The World Today for September 12, 2018

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The Spiritual and the Mundane

The Catholic Church is scheduled to hold a synod devoted to young people next month.

But recent events have led some church leaders to argue they need to reorganize to discuss the abuse of young people, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The embarrassing juxtaposition is the latest headache for Pope Francis, a liberal who entered the Vatican amid a tidal wave of hope but now seems as bogged down in intrigue and politics as the Borgia and Medici popes of the Renaissance period.

NBC described the crisis as a “war within the Vatican.”

Late last month, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to the US, accused Francis of covering up allegations of child sex abuse by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, DC, who resigned from the College of Cardinals in July. McCarrick now faces a canonical trial for the claims against him. In the latest development, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the embattled archbishop of Washington, said Tuesday he will meet Pope Francis soon to discuss the possibility of resigning over allegations that he, too, knew and kept quiet about the allegations against McCarrick, CNN reported.

Viganò’s accusations arose after a grand jury’s bombshell report accused church officials of covering up horrific sexual abuse in Pennsylvania that lasted more than 70 years.

Suspicions arose that Viganò was seeking to undermine Francis as part of a conservative conspiracy against the pope, who has faced criticism for his relatively lenient interpretation of church doctrines.

But, as Crux wrote, while Francis has suggested Viganò is sowing discord, the pope has not explicitly denied the charges.

In another bizarre twist, Viganò has also alleged that Francis was lying when he said he was “ambushed”: The pope was referring to a private meeting in 2015 in the Vatican’s Washington embassy with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the New York Times said.

Allies of Francis have denied Viganò’s claims, but in doing so they noted that the pope was concerned that Davis had been married four times, suggesting that Francis did indeed know whom he was meeting.

The crisis is having earthly consequences. Donors are withholding their money, the Wall Street Journal said.

“In light of recent revelations and questions, we believe it appropriate to respectfully request clarification regarding the specific use of these funds,” Thomas Monaghan, the chairman of Legatus: Ambassadors for Christ in the Marketplace, wrote in a letter to the Catholic business group’s members.

Walter Robinson, the Boston Globe editor who led the reporting team that uncovered the clergy abuse scandal, has called on prosecutors to force the Catholic Church to open up.

The state attorney general of New York appeared to have heeded that call, the Associated Press reported. Such moves prompted VICE News to ask, “Can the Pope Go to Jail?”

Since the pope is technically the head of state of an independent country, the answer is probably no.

But a diminished spiritual authority has little authority at all.



Last Offensive

US-backed troops began an assault on the last remaining stronghold of the Islamic State in Syria, in what they hope could be the four-year war’s last battle for territory.

Soldiers of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces marched on the town of Hajin Monday night with the cover of US airstrikes, US and SDF officials said, according to the Washington Post.

The capture of Hajin – the largest town in the desert along the Euphrates River’s east bank – would effectively mark the end of Islamic State’s so-called “caliphate,” the paper said. However, the fight against the militant group will continue as its soldiers are already regrouping to launch guerrilla operations and terrorist attacks.

US and SDF officials estimate that between 1,500 and 2,500 militants remain in Hajin, and say they anticipate a tough battle to root them out because they represent the toughest and most ideologically committed members of the Islamist group. Many speculate that group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or other top IS officials could be holed up in the town.


Tear Down That Wall

Two border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea were reopened Tuesday in a symbol of reconciliation that some compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki presided over the opening of the frontier at Bure in what was once an area of intense fighting, NPR reported. The move coincided with celebrations of the Ethiopian New Year.

“We heralded the new year by demolishing the trenches along our border,” Abiy told reporters upon return to Addis Ababa, Reuters reported.

Opening the border to facilitate trade is the latest sign that the reconciliation is taking hold, following moves to re-establish telephone and air travel links earlier this summer.

Relations have been fraught between the two countries virtually ever since Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. A two-year war that began with border clashes in 1998 killed tens of thousands, and the border has been closed for the past 20 years.


It’s Official

Former Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has officially withdrawn from an ongoing presidential race that he was legally barred from contesting, making way for running mate Fernando Haddad to vie with far-right rival Jair Bolsonaro for the nation’s top political post.

Lula’s Workers’ Party leader Gleisi Hoffman announced the decision outside the police headquarters where the 72-year-old Lula is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption that Brazil’s top electoral court recently ruled makes him ineligible for the race, the BBC reported.

Separately, doctors said 63-year-old Bolsonaro will have to undergo major surgery to repair wounds he suffered when an apparently mentally unbalanced attacker stabbed him at a campaign rally last week.

Lula’s legal team and the Workers’ Party have appealed the electoral court’s decision and the Supreme Court has yet to rule on it. But they decided to put their muscle behind Haddad after the Supreme Court rejected their request to extend the deadline for registering candidates to Sept. 17 from Sept. 11.


Cosmic Mergers & Acquisitions

Three and a half centuries ago, astronomers witnessed a bright shining nova – a rapid increase in the brightness of a star – coming from the Vulpecula constellation.

Now, modern astronomers have discovered traces of radioactive molecules in the debris from this cosmic event, along with further evidence that the “new star,” known as CK Vulpeculae, was formed by the merger of two existing stars, reported.

The discovery marks the first time that radioactive molecules – in this case, an isotope of aluminum – have been detected in interstellar space.

Researchers believe the presence of this isotope shows that when stars collide, their deepest layers can be ripped open, throwing heavy elements and radioactive particles into space, says a report from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

“We are observing the guts of a star torn apart three centuries ago by a collision,” said study leader Tomasz Kaminski, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “How cool is that?”

In their study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists said they hoped to learn more about such collisions, but a puzzle remains about the aluminum isotope.

The volume of the isotope present across the Milky Way is about twice the mass of the sun, and stellar mergers can’t account for all of it, according to Science Alert.

For now, the search continues.

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