US warns Russia over Ukraine at OSCE meeting

US Secretary of Stae Rex Tillerson, left, and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, right, hold bilateral talks during the 24th OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna, on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2017
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US warns Russia over Ukraine at OSCE meeting

VIENNA: The US warned Russia on Thursday that its ties with the West can never recover until it pulls its forces out of Ukraine, as OSCE foreign ministers met in Vienna.
Diplomats had hoped that meetings on the sidelines of the 57-nation body would make progress on agreeing terms for a UN peacekeeping force for war-torn Ukraine.
But the major powers in the dispute are still far apart, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went so far as to declare that the stand-off over Ukraine was the single most important obstacle to warmer US relations with Moscow.
Tillerson met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov behind closed doors, but when they had addressed the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) council earlier in the day, they traded allegations about interference in Ukraine and there appeared little room for compromise.
At a news conference with OSCE host Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Tillerson recalled that US President Donald Trump had been clear during his campaign last year that he wanted better relations with Russia.
“But the issue that stands in the way is Ukraine,” Tillerson stressed, after a morning ministerial meeting at which he and Lavrov had expressed starkly different views.
“We can have difference in other arenas ... but when one country invades another that is a difference that is hard to look past or to reconcile,” he warned.
“And we’ve made this clear to Russia from the very beginning: That we must address Ukraine, it stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing relations.”
In principle, both Moscow and Washington have now expressed support for the idea of a UN peacekeeping mission to end the war between Kiev’s government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.
But Russia envisions a limited force to simply protect the existing 600-strong group of unarmed OSCE observers, who are struggling to monitor a shaky cease-fire in a conflict that has already left 10,000 dead since 2014.
Washington, in contrast, has in mind a much more robust UN mission that would police cease-fire lines and investigate cease-fire breaches across eastern Ukraine, building the conditions for lasting peace.
“We’ve reached an absolute low point regarding confidence between the main players,” Thomas Greminger, the OSCE’s secretary general, admitted as talks began.
Western powers fear that a limited United Nations mission would serve to create a frozen conflict that would lock in Russian gains from its intervention in Ukraine.
But Lavrov, in his opening remarks to the OSCE ministerial council, argued that the bigger mission idea could become “an occupational administration” and be tantamount to attempting “to solve this problem by force.”
Tillerson did not directly address the peacekeeping issue in his remarks, but was strident in his condemnation of the threat he said Russia poses to the existing unarmed mission.
“Of all the challenges confronting the OSCE today, none is more challenging nor vexing than the situation in Ukraine,” he warned, stressing the US will never lift sanctions until Russia returns control of Crimea and the disputed Donbass region to Ukraine.
Tillerson noted that more civilians were killed this year in eastern Ukraine than in 2016, and that cease-fire violations are up 60 percent.
“We should be clear about the source of this violence. Russia is arming, leading, training and fighting alongside anti-government forces,” he said.
“We call on Russia and its proxies to end the harassment, intimidation and its attacks on the OSCE special monitoring mission,” he demanded.
And he paid tribute to an American paramedic who was killed in April when his OSCE patrol hit a land mine in a separatist-occupied area.
The OSCE was created during the Cold War to ease dialogue between East and West. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago it expanded and now has 57 members including the United States, Russia and Ukraine.


Pennsylvania priests molested over 1,000 children: Report

Victims of clergy sexual abuse, or their family members react as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Pennsylvania priests molested over 1,000 children: Report

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

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