Pope to honor Baltic martyrs amid abuse crisis

A giant banner bearing a portrait of Pope Francis is displayed outside the Vilnius Cathedral on September 21, 2018 on the eve of his arrival in Vilnius as part of a Baltic tour. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Pope to honor Baltic martyrs amid abuse crisis

  • Scandals in Australia, Europe, and North and South America have involved widespread claims of abuse

VILNIUS: Pope Francis kicks off a Baltic tour in Catholic Lithuania on Saturday where he will honor victims of the region’s Nazi and Soviet occupations as the Church reels from fresh clerical abuse scandals.
The four-day trip to the northeastern edge of the European Union and NATO alliance brings him geographically close to Russia, where Vatican diplomats have been trying for years to arrange a papal visit.
The pontiff will also visit mainly Protestant Latvia on Monday and secular Estonia on Tuesday as all three Baltic states mark 100 years of independence this year.
But the celebrations risk being overshadowed by a fresh wave of devastating claims of sexual abuse by clergy across the globe.

Scandals in Australia, Europe, and North and South America have involved widespread claims of abuse — and cover-ups — by clergymen and lay members with one archbishop describing it as the church’s “own 9/11.”
Pope Francis has called for a meeting of the heads of Catholic bishops’ conferences at the Vatican next February to discuss the issue of the “protection of minors.”
However, the pontiff has kept a stony silence regarding claims he had ignored allegations of abuse that were reported to him.
U2 frontman Bono said he could see the pain on Francis’s face after a Wednesday meeting when he told the pope that “it looks to some people that the abusers are being more protected than the victims.”
Church authorities in Germany are expected to officially publish a study detailing decades of child sex abuse by priests as Francis winds down his trip on Tuesday.
According to the study, 1,670 clergymen in Germany committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014, Spiegel Online reported earlier this month quoting leaked data.

Francis will meet President Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius on Saturday before addressing youth and visiting a revered icon.
His trip will follow in the footsteps of late Polish-born pontiff Saint John Paul II, who traveled to all three Baltic states in 1993, just two years after they broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union.
The trio have since firmly anchored their sovereignty in alliances with the West by joining both NATO and the EU in 2004.
While that led to solid economic growth, it also brought social inequality that triggered mass emigration to western Europe — a troubling trend for states with populations ranging from 1.3 to 2.9 million.
The last century of Baltic state history was marked by the Nazi invasion — which wiped out almost all of the region’s Jews — and then decades of Soviet occupation during the Cold War.
Behind the Iron Curtain, the Catholic Church played a key role in the non-violent anti-Soviet resistance, especially in Lithuania, the only Catholic-majority country of the three.
“The Church was a fortress for all dissidents, not only Catholics. It strongly resisted Sovietization and defended the rights of believers,” historian Terese Birute Burauskaite told AFP.
As a result, it was persecuted with both priests and bishops killed by the authorities.
Vilnius estimates that more than 50,000 Lithuanians died in camps, prisons, and during deportations between 1944 and 1953. Another 20,000 partisans and supporters were killed in anti-Soviet guerilla warfare.
“I will honor all those whose past sacrifices have made freedom possible in the present,” the pontiff said in a Thursday video message addressed to the people of the Baltic states.
Francis will visit a museum in the former KGB building in Vilnius where regime opponents were tortured and killed.
He will also honor Holocaust victims at the ghetto memorial in Vilnius, known as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its vibrant Jewish community prior to WWII.
Around 200,000 Lithuanian Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators under the 1941-44 German occupation.
Today there are only around 3,000 Jews left in the country of 2.9 million people.


ASEAN may be forced to choose between US, China: Cambodia PM’s son

Updated 21 November 2018
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ASEAN may be forced to choose between US, China: Cambodia PM’s son

  • Cambodia has become an unlikely staging ground for geopolitical influence in Asia
  • The economic ripples of the trade spat between China and the US could destabilize global supply chain links in Southeast Asia

BANGKOK: Southeast Asian nations may soon have to “choose sides” between the US and China in their ongoing trade war, the political heir to Cambodia’s strongman ruler Hun Sen warned Wednesday in rare public comments.
Impoverished Cambodia has become an unlikely staging ground for geopolitical influence in Asia.
In recent years it has turned into a key China ally, heading off criticism of the superpower over its claims to disputed seas in exchange for billions of dollars in investment and loans.
While China has cozied up to Cambodia, the United States and the European Union have admonished Hun Sen, the nation’s ruler for 33 years, for his increasingly authoritarian rule.
In a rare speech outside of his country, his son, Hun Many warned the US-China trade spat may create lasting divisions in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“Perhaps one day ASEAN would have to choose between US or China,” Hun Many said in Bangkok.
“How would we see the trade war spill or expanded in other areas? Surely it will pressure individual members of ASEAN or ASEAN as a whole to choose sides.”
The economic ripples of the trade spat between China and the US could destabilize global supply chain links in Southeast Asia, while a slump in Chinese spending would impact its trading partners.
Cambodia’s strongman Hun Sen has welcomed Chinese investment to pump-prime his country’s economy.
At the same time, he has accused the US of trying to foment revolution in Cambodia by supporting his critics.
Both the US and EU decried the July elections, which were held without a credible opposition and gave Hun Sen another term in power.
When asked which of the superpowers Cambodia would side with, the Australian-educated Hun Many demurred.
“At the end of the day, it depends on those who are involved to take a more responsible approach for their decisions that affects the entire world,” he said.
Earlier this week, Hun Sen swatted away concerns that Beijing will construct a naval base off the southwest coast of Cambodia, which would provide ready access to the disputed South China Sea.
Beijing claims most of the flashpoint area, infuriating the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan who all have competing claims to its islands and potentially resource-rich waters.
Hun Many, who described himself as a “proud son,” is widely believed to be in the running to one day replace his father.
His elder brother, Manit, is the head of a military intelligence unit while Manet, the oldest, was promoted in September to the chief of joint staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces as well as the commander of the infantry army headquarters.
But Many brushed aside the notion.
“It is way too soon to say that I am in the next generation of leaders,” he said.