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24 Hours Across Africa

Pope decrees bishops must be directly accountable for sex abuse or cover-ups

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Source :Reuters

Pope Francis issued a landmark decree on Thursday making bishops directly accountable for sexual abuse or covering it up, requiring clerics to report any cases to Church superiors and allowing anyone to complain directly to the Vatican if needed.

Tackling sexual abuses that have battered the Catholic Church’s reputation has been a major challenge for Francis since his 2013 election, with victims demanding a crackdown on bishops at the diocese level accused of concealing or mismanaging cases.

The papal change in Church law, covering abuse of children and adults alike, also obliges every diocese worldwide to set up simple, accessible reporting systems and encourages local churches to involve lay experts in investigations.

Francis’s edict obliges the world’s one million priests and nuns to report all suspicion of sexual abuse by clerics of any level. Before, it was just a matter of individual conscience as to whether to report cases.

It calls for whistleblower protection, saying bishops with conflicts of interest should recuse themselves from investigations and that bishops can also be held accountable for abuse of power in sexual relations with adults.

Former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood last February after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults, including forcing seminarians to sleep with him.

“We have said for years that priests should follow certain strict rules, so why should bishops and other members of the Church hierarchy be exempt?” said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops.

The decree also allows victims or their representatives to report alleged abuses by bishops directly to the Vatican or a Vatican ambassador, bypassing diocesan procedures that have been discredited by multiple instances of cover-ups.

But the decree does not alter Vatican policy that clerics should follow local law as to whether they are mandated to report alleged sexual abuse to civil authorities.

REPORTING LAWS VARY

Victim’s groups and their advocates have called for the Vatican to make reporting of suspected abuse to police mandatory but the Holy See says Church law cannot override local civil law because the latter varies around the world.

The papal edict says the “norms apply without prejudice to the rights and obligations established in each place by state laws, particularly those concerning any reporting obligations to the competent civil authorities”.

Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s top sexual crimes investigator, told reporters that the purpose of that section was to mandate priests and nuns to report abuse within the Church even in countries – including several in Latin America – where they are not obliged by civil law to do so.

The 19-article decree, called “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (You Are the Light of the World), raises to 18 from 16 the age of adulthood in cases of sexual abuse. It also covers possession of child pornography.

The edict came three months after Francis summoned the heads of all national bishops conferences to Rome in February for a crisis summit on sexual abuse.

A spate of abuse scandals has battered Church credibility around the world and forced some dioceses to declare bankruptcy because of billions of dollars paid in settlements with victims.

The decree, whose preparation was reported first by Reuters in April, sets time limits for local investigations and the Vatican’s response to them and allows for retroactive reporting.

The decree further says local clerics cannot order those who report abuse to remain silent and that senior bishops should make provisions to prevent documents from being destroyed by subordinates if needed.

Many local Catholic Churches have been hit by sex abuse scandals since they erupted on a large scale in Boston in 2002 with revelations that Church leaders there had moved sexual abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them.


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24 Hours Across Africa

Kenya: Popular author and gay activist dies.

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Kenyans prolific writer Binyavanga Wainaina, who was born in Nakuru in Rift Valley Province has died after a short illness in Kenya.

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He is popularly known for his debut book, a memoir entitled One Day I Will Write About This Place, was published in 2011.

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In January 2014, in response to a wave of anti-gay laws passed in Africa, Wainaina publicly announced that he was gay, first writing a short story that he described as a “lost chapter” of his 2011 memoir entitled “I am a Homosexual, Mum”, and then tweeting: “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy.

Prize-winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina has died in Nairobi after a short illness at the age of 48.

Wainaina was also named among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014 for his gay rights activism.

He “demystified and humanized homosexuality” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote at the time.

Wainaina was one of the first high-profile Kenyans to openly declare he was gay and “he felt an obligation to chip away at the shame” that people felt about being gay, Adichie added.

Wainaina challenged Kenyans to rethink their negative stereotypes about homosexuality, Nyabola added.

“Inasmuch as homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, there are people who are very comfortable with their identity… but the public space for acceptance and respect has always been lacking and even characterised by violence,” Nyabola said.

“What he said is ‘look I’m here and I’m still the same person that you know and love and respect ‘… I think it’s incredibly powerful,” she added.

Homosexual relations are currently illegal in Kenya but the Supreme Court is due to rule on Friday whether to overturn the law banning them.


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24 Hours Across Africa

Algerians army Chief shun claims over political ambition.

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Algeria’s army chief of staff said on Wednesday he had no political ambitions in response to democracy activists who say that he intends to copy the authoritarian model of Egypt.

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The armed forces have been a pivotal power center in Algeria for decades and have been managing a transition after mass protests forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign last month after 20 years in office.

Street demonstrations have continued to press demands for a dismantling of the elite of independence veterans, security commanders and business tycoons that have run the major oil and natural gas producer since independence from France in 1962.

“Everybody should know that we have no political ambitions,” Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah told state television.

A presidential election has been scheduled for July 4 but an informed source said on Friday it might be postponed.

Algerian activists say they are concerned the army-steered transition toward democracy will prove illusory as in Egypt.

As Egypt’s army chief in 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled freely elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, won election himself in 2014 and then suppressed Mursi’s supporters as well as the liberal opposition in a pervasive crackdown on dissent.

In Algeria, analysts the army fears the crisis will continue at a time of worsening disorder in neighboring Libya, where there is factional fighting for control of the capital Tripoli.

Salah also said a fight against corruption and cronyism, among protesters’ main grievances, would continue and that he disagreed with some officials who said this was not a priority.

Earlier this month a military judge placed Bouteflika’s youngest brother and two ex-intelligence chiefs in custody. They joined a string of businessmen and officials under investigation over corruption ahead of the presidential election.

Said Bouteflika, who served as a top adviser to the presidency, acted as Algeria’s de facto ruler after his brother suffered a stroke in 2013 that left him in a wheelchair.

Several businessmen, including Algeria’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, have also been placed in custody pending completion of investigations into corruption allegations.


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