Catholic Church credibility on the line at abuse meeting

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican will gather senior bishops from around the world later this week for a conference on sex abuse designed to guide them on how best to tackle a problem that has decimated the Church’s credibility, but critics say it is too little, too late.

The unprecedented four-day meeting, starting on Thursday, brings together presidents of national Roman Catholic bishops conferences, Vatican officials, experts and heads of male and female religious orders.

“I am absolutely convinced that our credibility in this area is at stake,” said Father Federico Lombardi, who Pope Francis has chosen to moderate the meeting.

“We have to get to the root of this problem and show our ability to undergo a cure as a Church that proposes to be a teacher or it would be better for us to get into another line of work,” he told reporters.

The meeting, whose theme is “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults”, comes as the 1.3 billion-member Church still struggles to enact a concerted, coordinated and global effort to tackle a crisis that is now more than two decades old.

Lombardi, 71, said bishops from countries including the United States, which have developed protocols for preventing abuse and investigating accusations against individual members of the clergy, would share experiences and knowledge with those from developing countries, including those whose cultures make it harder to discuss abuse.

The Church has repeatedly come under fire for its handling of the sexual abuse crisis, which exposed how predator priests were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to civilian authorities around the world.

Most of the crimes took place decades ago.

The pope called the meeting in September at the suggestion of his closest advisers, and last month he told reporters it was necessary because some bishops still did not know fully the procedures to put in place to protect the young and how to administer cases of abuse.

Francis said it would be a “catechesis,” or a teaching session, a pronouncement that stunned victims of abuse and their advocates.

DISGRACEFUL DELAY

Some experts have questioned why it has taken so long to get to this point.

“The fact that this still exists in 2019, that there is still awareness-raising that has to be done (among bishops) is a measure of what a low priority this has truly been for the Vatican,” said Anne Barrett-Doyle of the U.S.-based abuse tracking group bishopaccountability.org.

“I hope he has the candor to admit that it’s absolutely disgraceful that that’s where we are today,” said Barrett-Doyle, speaking in St. Peter’s Square.

On Saturday the Vatican sent what some saw as a warning that it would get tough with bishops who have either committed abuse or covered it up.

It expelled former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the Roman Catholic priesthood after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.

While many priests have been expelled for sexual abuse, few bishops have met the same fate, and McCarrick was the first former cardinal to be thrown out.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s top sexual crimes investigator, told Reuters that McCarrick’s dismissal was a “very important signal” to the Catholic hierarchy that no one is above the law.

While victims of sexual abuse and their advocates welcomed the expulsion, many were skeptical.

“I worry that this (McCarrick’s expulsion) is not going to be anything more than the equivalent of the pope tossing a bone to placate his critics, placate the survivors,” said Phil Saviano, who was molested by a priest in Massachusetts when he was 12 years old and whose story was told in the 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Mike Collett-White and David Evans)

Fierce storm knocks out power in U.S. Northeast

A man uses a snowblower to clear snow from a street during a snowstorm in Port Washington, New York, U.S. January 4, 2018.

By Scott Malone and Gina Cherelus

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A powerful blizzard battered the Northeast on Thursday, knocking out power for tens of thousands of people and snarling travel amid a long cold snap that has gripped much of the United States for more than a week and killed more than a dozen people.

Thousands of flights were canceled, snow plows and salt trucks rumbled along roads and highways, and New York City’s two main airports halted flights due to whiteout conditions.

Commuters who braved the storm in the morning worried that they could be stranded during the storm’s peak expected later in the day.

“I don’t know where I’ll stay tonight if I get stuck, probably with my boss,” said Ran Richardson, 55, of Malden, Massachusetts, as he waited for a Boston subway to take him to training for his job as a Chinese-English translator.

Schools were ordered closed in New York City, many parts of New Jersey, Boston and elsewhere throughout the region.

Blizzard warnings were in effect along the East Coast from North Carolina to Maine. The National Weather Service forecast winds as high as 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour), which downed power lines.

Some 65,000 homes and businesses in the Northeast were without power, though that number was expected to rise as the storm intensified across the region.

More than a foot (30 cm) of snow was forecast for Boston and coastal areas of northern New England, with as much as 3 inches (7.6 cm) per hour forecast, a pace that made it difficult for plow crews to keep roads clear. Officials feared that fast-dropping temperatures after the storm passed would turn remaining snow on roadways to ice.

High tides also caused flooding in parts of coastal Massachusetts, with seawater rising near buildings, including a hotel and along Boston’s historic Long Wharf, a popular tourist attraction. The water tied a four-decade-old flood record, the National Weather Service’s office said.

Live television images showed multiple fire trucks responding to the area. Boston Fire Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The storm was powered by a rapid plunge in barometric pressure that some weather forecasters were referring to as bombogenesis or a “bomb cyclone” and which brought fast, heavy snowfall and high winds.

The bombogenesis phenomenon occurs when a storm’s barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

The wintry weather has been blamed for at least 13 deaths in the past few days, including three fatalities in North Carolina traffic accidents and three in Texas due to cold.

More than 3,500 U.S. airline flights were canceled. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport temporarily halted all flights due to whiteout conditions, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

At those airports, the metropolitan area’s third major airport in Newark, New Jersey, and Boston’s Logan International Airport, as many as three out of four flights were called off, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

Passenger train operator Amtrak was running reduced service in the Northeast. Sporadic delays were reported on transit systems, including New York state’s Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter lines, as well as the Boston area’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) system.

“The MBTA is always going to have problems because so much of its track is outdoors,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University who is an expert on transit issues. Frozen switches and high winds interfere with above-ground train operations, he said.

Officials reported road accidents throughout the Northeast, including in Manchester, New Hampshire, where a 32-year-old woman crashed a vehicle through the wall of a nursing home, according to local police. No one was injured in the incident.

The storm’s impact extended to eastern Canada.

In the Southeast, historic cities saw their heaviest snowfall in nearly 30 years on Wednesday, according to AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Alan Reppert. Charleston, South Carolina, received 5.3 inches (13.46 cm) of accumulation, within an inch of its record.

Thursday’s power outages raised fears that people would be left without electricity and heat on Friday and during the weekend when temperatures are forecast to plunge.

“Due to strong wind gusts, any power outages are expected to be prolonged because bucket trucks cannot withstand the winds,” Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

New York commuters endure start of ‘summer of hell’

Commuters wait for track announcements at New York's Pennsylvania Station which began track repairs causing massive disruptions to commuters in New York City, U.S., July 10, 2017.

By Barbara Goldberg and Gabriella Borter

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City commuters endured the start to a “summer of hell” on Monday, when track repairs at the nation’s busiest rail hub caused rerouted trains, packed platforms and lengthy delays for tourists, financiers and the working class in the U.S. business capital.

Thousands of riders were funneled into chaotic train depots, but the more apocalyptic warnings proved overstated as other commuters sailed into midtown Manhattan with relative ease, in part because of a substantial public awareness campaign.

State Governor Andrew Cuomo had predicted the partial shutdown at New York’s Pennsylvania Station would cause a “summer of hell” for the 600,000 who ride the train in and out of the station beneath Madison Square Garden.

The national passenger rail corporation Amtrak and regional commuter train operators New Jersey Transit Corp and the Long Island Rail Road all converge on Penn Station. All three canceled some services, rerouted others, and warned travelers to expect delays throughout the duration of the repairs, which began on Monday and are scheduled to be done Sept. 1.

“Welcome to hell,” read the front page of Monday’s New York Post.

The upgrades created disruptions which are expected to cost Manhattan employers about $14.5 million for each hour that commuters are delayed, according to an estimate by the Partnership for New York City.

Rerouted trains dumped masses of passengers at transfer stations such as Hoboken, New Jersey, as many sought alternate routes into the city, including buses, ferries and cars.

“Compared to Europe, I feel like we’re living in the Third World,” said Mark Van Wagner, an artist and art dealer who takes the Long Island Rail Road from Bellport, New York.

The commuter crunch highlights lagging investment in U.S. infrastructure, and especially in New York City, which is dependent on mass transit.

Getting into the city had already been problematic for those who live in the suburbs and in some cases made worse by service interruptions in the city’s creaky subway system.

Even so, Amtrak reported most of its trains ran on time or close to it, and travelers heeded the increased public service announcements and Amtrak representatives who were posted in Penn Station.

While congestion and delays were evident at some points, those on unaffected trains reported a relatively smooth ride.

“I didn’t feel any change. I’ve been using LIRR for the past 11 years and it’s been good,” said Tamer Seoud, chief financial officer for the non-profit Lutheran Social Services of New York.

NJ Transit workers use tape on placards as people arrive to the Hoboken Terminal in New Jersey, U.S., July 10, 2017.

NJ Transit workers use tape on placards as people arrive to the Hoboken Terminal in New Jersey, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

At Hoboken station, transit workers bellowed instructions such as “tickets out!” and “this way to 39th street ferry!”

“The plans we put into effect seemed to be working,” New Jersey Transit spokesman Charles Ingoglia said. “And most importantly, our customers seemed to have done their homework and made their choices quickly this morning and got about their business.”

Social media users made a meme of the summer of hell, with J.H. Swanson (@jh_swanson) predicting it would be followed by the “autumn of purgatory.”

Arielle K. (@NYCMermaid1121) tweeted her summer of hell survival kit: “water, oatmeal pack, phone charger & Xanax.”

 

(Additional reporting by Andrew Hofstetter and Amy Tennery; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

 

New computer glitch delays United Airlines flights

Computer glitch downs the planes

By Ingrid Melander and Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) – Thousands of passengers were delayed worldwide after a computer glitch temporarily halted departures at United Airlines, the latest in a series of outages to affect rival companies in the industry.

“Earlier tonight we experienced an issue with our weight reporting system, which caused system wide flight delays,” the airline said in a statement on its Twitter feed late on Thursday in the United States.

“We have resolved the issue and are working to get customers to their destinations as soon as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Passengers said they had been forced to wait onboard planes or inside terminals as flights were delayed for several hours.

“On the plane for more than an hour, away from the gate and no communication. What’s happening?,” one passenger tweeted.

In Paris, passengers complained as check-in lines grew for a flight to New York, a Reuters reporter said on Friday morning.

The airline said the problem had been resolved as of 3 a.m. eastern time (0700 GMT) on Friday.

It is the third computer glitch to hit United’s owner United Continental Holdings in recent months and the latest in a series of problems that have tested the reliance on technology of some of the world’s largest carriers.

On June 2, software needed to dispatch United’s flight plan briefly lost functionality.

In July, the same airline’s flights were disrupted after a computer problem blocked access to reservations records.

The following month, Delta Air Lines canceled hundreds of flights and delayed many others after a power outage hit its computer systems.

And in September, a system-wide computer problem at British Airways caused significant delays.

After the two previous incidents, United Continental Holdings said in July it had invested in backup plans.

But multiple recent outages have prompted some experts and passenger groups to question whether the airline industry has invested enough in technological infrastructure, given new profits from baggage and cancellation fees.

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Tim Hepher; Editing by Keith Weir)