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.


One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

Updated 16 January 2019
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One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

  • The online survey was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies
  • More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment

UNITED NATIONS: One third of UN staff and contractors experienced sexual harassment in the past two years, according to a report released by the United Nations on Tuesday.
The online survey, carried out by Deloitte in November, was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies — just 17 percent of those eligible. In a letter to staff, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the response rate as “moderately low.”
“This tells me two things: first — that we still have a long way to go before we are able to fully and openly discuss sexual harassment; and second — that there may also be an ongoing sense of mistrust, perceptions of inaction and lack of accountability,” he wrote.
The survey comes amid the wider “Me Too” movement around the world against sexual harassment and assault.
According to the report, 21.7 percent of respondents said they were subjected to sexual stories or offensive jokes, 14.2 percent received offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities and 13 percent were targeted by unwelcome attempts to draw them into a discussion on sexual matters.
Some 10.9 percent said they were subjected to gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature, which embarrassed or offended them, and 10.1 percent were touched in way that made them feel uncomfortable.
More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment, while 17.1 percent said it happened at a work-related social event. Two out of three harassers were male, according to the survey.
Only one in three people said they took action after experiencing sexual harassment.
Guterres said the report contained “some sobering statistics and evidence of what needs to change to make a harassment-free workplace real for all of us.”
“As an organization founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard,” he said.
The United Nations has tried to increase transparency and strengthen how it deals with such accusations over the past few years after a string of sexual exploitation and abuse accusations against UN peacekeepers in Africa.
The head of the UN agency for HIV and AIDS is also stepping down in June, six months before his term ends, after an independent panel said that his “defective leadership” tolerated “a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power.”