- Pope Francis issued the first law obligating officials in the Roman Catholic Church to report cases of sexual abuse and attempts to cover-up such abuse.
- The law provides whistleblower protections for anyone making a report, requires diocese to have a system in place to confidentially receive claims, and outlines procedures for when the accused is a bishop, cardinal, or religious superior.
- Many have criticized the law for not requiring the crimes to be reported to police, however, it does require clergy to obey civil reporting requirements where they live.
Pope Francis on Thursday issued a new law that requires all priests and nuns in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide to report cases of clergy sexual abuse to their superiors.
The new law provides protections victims who come forward and requires that diocese have a system in place to confidentially receive claims. It also outlines procedures for preliminary investigations when the accused is a bishop, cardinal, or religious superior.
According to the law, priests and nuns who have “well-founded motives to believe” that a cleric or sister has performed certain acts, must report them.
Those actions include sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person, forcing an adult “by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts,” and the production, possession or distribution of child pornography, as well as any efforts to cover up any of those acts.
This law is the first time that a universal church rule has required that clergy follow local civil reporting requirements. Previously it was left up to individual priests and nuns to decide whether or not to report.
The Pope also mandated that victims be must be listened to and supported by the hierarchy, as well as offered spiritual, medical, and psychological assistance. Even though investigations are still to be conducted confidentially, victims cannot be required to keep quiet about their allegations.
If implemented fully this will likely mean the Vatican will see a large amount of abuse and cover-up allegations, since the law can be applied retroactively. The law takes effect on June 1 and dioceses will have one year to implement an accessible confidential reporting system.
This move by the Pope is seen by many as the first concrete response from the Catholic Church to decades of allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups. Even the inclusion of adult victims of abuse in the law is seen as a response to the reports of sisters being sexually assaulted by priests.
Still, victims and their advocates have criticized the law for not requiring incidents to be reported to police. However, the Vatican has consistently argued that doing so could endanger the church in places where Catholics are persecuted. The global victims’ group, Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), said the Vatican shouldn’t hide behind this argument.
“The church should establish the law for reporting and justify the exception,” said ECA’s Peter Iseley. “Instead, they are using the exception as a pretext for not reporting sexual abuse to civil authorities and to keep abuse secret.”
Some feel that this new law is being over-hyped because the Pope has always had the ability to defrock, demote, and discipline, but often chooses not to.
“We’re already seeing this ‘new’ church plan described as ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘sweeping,’ but that’s irresponsible,” David Clohessy, the former director of Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests told NBC News. “These are promises, plain and simple. They might lead to change. They might not. But children need concrete action, not more pledges from a complicit church hierarchy.”
Another concern is that the law does not lay out punitive measures if someone does not comply with the new rules. However, bishops and superiors can be accused of cover-ups or negligence if they do not implement the new provisions or if they retaliate against anyone that reports an incident.
See what others are saying: (AP News) (The New York Times) (NBC News)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.