VATICAN CITY - The take-away message from a Vatican-backed symposium on clerical sex abuse was clear: Victims, truth and justice come first. And the church can no longer wait for a crisis to erupt before it begins to address the scandal of abuse.

"We do not need to wait for a bomb to explode. Preventing it from exploding is the best response," said Philippine Archbishop Luis Tagle.

Pope says world must help Africans in Sahel


VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to address the problems of poverty and malnutrition in Africa's Sahel region.

"The Sahel was seriously threatened again in recent months by a notable decrease in food resources and by famine caused by a lack of rain and the resulting increase in desertification," the pope told members of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel.

He said that for residents of the Sahel, "living conditions are deteriorating."

Hong Kong cardinal warns of 'schism' within Chinese church


VATICAN CITY - Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun warned that the Chinese Catholic Church is "on the verge of a schism" between communities cooperating with government structures and those who refuse to register with government authorities, and he called on the Vatican and other Catholics to shun "organisms that are not only foreign but clearly hostile to the church" in China.

Cardinal Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong, made his comments in an article published Feb. 8 by Asia News, a missionary news agency based in Rome.

Nuncio to Syria says priests in Homs choose to remain despite violence


WASHINGTON - Some priests have decided to stay in battle-scarred Homs, Syria, even as government forces intensified their strikes against the heart of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, said the Vatican's nuncio to Syria.

Archbishop Mario Zenari told Catholic News Service in an email Feb. 9 that he had been in almost daily contact with priests in Homs and that "with respect to their safety, the situation is, in certain respects, uncertain."

Church officials step up relief efforts to quake victims


MANILA, Philippines - Catholic officials are stepping up relief efforts to provide assistance to victims of an earthquake that struck Negros Oriental province Feb. 6.

San Carlos Diocese on Negros Island is organizing relief groups to deliver food and water to thousands of people who remain isolated after a magnitude 6.9 earthquake on the eastern part of the island, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

The quake destroyed or damaged bridges and buildings and triggered landslides. As of Feb. 9, the official death toll was 26, but rescuers said there was little hope of finding any of the 71 missing alive, UCA News reported.

Vatican sex abuse investigator says bishops should be more accountable


ROME - The Vatican's top sex abuse investigator called for greater accountability under church law of bishops who shield or fail to discipline pedophile priests.

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made his remarks to reporters in Rome Feb. 8, after addressing an international symposium on clerical sex abuse.

California ban on same-sex marriage ruled unconstitutional


WASHINGTON - By a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the California ban on same-sex marriage, saying that it violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens due process and equal protection under the law.

The majority opinion, issued Feb. 7, said that the state, which had given homosexual couples the right to marry, could not revoke that right.

The National Organization of Marriage Education Fund, in a statement issued by its director, Brian S. Brown, accused the judges of "finding a 'right' to same-sex marriage in the United States Constitution!"

Forgiveness sought for those who protected abusers


ROME - Cardinal Marc Ouellet led a penitential vigil to show contrition for the sexual abuse of children by priests and for the actions of Catholic officials who shielded the perpetrators from justice Feb. 7.

Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, presided over the vigil during a week-long symposium attended by representatives of 110 bishops’ conferences and 30 religious orders. The Feb. 6-9 conference, “Toward Healing and Renewal,” launched a global initiative aimed at improving efforts to stop clerical sexual abuse and better protect children and vulnerable adults. It was held at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and is supported by the Vatican Secretariat of State and several other Vatican offices.

Brazil's Archbishop Krieger mediates police strike in Bahia state


SALVADOR, Brazil - Archbishop Murilo Krieger of Salvador is mediating an eight-day military police officer strike that has caused havoc and left at least 95 people dead.

Archbishop Krieger, 69, was called in as a mediator Feb. 6 to a meeting of government officials and representatives from the striking police officers that lasted until the early hours of Feb. 7. An archdiocesan spokesman said the archbishop resumed negotiations later that morning at his residence.

Catholicism still dominant in Caribbean, but its influence wanes


SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Trinidad's only Catholic seminary educated future clergy members for six decades, sending graduates to ministries throughout the Caribbean.

But by 2010, the Regional Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs had more staff than students and was losing nearly $100,000 a year. The Antilles Episcopal Conference closed it.

US court drops suit state insurance officials brought against Vatican


VATICAN CITY - A federal court in Mississippi Feb. 2 dismissed a 10-year-old lawsuit accusing the Vatican of complicity in a scheme to bilk more than $200 million from insurance companies.

The state insurance commissioners of Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas had filed the lawsuit in 2002 charging the Vatican and Msgr. Emilio Colagiovanni with racketeering and fraud.