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ROME (Reuters) – Italy’ss flagship welfare reform kicked off in a busy but orderly fashion on Wednesday as thousands of poor and unemployed people applied in post offices and tax assistance centres for the “citizens’ income” scheme.
The populist 5-Star Movement, which governs with the right-wing League and has long promoted the measure, hopes it will lift its flagging fortunes ahead of European Parliament elections in May.
Italy’s Five Star Movement has risen to global prominence more for the colorful oddness of its founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, than for the seriousness of its populist policies.
Despite a steady flow of applicants, warnings of chaos and long queues proved misplaced, as many people appeared to heed advice not to sign up on the scheme’s first day.
“This is so helpful, it will give me some breathing space to get to the end of each month,” said 36-year-old Svetlana Guerra as she left a small tax assistance center (CAF) in a densely populated quarter of south-eastern Rome.
Guerra, a Ukrainian-born widow who has lived in Italy for 19 years and survives thanks to odd jobs paid under the counter, said she expected the citizens’ income to give her about 280 euros ($315) per month to help her pay her rent.
Guerra is one of millions struggling to make ends meet in a country in its third recession in 10 years and where the economy has barely grown since the start of the century.
Eleonora Tonnicodi, who runs the center with just one assistant, said they had helped some 20 people apply for the new scheme in the first two hours of the morning.
Applicants can apply until the end of March and, if successful, the first month’s money will be paid in May.
Giuseppe Calafiore, a 66-year-old unemployed car mechanic, said he had no income and he and his wife were surviving on her disability pension of 780 euros per month.
“I’ve come to find out if I’m eligible …because it would at least help until I can get a (state) pension next year,” he said.Slideshow (2 Images)
Italians in absolute poverty, defined as not having enough money to buy a basket of basic goods and services, rose to 5.1 million in 2017, according to statistics office ISTAT. That is a more than threefold increase in a decade.
Italy has traditionally had a generous pension system and offered limited-term state benefits for those laid off from work, but until last year it was virtually unique among rich countries in having no means-tested welfare scheme.
The previous center-left government aimed to fill that gap, but the “inclusion income” program it launched ahead of elections a year ago set aside just 2 billion euros and was widely deemed inadequate.
The citizens’ income, a rallying call for 5-Star since its foundation in 2009, will cost 7 billion euros this year and is expected to go initially to 2.7 million people, according to ISTAT.
Critics say Italy’s strained public finances cannot afford it.
The 5-Star Movement was easily the biggest party at the March 2018 national election but has seen its support slide since then and been overtaken in opinion polls by the League.
“The state is finally taking care of the invisible ones… who have been on the fringes of this country and the political debate,” said 5-Star leader and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio.
Reporting By Gavin Jones; editing by John Stonestreet
Rome (CNN)In a remarkable admission, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Saturday that documents that could have contained proof of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church were destroyed or never drawn up.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created,” said Marx, the archbishop of Munich and president of the German Bishops’ Conference.”
The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution offences were deliberately not complied with,” he added, “but instead cancelled and overridden.
“Such standard practices will make it clear that it is not transparency which damages the church, but rather the acts of abuse committed, the lack of transparency, or the ensuing coverup.”
Marx’s stunning admission came on the third day of a historic Vatican summit focused on combating clergy sexual abuse. The day’s theme was transparency, which Marx said could help to tackle abuse of power. A member of Pope Francis’ inner circle of advisers, Marx is one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church.
The four-day summit of 190 Catholic leaders, including 114 bishops from around the world, will conclude Sunday with an address by Pope Francis. On Thursday, at the beginning of the unprecedented summit, Francis urged the bishops to take “concrete measures” to combat the clergy abuse scandal.
At a press conference later Saturday, Marx said that the information about destroying files came from a study commissioned by German bishops in 2014. The study was “scientific” and did not name the particular church leaders or dioceses in Germany that destroyed the files.”
The study indicates that some documents were manipulated or did not contain what they should have contained,” Marx said. “The fact in itself cannot be denied.”Marx said he doubts the destruction of files related to clergy sexual abuse was limited to one diocese.”I assume Germany is not an isolated case.”
The report commissioned by the German bishops also revealed that “at least” 3,677 cases of child sex abuse by German clergy occurred between 1946 and 2014.
One thinks, for instance, about a wave of sexual abuse scandals that swept Ireland and then much of Europe in 2009 and 2010, which actually triggered real reform in Catholicism and revealed Pope Benedict XVI as an honest-to-God change agent.
Nevertheless, that storyline was basically hijacked when Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s former Secretary of State and Dean of the College of Cardinals, called the complaints of abuse survivors “petty gossip” during an Easter Sunday homily.
It’s still early in the game, but there have already been hints during this week’s high-profile summit on clerical sexual abuse that the Vatican may find ways to take our eyes off the prize this time too.
To begin with, despite efforts in the run-up to this gathering of presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world to lower expectations – or, as Pope Francis himself put it, to “deflate” expectations – the Vatican certainly isn’t treating this as business as usual. They’re offering daily briefings with A-list personalities, livestreaming much of the proceedings, and issuing most materials in multiple languages.
Vatican officials are investing that much energy, obviously, because they think this is a big deal – a sign of seriousness and resolve about cleaning up the mess caused by the abuse crisis, and therefore an event that ought to put the Church in a positive light.
Yet there have also been hiccups, some of which could metastasize into real distractions.
For instance, earlier this week the Vatican Press Office issued a “media kit” for coverage of the summit, which included a timeline on the abuse scandals. When the Italian version of that kit was released electronically on Wednesday, it included a reference to the criminal conviction of a senior Church official for sexual abuse that’s actually still covered by a judicial gag order in the country in which the trial took place.
Asked about it by reporters, a flummoxed spokesperson said that the media kit couldn’t be taken as an “official position” of the Vatican – as if anyone had ever asked what the Vatican’s “position” was on a point of fact rather than Church teaching – and also insisted that the Vatican had no intention of defying the gag order, despite the fact that was self-evidently what they had just done.
Very quickly, that item was redacted in the electronic edition of the media kit, eliminating any reference to the conviction. On that front the Vatican largely managed to dodge the bullet, since no one really picked up on the brief-lived faux pas.
Seemingly more serious was a series of 21 “points of reflection” the Vatican released on Thursday, described as things Francis wants the assembled bishops to think about based on input from “various episcopal commissions and conferences.”
Two points caused immediate consternation, especially among abuse survivors on hand in Rome.
One point read, “The principle of the presumption of innocence in natural and canon law must also be safeguarded until there is proof of the guilt of the accused,” recommending, therefore, against release of the names of priests accused of sexual abuse ahead of a “definitive condemnation.”
The document said it was “necessary to prevent” the publication of such lists, “even by dioceses.” If taken seriously, that could invalidate the practice in most American dioceses of releasing names when an accusation is found to be credible, even if a final verdict either hasn’t yet been reached or a legal proceeding isn’t possible.
In fairness, Francis did say these were only things to think about, not intended to “detract from the creativity needed in this meeting.” In fairness, too, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a former Vatican prosecutor on sex abuse crimes, said Thursday that in his view releasing the names of priests facing “credible” accusations is fine, as long as it’s done responsibly.
Still, the whole idea of restricting the information flow probably won’t sit well with survivors, who generally want the Church to provide more data on accused priests rather than less. For instance, survivor Peter Isley with the activist group “Ending Clergy Abuse” complained Thursday about a lack of information as to how the pope is handling roughly 4,000 cases currently awaiting judgment at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“What is he doing with them?” Isley wanted to know. “How come we don’t know who these individuals are?”
Another of the “points of reflection” concerned punishments abuser-priests ought to receive, recommending respect for “the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed.”
To some observers, that line sounded like hesitance about defrocking all priests who sexually abuse minors, which has become more or less the standard sanction in such cases. Once again, in fairness the document also called on Church leaders to “decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave public ministry,” but that’s not quite the same thing.
In all honesty, it’s unlikely thorny issues such as these will be taken up at this week’s summit, and it certainly is true that the very act of calling such a meeting represents a step forward – perhaps especially so for the Church in parts of the world where the abuse scandals have not yet erupted, whose bishops will at least go home with a grudging realization that they’re expected to act.
One wonders, however, if that good news story will have much traction at the end of the week, if the Vatican keeps finding other, and less flattering, narratives for enterprising journalists to pursue.
Opening summit, Pope urges ‘concrete, effective measures’ on abuse
ROME (AIWA! NO!)- Concrete, effective actions and courage, not merely “simple condemnations,” is what Pope Francis said he’s expecting from a Feb. 21-24 Vatican summit on clerical abuse that opened Thursday morning.
The pontiff pointedly said this is what the People of God want, watching the 190 men and women meeting over the next four days in Rome.
Thursday’s opening session included several voices acknowledging that the Catholic Church has failed victims, and that crimes of sexual abuse of minors by clergy have been covered up by bishops.
“The Holy People of God are watching us and wait for more than simple condemnations, they expect concrete and effective measures. We need concreteness,” Francis said in a short opening speech.
Defining the abuse of minors perpetrated by men of the Church as a “plague,” Francis said he’d thought to reach out to presidents of bishops’ conferences, heads of the Eastern Churches and leaders of male and female religious orders so they can “listen to the cries of the little ones clamoring for our help.”
German Father Hans Zollner, director of the Centre for Child Protection at Rome’s Gregorian University, read a quote from an unnamed survivor.
“Not my parents nor ecclesial authorities heard my cry,” Zollner read. “And I ask myself, why is it that not even God heard my cry?”
The morning session that opened the much anticipated summit was live-streamed, with the exception of the pre-taped witness of five victims from Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the United States and Asia.
The lineup included a short opening speech from the pope, two longer talks and a series of prayers. The encounter was multilingual, with people speaking in English, Spanish and Italian.
The Vatican released the text of five abuse survivors who addressed the participants, keeping their identities hidden. The first, however, is well known, as he had told the media he’d be a part of the presentation: Juan Carlos Cruz from Chile.
“You are physicians of the soul, and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed – in some cases – into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith. What a terrible contradiction,” Cruz said.
Cardinal Blase Cupich defended on Thursday the “dramatic drop” in clergy sex abuse cases in the United States since the U.S. bishops enacted a zero tolerance policy against abusers in 2002. “When we put in measures to protect children, when we make sure we cooperate with law enforcement, incidents of child abuse drop dramatically, and have since 2002 when we adopted a charter,” Cupich told veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour last week ahead of Pope Francis’s major summit on sex abuse this week at the Vatican.
Yet Cruz defended the work Pope Francis is doing in the Chilean church to address a decades-long crisis, one which led all the country’s bishops to submit their resignations en masse. Eight have been subpoenaed by civil authorities to testify on either charges of abuse or cover-up.
A survivor from Asia, unclear if it was a man or a woman, spoke about being sexually abused over 100 times, which, this person said, has created “traumas and flashbacks all across my life.”
The person said that after going to provincials and superiors of the religious order of the abuser, they covered up for the perpetrator, adding, “That kills me sometimes.”
If “we want to save the Church, we need to get our act together,” the person said. “This act [of abuse] will destroy whole generations of children. And as Jesus always said, we need to be child-like and not to be child sexual molestors.”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines compared the response of bishops to the clerical sexual abuse crisis to the apostles’ betrayal of Jesus and their doubt about the resurrection until Thomas touched the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side.
“How can we profess faith in Christ when we close our eyes to the wounds inflicted by abuse?” Tagle said.
“If we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the resurrection, this means that each of us and our brothers and sisters at home must take personal responsibility for bringing healing to this wound in the body of Christ,” he said.
According to Tagle, President of the papal umbrella charity group Caritas Internationalis, the Church must “see that children and vulnerable people are safe, are cared for, in our communities.”
The prelate also said that Jesus’ wounds remind us that wounds are often inflicted by the “blindness of ambition and misuse of power, which condemned an innocent person to die as a criminal.”
Tagle called on the Church to “reject any tendency” that refuses to see and touch the wounds of others: “Those wounded by abuse and the scandal need to be strong in faith in this moment,” he said.
“If we are to heal victims and all those wounded by the crisis, we need to take seriously their resentment and pain,” Tagle said.
His presentation was followed by a behind-closed doors Q&A session.
“We in the Church should continue to walk with those wounded by abuse, building trust and asking forgiveness, fully understanding we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice,” Tagle said, adding that only mercy and grace can supply it.
Walking with the victims, he argued, does not mean that bishops and superiors cannot reach out to the perpetrator too, helping them face the truth of their actions without “rationalization, and at the same time not neglecting their inner world and their own wounds.”
Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a former Vatican prosecutor on sex abuse crimes and a leading Catholic voice on the protection of minors, was scheduled to speak next.
In a piece published on Wednesday, Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli argued that this week’s summit is destined to leave a mark.
“Even before a deep consideration of indispensable concrete indications of what to do facing the wounds of abuse, the awareness on the part of the entire Church of the dramatic and irreversible consequences for minors who have suffered abuse will leave a mark,” Tornielli wrote.
Scicluna’s talk was centered on how bishops and religious superiors can prevent abuse, and how they should respond when it happens.
His recommendations included mandatory reporting to civil authorities, noting that beyond Church rules, priests and religious must also abide by civil laws. He also called for careful screening of candidates to the priesthood, and said that concealing information on the leadership ability of a candidate to become a bishop is a “great sin against the Church.”
“The faith community should know that we mean business,” he said. “They should come to us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth…. We will protect them at all costs. We will lay down our lives for the flocks entrusted to us.”
Scicluna quoted extensively from two letters Pope emeritus Benedict XVI addressed to the bishops and the people of Ireland in 2006 and 2009, including praise of survivors who’ve spoken up and also a call for the “transgressions” of some priests not to obscure the “fine work and selfless dedication of the great majority of priests and religious.”
NPRPope Francis On Clergy Sex Abuse: ‘We Showed No Care For The Little Ones’ : NPR
The statement said chief prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone was heading the investigation. Forensic specialists have been asked to determine the “age, sex and date of death” of the body, according to Reuters.
Italian media reports said forensic scientists were examining if the remains might be those of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a member of the Vatican police who disappeared in 1983. Police are also checking if the remains belong to Mirella Gregori, another 15-year-old who had disappeared in Rome 40 days before Orlandi.
Orlandi’s disappearance was widely linked to organised crime or to an attempt to force the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish man who had tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, according to BBC.
Orlandi’s brother Pietro has campaigned for decades to find out what happened to her and has accused the Vatican of remaining silent.