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Catholic Church prioritised reputation over children: UK inquiry | United Kingdom

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The Catholic Church in England and Wales failed to protect children from sexual abuse while consistently prioritising its own reputation and protecting alleged perpetrators, a new investigation has found.

The Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, published on Tuesday, found that the Church had moved abusive priests and monks to different parishes where some continued to prey on children, resisting any external intervention.

The IICSA said the Catholic Church received more than 900 complaints involving nearly 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse against priests, monks and volunteers between 1970 and 2015.

The inquiry also found that there have been more than 100 reported allegations a year since 2016.

“The report finds that the Church has repeatedly prioritised its own reputation over the welfare of vulnerable children,” IICSA’s chair Alexis Jay said in a video published on social media.

“In recent years, senior church leaders have been resistant to external oversight and have only partially implemented the recommendations of major reviews,” she said.

“For decades, the Church’s moral purpose was betrayed by those who sexually abused children and by those who turned a blind eye to it,” she added.

“Even today, the Holy See’s decision not to cooperate with this investigation appears at odds with the Pope’s promise, to take action on child sexual abuse,” Jay said.

Pope Francis made sweeping changes trying to tackle the sexual abuse crisis following increasing global pressure demanding greater accountability, including the abolition last year of pontifical secrecy over sexual abuse accusations against clerics and the enforcement of a more stringent law against child pornography.

Some critics, however, believe that this is still not enough.

The IICSA report showed how the Church repeatedly failed to support victims and survivors, while taking positive action to protect alleged perpetrators, including moving them to different parishes.

The most senior Catholic leader in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, failed to acknowledge any personal responsibility or show compassion for victims in recent cases examined by the inquiry, according to the investigation.

“At times, the report finds, Cardinal Nichols has shown he cares more about the impact of child sexual abuse on the Catholic Church’s reputation than on victims and survivors,” it said.

The Vatican and the Apostolic Nuncio, its ambassador to the United Kingdom, did not provide a witness statement to the inquiry despite repeated requests.

The investigation gathered accounts of victims and survivors who described the profound and lifelong effect of sexual abuse.

“The psychological effects have continued ever since, resulting in years of unbearable guilt, depression, nightmares, anxiety and PTSD symptoms,” read the testimony of a witness reported by the inquiry.

Another victim said the traumatic experience affected every aspect of his life, including the near destruction of his marriage, and led him to self-harm.

The long-lasting independent public inquiry, which is examining the problem of child sexual abuse across British institutions and society, published similar findings about the Church of England on October 6.



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‘Chilling’ crackdown on dissent in Vietnam ahead of key congress | Vietnam News

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As Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party gears up for its most important meeting in years, its leadership has presided over an intensified crackdown on dissent, according to rights groups, activists and data collated by Reuters news agency.

A record number of political prisoners, longer jail terms, and increased harassment of activists in recent years have contributed to the crackdown ahead of this week’s Communist Party congress, a gathering to determine national leadership and policy that takes place once every five years.

The crackdown has left some international human rights groups and legislators questioning whether Vietnam has breached the spirit of trade agreements with Western countries – accords that have helped propel the country to a position of economic strength in Southeast Asia.

“I have been summoned by the police several times since December 9, 2020,” said Nguyen Quang A, a veteran activist in Hanoi, declining to detail the circumstances saying he was subject to an ongoing investigation. He told Reuters Vietnam’s security ministry had in recent weeks rounded up other government critics without saying why, citing his contacts with activists.

“They [the police] summon them and find reasons to convict them under those very fuzzy articles of criminal law. It completely violates the law but they use it very regularly,” said Quang A. “I’ve told them they can’t shut me up.”

Vietnam’s foreign ministry, which handles inquiries from foreign media, did not respond to Reuters’s request for comment on activist detentions.

‘Anti-state’

Despite reforms and increasing openness to social change, the Communist Party of Vietnam, led by 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong, tolerates little criticism and controls domestic media tightly.

Vietnam drew international condemnation this month when it sentenced three freelance journalists known for criticism of the government to between 11 and 15 years in prison, finding them guilty of spreading anti-state propaganda.

Journalists Pham Chi Dung, right, Le Huu Minh Tuan, centre, and Nguyen Tuong Thuy, left, stand between police during their trial at a court in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam January 5, 2021 [VNA/Handout via Reuters]

The country’s constitution says it protects “freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, access to information, to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations”.

In reality, public criticism of the party is not tolerated, and groups which promote democratisation are targeted by the authorities in a battle playing out online on platforms like Facebook, Vietnam’s premier platform for both e-commerce and dissent.

A Reuters tally based on state media reports found 280 people were arrested for “anti-state” activities over the five years since the last party congress: 260 were convicted, many being sentenced to more than 10 years in jail. In the five years leading up to the 2016 congress, there were 68 arrests and 58 convictions.

‘Force 47’

Last year, Amnesty International said it had recorded the most “prisoners of conscience” in Vietnam since it began publishing figures in 1996 – 170, close to double the 97 recorded in 2018. Of the 170, some 70 were arrested for online activism, Amnesty said.

In late 2017, Vietnam unveiled a 10,000-strong military cyber-unit, Force 47, to counter what it said were “wrong” views on the internet. According to rights groups, the unit also recruits volunteers online to target dissidents and activists.

Reuters reviewed dozens of posts across multiple Facebook groups and pages from December and January that claimed links with Force 47. Many attacked prominent activists, including Quang A, accused by one group of creating anti-state propaganda.

A woman wearing a traditional conical hat walks past a poster for the upcoming 13th national congress of Vietnam Communist Party on a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, January 18, 2021 [Kham/Reuters]

Some group moderators were dressed in military uniform in their profile photos while others ran pages for official local branches of Communist Party organisations.

Last November, Vietnam threatened to shut Facebook down if it did not toughen rules on local political content on the platform.

Facebook’s local servers were taken offline by the government earlier last year until it agreed to significantly increase policing of “anti-state” posts by local users, a request with which Facebook previously said it complied.

A Facebook spokesman said the company faced “additional pressure” from Vietnam to restrict content last year.

‘Driver’s seat’

For some, the crackdown has a connection with fluctuations in global trade ties with Vietnam.

“During the [former US President Barack] Obama administration, pressure on rights connected with TPP [trade] negotiations helped the cause of human rights activists and political dissidents,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The early visit of Prime Minister [Nguyen Xuan] Phuc in 2017 to the Trump White House saw human rights completely dropped from the agenda,” he said.

Robertson said trade tensions with China have also left Vietnam “in the driver’s seat” as US and European Union companies look for alternative supply chains, helping the Vietnamese economy thrive.

“The EU had an important opportunity to make real changes through the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement,” said Robertson, referring to a pact that has been a boon for Vietnam. Instead, he said, the EU “fell short, settling for vague promises … instead of substantive changes”.

EU officials did not immediately respond to Reuters’s request for comment.

After the jailing of the three journalists earlier this month, the United Nations human rights office said: “Coming just weeks ahead [of the party congress], the convictions and long sentences are not only a blatant suppression of independent journalism but also a clear attempt to create a chilling effect among those willing to criticise the government.”

The United States described the sentences as the “latest in a troubling and accelerating trend of arrests and convictions of Vietnamese citizens exercising rights enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution”.



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