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.


Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

Updated 55 min 14 sec ago
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Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

  • Voters across Europe will elect 751 lawmakers in the elections
  • UK’s 73 lawmakers in the EU Parliament will lose their jobs if the country leaves the union

THE HAGUE: Dutch and UK polls opened Thursday in elections for the European Parliament, starting four days of voting across the 28-nation bloc that pits supporters of deeper integration against populist Euroskeptics who want more power for their national governments.
A half hour after voting started in the Netherlands, polls opened across the United Kingdom, the only other country voting Thursday, and a nation still wrestling with its plans to leave the European Union altogether and the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.
The elections, which end Sunday night, come as support is surging for populists and nationalists who want to rein in the EU’s powers, while traditional powerhouses like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.
French President Emmanuel Macron says the challenge is “not to cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration” that will seek to dismantle EU unity built up over the past six decades.
In a significant challenge to those centrist forces, populists appear largely united heading into the elections. On Saturday, Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was joined at a rally by 10 other nationalist leaders, including far-right leaders Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally party and Joerg Meuthen of the Alternative for Germany party.
On Thursday morning, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that “the far-right is on the rise” and adding that “the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future.”
Voters across Europe elect a total of 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when the UK leaves the EU. The Dutch make up just 26 currently and 29 after Brexit. The UK has 73 European lawmakers, who would lose their jobs when their country completes its messy divorce from the EU.
Results of the four days of voting will not be officially released until Sunday night, but Dutch national broadcaster NOS will publish an exit poll after ballot boxes close Thursday night.
The Netherlands could provide a snapshot of what is to come. Polls show the right-wing populist Forum for Democracy led by charismatic intellectual Thierry Baudet running neck-and-neck with the center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
While the country, an affluent trading nation, profits from the EU’s open borders and single market, it also is a major contributor to EU coffers. Skeptical Dutch voters in 2005 rejected a proposed EU constitution in a referendum.
Baudet, whose party emerged as a surprise winner of provincial elections in March, identifies more with hard-line Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban than with the nationalist populist movement led by Salvini, although in a debate Wednesday night he called Salvini a “hero of Europe” for his crackdown on migration.