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The Vatican has engaged the Irish government in an unpleasant war of words that is unlikely to help restore its battered image in that country.

At issue is a government report into Ireland’s sex-abuse scandal and the failure of Church hierarchy to identify and punish abuser priests. The “Cloyne Report,” released in July, asserts that the Vatican shares responsibility for the crisis with local bishops because it fostered a see-no-evil culture that reassigned, rather than punished, abuser priests. It also accused the Vatican of being “entirely unhelpful” to Irish bishops who sought to get tough on abuser priests.

If that wasn’t enough, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Holy See of attempting to “frustrate” the enquiry and, in an unprecedented blistering reproach applauded nationally, he railed: “The Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day.”

Defender of faith

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His Eminence Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic never craved a public spotlight in life and would not have sought the widespread outpouring of affection accompanying his death. But it is entirely appropriate for the Catholic community to stop and prayerfully commemorate a life of unwavering faith and service that touched so many lives.

To those who didn’t really understand him — and, sadly, it seems there were many — Cardinal Ambrozic was the gruff, old-fashioned, uncompromising archbishop who led the archdiocese of Toronto for 16 years.  But to those he called friend or colleague, to the many poor and disadvantaged he quietly helped, to the thousands of new Canadians he welcomed with open arms, and to the champions of such causes as vocations, education, life and family, he was a wise, supportive and unfailingly kind pastor.

As head of Canada’s largest archdiocese, much of Cardinal Ambrozic’s ministry was conducted in public view. That was unavoidable. But despite the demands of his busy office, Cardinal Ambrozic quietly spent countless hours in parishes and schools, supported several lay movements and social-justice causes, and privately ministered to those on the fringes of society.  

Benedict’s WYD

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They endured egg-frying heat, followed by lightning, howling wind and pounding rain. They slept on hard ground. Food and water was scarce. Washroom lineups were 90 minutes long. More than 2,500 of them were treated for heat-stroke and dehydration. And yet they stayed.

The overnight vigil and next-day Mass that closed World Youth Day in Madrid overflowed with 1.5 million pilgrims. Another 250,000 young people, including many of the 5,000 Canadians in Spain, were denied access for safety reasons to the crammed, dusty airstrip that served as the final meeting place of WYD. The staggering numbers exceeded all predictions.

By comparison, the crowd that attended and tried to attend the papal Mass was the size of last year’s entire 81-game attendance of the Toronto Blue Jays. The pilgrims came largely from Europe, but also in great numbers from North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Almost all the nations on Earth were represented, drawn together in a celebration of fellowship and faith.

Attendees described the huge, peaceful crowds as “breathtaking.” They gathered in an area the size of 48 football fields. Pilgrims exclaimed there was nothing but joyous young people hoisting flags and banners for as far as the eye could see.

Aid for East Africa

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During the summer months, when The Catholic Register reduces its publishing schedule to twice monthly, it can be a challenge to stay atop the news cycle because world events move so fast. Sadly, however, that is not a concern regarding the tragedy unfolding in East Africa.

There is no end in sight to the famine that has already claimed tens of thousand of lives in Somalia and threatens to spill over into Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. The United Nations estimates that 11 million people are threatened by the deadliest situation in the region since the Ethiopia famine of 1984-85 killed one million people.

But particularly distressing about the current crisis is that it could have been lessened, if not altogether averted, had nations heeded several unequivocal early warnings. Famine does not happen overnight.  Experts have developed scientific models to forecast these types of natural crisis.   When drought was added to food shortages, rising costs and armed conflict already present in Somalia, the UN sent out an international SOS late last year. But even as the crisis alarms rang louder in recent months the international community stayed largely indifferent.  

South Sudan’s first steps

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The world’s 193rd nation entered the world on July 9 as predominantly Christian, optimistically democratic, oppressively poor and facing a tenuous future.

The Republic of South Sudan became a sovereign state with the inauguration of a new constitution and the swearing in of its first president, Gen. Salva Kiir, a Catholic. Kiir had fought for independence since Sudan’s Islamic government imposed Sharia Law in 1983 on the predominantly Christian south. That edict sparked a 22-year civil war, Sudan’s second since 1956, that resulted in some 1.5 million deaths. It saw the Muslim north accused of murder and torture of men, women and children on orders from Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Sadly, atrocities are not new to the former colonies of Africa. Much less common is the type of conciliatory response Kiir is advocating now that the guns are silent.

Bishops’ straight talk

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Finally, some straight talk from the Church about same-sex attraction.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops should be commended for releasing an overdue but welcomed pastoral letter on same-sex attraction. The letter from the bishops’ Commission of Doctrine clearly enunciates Church teachings on this contentious topic while offering frank advice to priests, parents and educators on how to support young people who may be troubled by society’s mixed messages on this difficult issue.

Cyber judgment

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If the hockey riots of Vancouver needed a face an unlikely one was found in 17-year-old Nathan Kotylak.

Kotylak skipped his high-school graduation ceremony in Maple, B.C. so he could turn himself into police and confess that he was the person shown attempting to torch a police car in a widely-distributed photograph. The photo was taken in the aftermath of the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, when mobs vandalized and looted their way through the streets of downtown Vancouver.

The first reaction to all this is that Kotylak and the rest of the mob are hooligans who should probably be tossed in jail. They terrorized a city and brought shame to the country and should be held to account. In due course, the police and the courts will settle all that.

Meantime, though, we are left to try to understand why this happened. Why did so many young people run with the mob? And how to explain the public response, when the initial shock understandably became anger before taking an inexplicable turn to rage and calls for vengeance.

Aboriginal anguish

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For Canada’s First Nations people, last week’s auditor-general’s report must evoke deja vu.

In her farewell report to Parliament, outgoing auditor-general Sheila Fraser took the government to task for repeated and ongoing failure to address numerous barriers preventing First Nations people from sharing in Canada’s prosperity. It is Canada’s shame that so many native people live without such basic needs as a warm home and safe water.

The auditor general itemized what previous reports had said about the failure of successive governments to improve living standards on native reserves. Yet these observations barely made the news. The headlines went to the splashier findings about outrageous expenditures from last year’s G8/G20 summits and, in particular, excessive spending in the Parry Sound-Muskoka riding of Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement.

As the new Treasury Board president, Clement is expected to introduce spending efficiency to a cash-strapped government. Today, that seems a bit rich. Clement was rebuked by the auditor general for blowing some $45 million tax dollars in his  riding, using funds approved for border security on local projects without proper oversight or an appropriate paper trail. While he was authorizing gazebos and other projects in Ontario’s cottage country, First Nations people were living in mould-infested homes, boiling drinking water to avoid disease and sending children to ramshackle schools.

Groundbreaking report

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An exhaustive American study has attempted to answer the imponderable: what caused so many priests to sexually abuse minors over the second half of the 20th century?

The authors of the report, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of New York, spent five years sifting through thousands of pages of data, interviews and surveys from victims, priests and bishops. Their work, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is described as the most complete  examination of clergy abuse ever.

They found that abuse increased throughout the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s and then drastically declined around the mid-1980s. No single cause was identified but it found a host of social and institutional factors that may explain the sudden spike and just-as-sudden fall. The most controversial of these is that clergy abuse was sparked by a broader decline in society’s moral behaviour typified by the sex and drugs revolution of the 1960s.

Courting trouble

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Last year Parliament overwhelmingly rejected a private member’s bill introduced by former Bloc MP Francine Lalonde that would have amended the Criminal Code to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. That should have been the end of the story, or at least the end of a chapter until either the government or a private member put the issue back before Parliament. But Canadian law on this contentious issue is again under threat, but this time MPs have no say in the matter.

It shouldn’t be that way, of course. Canadians elect Members of Parliament to make laws. But much the way on-demand abortion was legalized in 1988, Canadian law on end-of-life decisions will be made by judges if proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide succeed in cases currently before the courts.

The first challenge is from a Vancouver woman who helped her terminally ill, 89-year-old mother commit suicide in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. Lee Carter admits she abetted her mother’s death. That would mean she broke Canadian law that prohibits a person from aiding, encouraging or counselling another’s suicide, or intentionally causing a death. But backed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, she has asserted in B.C. Supreme Court that the Criminal Code is unconstitutional.

Tough on trafficking

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The 18-year-old woman arrived from Africa to begin a new life working in a Vancouver hair salon. At least, that was the promise.

But when she landed, according to police, her employer confiscated her passport and used threats and intimidation to force the young woman to work seven days a week, 18 hours a day as an unpaid household servant. A virtual slave. She lived that way for a year, alone and terrified, before escaping to a women’s shelter.

Her ordeal has resulted in a Vancouver woman facing charges of human trafficking, a crime that is rampant around the world. The United Nations estimates that more than 2.4 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. It is a $32-billion global industry, behind only drug smuggling and gun-running as the most lucrative international criminal activities. It thrives because the world abounds with poor, vulnerable people who are easily exploited, but also because for every victim lured or snatched from their home there is someone willing to acquire human cargo.