DUBLIN — Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has accused the Vatican of adopting a "calculated, withering position" on abuse in the wake of a judicial report that accused the Holy See of being "entirely unhelpful" to Irish bishops trying to deal with abuse.

During a July 20 parliamentary debate, Kenny said an independent judicial investigation into the handling of clergy sexual abuse in the diocese of Cloyne "exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago."

"And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day," he said.

The Cloyne Report, published July 13, found that Cloyne Bishop John Magee, a former secretary to three popes, paid "little or no attention" to child safeguarding as recently as 2008. It said he falsely told the government that his diocese was reporting all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil authorities. It also found that the bishop deliberately misled another inquiry and his own advisers by creating two different accounts — one for the Vatican and the other for diocesan files — of a meeting with a priest-suspect.

Pope urges international aid for drought-stricken eastern Africa


CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to deliver urgent humanitarian aid to the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, where tens of thousands have fled drought and famine.

The Pope, addressing pilgrims at his summer residence outside Rome July 17, said he had been following news of the region's humanitarian catastrophe with "deep concern." UN experts say the prolonged drought, combined with a rise in food prices, have forced many families to make long and often deadly overland treks to reach refugee camps.

Irish priests reject suggestion they break seal of Confession


DUBLIN — The group that represents Ireland's Catholic priests says the secrecy of Confession must be protected, despite government indications that Confessions would not be exempt from rules on mandatory reporting of child abuse.

"The point is, if there is a law in the land, it has to be followed by everybody. There are no exceptions, there are no exemptions," said Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Fr. P.J. Madden, spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests, insisted that the sacramental seal of Confession is "above and beyond all else" and should not be broken even if a penitent confesses to a crime.

Madden said he would strongly urge and appeal to the penitent — whether a priest or anyone else — to confess a crime to the police and have the civil aspect dealt with, but that he did not approve of the idea of reporting what was said.

"If I'm breaking the law then somebody has to find a way to address that for me ... but in my own right as a priest what I understand is the seal of Confession is above and beyond all else," he said.

Latin American bishops seek dialogue on mining


LIMA, Peru — When Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo first considered the high lead levels in the blood of children living in the Peruvian highland city of La Oroya, he asked himself, "What would Jesus do?"

Five years ago, the U.S.-owned mining company Doe Run was running a minerals smelter complex that was mainly responsible for the poor air quality in the fifth-most polluted city in the world, the archbishop told delegates at an international Latin American bishops' council seminar on extractive industries. The archbishop told delegates he answered his own question by beginning an ultimately successful campaign to close the complex.

Now, as the new president of the Latin American bishops' council department of justice and solidarity, Barreto has a four-year mandate to encourage the Latin American Church to consider and act on the question at the root of his ministry.

During the three-day seminar sponsored by the council, known by its acronym CELAM, 80 Church representatives from Latin America said they would seek dialogue with Canadian, American and European bishops on extractive industries and the mission of the Church and strengthen links with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. They also called on northern countries to value the rich Latin American biodiversity that is threatened by extractive industries.

Indian bishops call for unity against terrorism after Mumbai bombings


VATICAN CITY — Indian bishops called for unity in the country's fight against terrorism in the wake of three bombs in Mumbai July 13 that left at least 17 people dead and more than 140 injured.

"We believe this is a moment in which the entire nation needs to be united in order to face terrorism with the greatest resolve. United in the spirit of brotherhood, we will be able to overcome the powers that are trying to destabilize our country," said a July 14 statement from the Indian bishops' conference.

The statement, published by the Vatican missionary news agency Fides, condemned the bomb attacks as "shameful acts." The explosions struck three crowded sites in Mumbai almost simultaneously during the evening rush hour. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Belfast bishop urges Catholics, Protestants to show restraint


BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The bishop of Belfast appealed for Catholic and Protestant residents to prove to the world they can live together in peace after fresh sectarian violence flared during the region's contentious Protestant marching season.

Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor appealed to both sides to show restraint and respect toward police after 22 police officers were injured July 11. Treanor appealed for both communities to "show the world that here in Northern Ireland we can live and let live in peace."

"Let us prove to ourselves and the world that we can celebrate our diversity in a manner that affirms our common dignity and future. Let us show that, when confronted with conflicting rights and traditions, we can make pathways of diversity and peace," he said.

On July 12, the traditional "Orangeman's day," Loyalist demonstrations commemorate the 1690 defeat of the Catholic King James II by the Protestant Prince William of Orange that definitively installed Protestantism as the religion of the British monarchy.

German court upholds conviction of Holocaust-denying bishop


BERLIN — A German appeals court has upheld the conviction of a traditionalist bishop for denying the Holocaust.

On July 11, the court ruled against British Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the Society of St. Pius X, who in a 2009 TV interview said that the Holocaust was exaggerated and that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.

The interview was aired by a Swedish TV network the same day the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had lifted the excommunication of Williamson and three other of the society's bishops in an effort to reconcile with the traditionalist group.

Greek crisis could derail Church social projects


OXFORD, England — Greece’s Catholic Church faces disaster because the current economic crisis is forcing it to end vital social and charitable projects, said Archbishop Nikolaos Foskolos of Athens.

“This crisis could be the worst in our history,” said Foskolos. “There’s corruption everywhere, especially among our politicians. We get no help from the state or other Western churches, and our faithful can’t give any more. Our parishes and dioceses are in deep trouble, and in a few months we won’t be able to support our staffers and employees.”

The archbishop voiced the concerns as European Union finance ministers released emergency funding to rescue the faltering Greek economy. Amid violent street protests the Greek legislature approved tough austerity measures and tax increases June 29, paving the way for the EU action.

The archbishop said the higher taxes would have more impact on the Catholic Church than on the country’s predominant state-supported Orthodox Church. But the Orthodox Church still faced “serious problems” after being told its clergy’s state-paid salaries would be cut by half, he said.

Catholic groups join unions seeking work-free Sundays in Europe


OXFORD, England - Catholic Church groups have joined trade unions in the European Sunday Alliance, which will campaign to protect Sundays and ensure fairer conditions for family life.

"Some people say there can never be a return to work-free Sundays — but the many working together in this alliance don't share this view," said Anna Echterhoff, legal adviser for institutional and social affairs at the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, one of the organizations supporting the alliance. "That so many stakeholders from different backgrounds are involved is something new and unique."

The alliance was launched June 20 in Brussels by 65 Church organizations, unions and civil associations. Among them are Europe's Catholic Youth Network, the Central Committee of German Catholics, representatives of the German bishops and the European Jesuits, Poland's Solidarity union, France's Force Ouvriere and the Danish food workers' union. It also includes family organizations from a dozen countries.

In a July 4 interview with Catholic News Service, Echterhoff said Sundays were protected under EU law as a rest day for children and adolescents. She said she hoped work-free Sundays would be reinstated under an EU directive now being prepared.

Ireland wants religious orders land, property to pay abuse victims


DUBLIN - The Irish government has asked religious congregations implicated in the 2009 Ryan Report on abuse to transfer land and properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the state as part of a revised package to compensate victims.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn insisted that the 476 million euros ($681 million) already offered by the 18 congregations was not enough. He said he expected the congregations to pay 680 million euros and, if they are unable to do so, they should transfer the ownership of many of their schools to the state.

None of the 18 religious congregations concerned would speak on the record about the latest proposal. However, a number privately expressed reservations about the land transfer.

Vatican says ordinations for traditionalist society 'illegitimate'


VATICAN CITY - The ordinations of 20 new priests for the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X are "illegitimate, period," said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.