing crimes by a pedophile priest in the 1970s.

Wilson successfully appealed that conviction in early December.

 

AFP

‘Concrete Measures’ On Sex Abuse Needed, Pope Tells Vatican Summit

Pope Francis (R), flanked by Italian priest Federico Lombardi, prays during the opening of a global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, on February 21, 2019 at the Vatican.  Vincenzo PINTO / POOL / AFP

 

Pope Francis opened Thursday a landmark summit at the Vatican on fighting child sex abuse, saying that the world expected “concrete measures” on tackling paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

The pontiff will dedicate the next three and a half days to discussing the Church’s response to child abuse by members of the clergy with bishops from around the world.

“The Holy people of God are watching and waiting not for simple and obvious condemnations but concrete and efficient measures,” he said as the summit opened, the first of its kind.

“Let us listen to the cry of the young ones who ask us for justice,” he said.

The pope is aiming to tackle the continuing scandal, which again hit the Church in 2018 in countries across the globe, including Chile, Germany and the United States.

READ ALSO: IS Bride Shamima Begum ‘Shocked’ After UK Revokes Her Citizenship

The 82-year-old hopes to raise awareness about abuse through prayers, speeches, working groups and testimonies from victims.

“I ask the Holy Spirit to support us in the following days and help us to transform this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification,” Francis said.

“May the Virgin Mary enlighten us to try to cure the serious wounds caused by the scandal of paedophilia both in children and in believers,” he added.

 ‘A turning point’ 

The summit aims to educate 114 top bishops who will then return home with clear ideas on how to spot and deal with abuse and paedophilia.

The task is made difficult by the fact that some churches, in Asia and Africa in particular, deny the problem exists.

“My hope would be that people see this as a turning point,” said American Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of the pope’s trusted allies in the United States and one of the summit’s four organisers.

The US Catholic Church has been shaken by one of the gravest crises in its history, with the defrocking last week by Pope Francis of a former cardinal — American Theodore McCarrick — over accusations he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.

“It’s not the end game, no one can ever say that… (but) we’re going to do everything possible so people are held responsible, accountable and that there is going to be transparency,” Cupich told journalists ahead of the meeting.

Three themes — responsibility, accountability and transparency — form the backbone of the summit and will provide its participants with the keys to ensuring child safety, he said.

 ‘Silence a no-go’ 

There are reforms in the pipeline, such as the “tweaking” of certain canon laws, according to another of the organisers, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

But the suggestion that Church laws need only fine-tuning has angered many, including Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a public database that documents cases of proven or suspected cleric sex crimes.

“Canon law has to be changed: not tweaked, not modified, but fundamentally changed, so that it stops prioritising the priesthood… over the lives of children, and vulnerable adults who are sexually assaulted by them,” she said.

Scicluna insists that summoning Church leaders from all continents to Rome “is in itself a very important message”.

The Maltese spent 10 years as the Vatican’s top prosecutor on paedophilia cases, and was picked by Francis to travel to Chile last year to hear from victims whose voices had previously been silenced by an internal Church cover-up.

Scicluna has called for an end to the code of silence and culture of denial within the beleaguered centuries-old institution.

“Silence is a no-go, whether you call it omerta or simply a state of denial,” he said this week.

“We have to face facts because only the truth of the matter, and confronting the facts, will make us free,” he added.

AFP