Explainer: Why will Republicans vote to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial?

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate is expected to acquit President Donald Trump on Wednesday at the end of his impeachment trial on charges that he abused his power in dealings with Ukraine and obstructed efforts to uncover the alleged misconduct.

Here is a summary of the reasons that Trump’s Republicans, who control 53 seats in the 100-seat chamber, say he should not be removed from office:

– Trump did nothing wrong

The impeachment charges against Trump contend that he sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender, to benefit his own re-election campaign.

They say Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid and a coveted White House meeting with the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Some Republicans say he did nothing wrong. They say Trump was simply trying to crack down on corruption in a country where that has long been a problem and wanted U.S. allies to share the burden of supporting Ukraine.

“Both of those objectives are consistent with law, are permissible and legal,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz said on the Senate floor.

Senators making this argument tend to represent reliably conservative states or, like Cruz, do not face re-election this year.

– Trump’s actions were wrong, but not impeachable

Nearly half-a-dozen Senate Republicans, including some from electoral swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, say Trump’s actions were wrong but do not qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which the U.S. Constitution specifies as grounds for impeachment.

“The president did it, shouldn’t have done it. But it’s a far cry from what the Constitution sets out as the standard for removing a president from office,” said Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Others making that argument include Susan Collins, a moderate Republican facing a tough re-election campaign in Maine. She told the Senate that Trump’s request for an investigation of Biden was “improper and demonstrated very poor judgment.”

– Removal of Trump would upset voters

Regardless of the merits of the impeachment case, a large number of Republicans say ousting the president from office could worsen partisan divisions.

“Can anyone doubt that at least half of the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’etat?” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said in statement.

No Republicans voted for Trump’s impeachment in the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December. During the Senate impeachment trial, Trump’s lawyers accused Democrats of seeking to remove Trump from office even before he became president in January 2017.

Trump’s approval rating has shown little change since news broke of his efforts to pressure Zelenskiy in September, and he remains popular among Republican voters. Reuters/Ipsos polling shows that Trump’s approval rating stood at 39 percent at the end of last week, down from 43 percent in late September, which is not a statistically significant change.

Trump’s popularity among Republican voters is surely a factor for the 21 Republican senators seeking re-election this year, as they could face a backlash if they were to vote to convict.

– Not enough evidence

Republicans accuse House Democrats of bringing a “half-baked” impeachment case to the Senate, saying they failed to fight in federal court for vital witnesses and documents that Trump has withheld.

They say House investigators have since inappropriately tried to persuade the Senate to complete the task for them by subpoenaing additional witnesses and documents. All but two Republicans voted last week against a Democratic motion to call more witnesses and present more evidence that could help make the case.

“They claimed dozens of times, that their existing case was, quote, ‘overwhelming and incontrovertible,'” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “At the same time, they were arguing for more witnesses.”

Other Republicans say the impeachment case relies too heavily on unprovable assertions that Trump’s motives were corrupt. They say it could set a precedent that would allow a future Congress to punish a president for pursuing genuine anti-corruption policies.

“The House of Representatives’ abuse-of-power theory rests entirely on the president’s subjective motive. This very vague standard cannot be sustained,” said Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

– Let the voters decide

Republicans frequently said impeachment would subvert the will of voters who elected Trump in 2016. They say the Senate should not interfere with the Nov. 3 presidential election, in which Trump will seek another four years in office.

“Under the Constitution, impeachment wasn’t designed to be a litmus test on every action of the president. Elections were designed to be that check,” Republican Senator Joni Ernst said.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

Trump impeachment trial end gets closer; witness bid likely to fail

By James Oliphant and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial faces a climactic vote on Friday, when senators are due to decide whether to call witnesses and prolong the historic proceedings or instead bring them to the swift conclusion and acquittal that Trump wants.

Democrats need to persuade four Republicans to vote with them in the Senate in order to call witnesses such as John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and sometime critic of Trump, on Friday became the second Republican senator to state support for voting for witnesses, joining fellow moderate Susan Collins.

Barring an unforeseen change of heart by another Republican senator, that would leave Democrats short of the 51 votes they need and allow Trump’s allies to defeat the request for additional evidence and move toward a final vote that is all but certain to acquit the president and leave him in office.

That final vote could take place late on Friday or on Saturday, congressional sources said.

GRAPHIC: Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-TRUMP-WHISTLEBLOWER/0100B2EZ1MK/index.html

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who had been undecided, said late on Thursday that Democrats had proven the case against Trump but that the president’s actions did “not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.”

Senate Democrats have been arguing throughout the two-week proceedings that lawmakers need to hear from witnesses in order for it to be a fair trial. This would be the first Senate impeachment trial in U.S. history with no witnesses, including trials of two prior presidents and a number of other federal officials.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said a trial barring witnesses and new evidence would be a “kangaroo court” and a “tragedy in every possible way.”

“Lamar’s decision – it’s an offense against the Senate, it’s an offense against the rule of law, and it’s an offense against the American people,” Merkley told CNN.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump in December, formally charging him with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The House also charged Trump with obstruction of Congress for blocking current and former officials from providing testimony or documents.

“The truth is staring us in the eyes,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, said on the Senate floor.

“We know why they don’t want John Bolton to testify. It’s not that we don’t really know what’s happened here. They just don’t want the American people to hear it in all of its ugly, graphic detail.”

Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. A vote of two-thirds of the Senate is required to remove him from office and no Republicans have yet indicated they will vote to convict.

Trump’s Republican allies have tried to keep the trial on a fast track and minimize any damage to the president, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. Trump’s acquittal would allow him to claim vindication just as Democrats hold the first of the state-by-state nominating contests on Monday in Iowa to choose the party’s nominee to challenge Trump in the election.

The president held a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday night and denounced the impeachment trial, calling it an effort by Democrats to overturn his 2016 election victory.

“They want to nullify your ballots, poison our democracy and overthrow the entire system of government,” Trump told his supporters.

SHOWDOWN

On Friday, the Democrats prosecuting Trump and the president’s lawyers are expected to present closing arguments before the Senate votes on whether to call witnesses.

Contradicting Trump’s version of events, Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations of Democrats, including Biden and the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Kiev, emphasized U.S. support for Ukraine.

Pompeo, the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to Ukraine since the impeachment began, also denied that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would be granted a visit to the White House to meet Trump only if Ukraine agreed to announce an investigation of Hunter Biden.

If further witnesses and documents are permitted, Republicans have threatened to call either Joe or Hunter Biden and perhaps the whistleblower within the intelligence community whose complaint about Ukraine led the House to begin its investigation.

If the vote on whether to allow witnesses is 50-50, Chief Justice John Roberts could step in to break the tie. But there is so little precedent for impeachment trials that Senate aides said there was no way to know exactly what would occur.

Merkley said he did not expect Roberts to break a tie. “He’s not taking a stand for the institutions of the United States,” Merkley said.

If Roberts declines to break a tie, the deadlock would mean a defeat for Democrats.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Jeff Mason in Des Moines, Iowa; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Robert Birsel, Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Don’t read too much into election results, Taiwan tells China before vote

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Beijing should not see Taiwan’s elections as representing a win or loss for China, Taiwan’s foreign minister said on Thursday, days ahead of a vote overshadowed by Chinese efforts to get the island to accept its rule.

Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday. Its elections are always closely watched by China, which claims the island as its territory.

Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name, and the government has warned of Beijing’s efforts to sway the vote in favor of the opposition.

“I just don’t think China should read Taiwan’s election as its own victory or defeat,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei.

“If China reads too much into our election … there might be a likely scenario that China will engage in military intimidation or diplomatic isolation or using economic measures as punishment against Taiwan.”

President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election, has repeatedly warned Taiwan’s people to be wary of Chinese attempts to sway the election through disinformation or military intimidation, an accusation China denies.

Wu drew attention to China’s sailing of its new aircraft carrier into the sensitive Taiwan Strait late last year, calling the voyage “clear” evidence of Beijing’s attempts to intimidate voters.

“This is our own election. This is not China’s election. It is Taiwanese people who go to the voting booth to make a judgment on which candidate or political party is better for them,” Wu said.

“If China wants to play with democracies in other countries so much, maybe they can try with their own elections at some point.”

The issue of China has taken center stage in the campaign, especially after its president, Xi Jinping, warned last year it could attack Taiwan, though said he’d prefer a peaceful “one country, two systems” formula to rule the island.

Taiwan-China ties have soured since Tsai took office in 2016, with China cutting off formal dialogue, flying bomber patrols around Taiwan, and whittling away at its diplomatic allies.

China suspects Tsai of pushing for the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai says she will maintain the status quo but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and way of life.

‘EVERY BALLOT HAS POWER’

In a front-page election advertisement in the mass circulation Liberty Times on Thursday, Tsai appealed directly for people to cast their vote against China.

“In the face of China, every ballot has power,” the advertisement read, next to a picture of Tsai wearing a camouflaged military helmet and flak jacket.

Tsai’s main opponent is Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which ruled China until 1949, when it was forced to flee to Taiwan after loosing a civil war with the Communists.

Han says he would reset ties with Beijing to boost Taiwan’s economy, but not compromise on the island’s security or democratic way of life.

In a Facebook post later on Thursday, Tsai wrote that China would be happiest if the Kuomintang got back into power.

“The elections should make Taiwan’s people happy, not the Chinese government,” she added.

But Kuomintang Chairman Wu Den-yih said Tsai was the real threat, pointing to an anti-infiltration law she championed and passed late last year to tackle Chinese influence. The Kuomintang says the law seeks to effectively outlaw all contacts with China.

“Don’t let Tsai Ing-wen destroy the Republic of China’s democracy, liberty and rule of law; just take down Tsai Ing-wen,” the party cited Wu Den-yih as saying, referring to Taiwan by its official name.

Overshadowing the elections have been allegations in Australian media from a self-professed Chinese spy about China’s efforts to influence Taiwan’s politics and support Han, who, along with Beijing, has denounced the accusations as lies.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

YOUR VOTE MATTERS! Don’t forget Election Night Coverage on The Jim Bakker Show! LIVE Tuesday night at 7 PM!

By Kami Klein

Two years ago, Christians came en masse to vote for the future of this country.  Conservative values were being ridiculed. Our Constitution was being put to the test and our belief that God was the foundation of this country was ignored.  In a stunning turn-around, the Church made their voices known. NOW is the time to show we mean it. Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 6th, America once again goes to the polls to vote.  It is vital that you make your voice heard!

Voting is our power and it is the responsibility of all Americans to remember the importance of “We The People”.  You do not have to hold a sign or shout; you do not have to fight! In America, there is a way to let your feelings and beliefs be heard. This is your chance to speak!  Speak with YOUR vote!

For the last few months, our guests on The Jim Bakker Show have strongly encouraged us to not sit idly by but to get out and Vote.  The importance of mid-term elections has never been more paramount. The Church must be heard in this election. You must not throw your vote away!  

On election night we invite you to join The Jim Bakker Show LIVE at 7 pm CT as we watch the results come in on this extremely important time in America!  This exciting Live broadcast can be found on PTL Television Network on your Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or by going to jimbakkershow.com or the PTL Television Network at Ptlnetwork.com.    

We would love for you to join us as we speak via Skype with some of our most influential prophetic guests such as Rick Joyner, General Boykin, Lance Wallnau, David Horowitz, Jim Garlow, Carl Gallups and more.

Speak this Tuesday on your voting ballot as we exercise our freedom to vote and send a message to the world that God is in control and we believe in His plans for us.  

Please, go vote and continue praying for our President, for our leaders, and for our nation!  The Church is the key to our future!

 

For Trump supporters, elections a battle for his vision of America

Supporters applaud U.S. President Donald Trump as he arrives to attend a campaign rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Georgia, U.S., November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Maria Caspani, Julia Harte and Ned Parker

MACON, Ga. (Reuters) – For many Americans, Tuesday’s congressional midterm elections are a referendum on President Donald Trump’s divisive persona, hardline policies and pugnacious politics.

But at a Trump rally on Sunday in a crowded airport hangar in Macon, Georgia, and at other such events, the elections are a far different proposition: a vote to protect a leader supporters see as under siege, whose inflammatory rhetoric is a necessary price for a norm-shattering era of change.

“He is putting people back to work,” said Barbara Peacock, 58, a retired postal worker from Macon, Georgia, as she perused Trump 2020 merchandise. “He is telling it like it is.”

At rallies overflowing with red-hatted, mostly white supporters in conservative pockets of the country, she and many other Trump supporters credit the president with making the country – and their lives – better.

Rallying together, bedecked in Trump shirts and waving “Make America Great Again” and “Finish the Wall” signs, they hope to make Trump’s ideas the dominant force in American political life for decades to come.

They face strong headwinds. Nationally, about 52 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance. More people say they would vote for a Democratic candidate than a Republican in Tuesday’s congressional elections, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.

But pro-Trump Republicans are eager to defy expectations, just as the president did with his 2016 victory.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, pro-Trump activist Ben Hirschmann, 23, sees Tuesday’s elections as decisive for Trump’s vision of America.

“Trump’s not on the ballot, but he is on the ballot,” he said at a phone-bank event at the local Republican headquarters. “Everything we voted for in 2016 is on the line in 2018.”

Hirschmann is part of a group that organizes flash mobs at busy intersections in the Grand Rapids area, drawing 30 to 40 people about twice a week to hold campaign signs for Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James.

‘NOW WE’RE LIVING GOOD’

Trump has a clear strategy: drive Republican turnout by focusing on illegal immigration, as a caravan of migrants moves through Mexico toward the U.S. border, while playing up gains in the economy and casting his Democratic opponents as an angry, liberal and dangerous “mob.”

“The choice could not be more clear,” he told supporters at a rally in Missoula, Montana. “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs.”

It is unclear if the strategy will work. Republicans are expected to keep control of the Senate. But Democrats are widely favored to win the 23 seats they need to assume control of the House of Representatives, where Republicans are defending dozens of seats in largely suburban districts where Trump’s popularity has languished and Democrats have performed well in presidential races.

Trump’s rallies have focused mostly on Senate and gubernatorial battles in states he won in the 2016 presidential race – from Florida and Missouri to West Virginia and Ohio. A Trump adviser, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters: “These are places where data and polling information tells us that the president is of best use.”

At a rally in Johnson City, Tennessee, in early October, Jessica Lotz, 33, and her fiance, Chad Lavery, said Trump’s immigration policies resonated with them. During the 2008 economic downturn, Lotz and Lavery said they saw construction, landscaping and house painting jobs go to illegal immigrants while they struggled financially.

As the economy rebounded, so, too, did their fortunes.

“Now we’re living good,” Lavery said, crediting their ability to find work and better wages to Trump, who inherited an economy that was already in one of the longest recoveries and gave it an additional boost with tax cuts.

‘FRUSTRATED’

After a Trump rally in September in Springfield, Missouri, pro-Trump activist Brenda Webb sat for a late dinner at a restaurant with five friends who had driven to the rally from the St. Louis suburbs.

Webb and her friends had joined protests against former President Barack Obama in St. Louis in 2009 that were part of a broader conservative“Tea Party” movement centered on calls for smaller government, lower taxes and fewer regulations.

But the energy fizzled, she said. The group became animated talking about how Trump had given new focus to those early Tea Party goals of reclaiming government for ordinary citizens, not just the “elites” in Washington.

“We feel like he’s working to resolve all the problems that we are so frustrated by,” Webb said.

At the Springfield rally, Brian Whorton, who drove a few hours to see the president, confessed he voted for Obama twice before becoming a Republican. “I was not politically aware and awake. I thought, oh he’s cool and he’s a good speaker and an African-American guy,” Whorton said.

Trump’s policies, he said, were making a difference for him: He said his factory manager had credited Trump tariffs with raising profits at his plant.

In Ohio, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mandi Merritt referred to pro-Trump enthusiasts as a “grassroots army” that could be harnessed and dispatched to boost Republican voter turnout.

On a sunny day in October, Trump supporter Kimmy Kolkovich joined a friend on the sidewalk at a busy intersection near the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus to urge people to register and vote.

“Even if I’m registering people who are going to vote for the other party, they’re seeing us out here in our hats, and that’s what’s important, all the little interactions and conversations we’re having,” Kolkovich said.

For all Reuters election coverage, click: https://www.reuters.com/politics/election2018

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in Macon, Ga., Julia Harte in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Columbus, Ohio, and Ned Parker in Springfield, Mo., and Johnson City, Tenn.; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Jason Szep, Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)

Vatican ‘suffragettes’ want vote, change, in a man’s Church

FILE PHOTO: A nun enters to take part at the synod afternoon session led by Pope Francis at the Vatican October 16, 2018. Picture taken October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Catholic women say there’s a clerical stained glass ceiling in the Vatican, and they want to shatter it.

They want to vote in major policy meetings. They want Pope Francis to deliver on his promise to put more women in senior positions in the Holy See’s administration. And some of them say they want to be priests.

“Knock knock! Who’s there? More than half the Church!” several dozen Catholic women chanted outside the Vatican on Oct. 3, the first day of this year’s synod of bishops from around the world.

The role of women in the Church has been a recurring theme at the month-long meeting, which brings together some 300 bishops, priests, nuns and lay participants. Only about 35 are women.

The subject has come up in speeches on the floor, in small group discussions and at news conferences by participants in the gathering, officially titled “Young People, Faith and Discernment of Vocation”.

Only “synod fathers”, including bishops and specially appointed or elected male representatives, are allowed to vote on the final recommendations to be sent to the pope, who will take them into consideration when he writes his own document. Other participants are non-voting observers, auditors or experts.

Some of the attendees have pointed to what they say is a contradiction in the rules of the synod, which takes place every few years on a different theme.

This year, two “brothers”, lay men who are not ordained, are being allowed to vote in their capacity as superiors general of their religious orders.

But Sister Sally Marie Hodgdon, an American nun who also is not ordained, cannot vote even though she is the superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery.

“I am a superior general. I am a sister. So in theory, logically you would think I would have the right to vote,” Hodgdon, who is also vice president of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), an umbrella group of Catholic nuns, told reporters.

The membership of female religious orders is about three times larger than that of male orders.

FILE PHOTO: Sister Sally Hodgdon (2nd L) stands during a synod afternoon session led by Pope Francis at the Vatican October 16, 2018. Picture taken October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

FILE PHOTO: Sister Sally Hodgdon (2nd L) stands during a synod afternoon session led by Pope Francis at the Vatican October 16, 2018. Picture taken October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

GENDER IN THE CHURCH

A petition demanding that women have the right to vote at synods has collected 9,000 signatures since it opened online at the start of this meeting. It is sponsored by 10 Catholic lay groups seeking change in the Church, including greater rights for women and gays and a bigger role for the laity.

“If male religious superiors who are not ordained can vote, then women religious superiors who are also not ordained should vote. With no ontological/doctrinal barrier, the only barrier is the biological sex of the religious superior,” it reads.

The cause has won some influential clerical male backers.

At a news conference on Oct. 15, superiors general of three major male religious orders – the Jesuits, the Dominicans and one branch of the Franciscans – expressed support for changes in synod rules in order to allow women to vote in the future.

Backing also came from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, president of the German Bishops Conference and one of the most influential Catholic leaders in Europe.

“We must face up to the often uncomfortable and impatient questions of young people about equal rights for women also in the Church,” Marx said in his speech to the synod.

“The impression that the Church, when it comes to power, is ultimately a male Church must be overcome in the universal Church and also here in the Vatican. It is high time.”

The Holy See, as the offices of the central administration of the 1.3 billion-member Church are known, and the State of Vatican City have a combined work force of about 4,100 people. About 700 are women.

Of the approximately 60 departments in the Holy See, about 10 must be headed by priests because they deal with governance and jurisdiction over other ordained ministers or other sensitive doctrinal matters, the Church says.

Francis has promised to put more women in senior roles in those other 50 departments. But more than five years after he was elected, there are only six women in such roles. Five are lay women and one is a nun. None of them heads a department.

Francis told Reuters in June he had to “fight” internal resistance to appoint 42-year-old Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia-Ovejero as deputy head of the Vatican’s press office.

He declined to name those who had resisted, but said he had to use “persuasion,” an apparent reference to the powerful conservative wing of what has been an institution run exclusively by males for 2,000 years.

The Vatican Museums, which are part of the State of Vatican City, are headed by Barbara Jatta, the first woman to hold the high-profile post which oversees nearly 1,000 employees.

The pope’s critics, including former Irish President Mary McAleese, say he is moving too slowly.

“How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership?” she said at a conference in Rome in March.

TIME FOR CHANGE

Sister Maria Luisa Berzosa Gonzalez, one of the participants at the current synod, thinks it is time for change – in the synod, and in the wider Church.

The Spanish nun, whose energy belies her 75 years, has dedicated her life to educating the poor and underprivileged in Spain, Argentina and Italy and is still going strong.

“With this structure in the synod, with few women, few young people, nothing will change. It should no longer be this way. Its participation should be broadened,” she told Reuters.

Berzosa, who took her vows in 1964, said she supports a female priesthood, a position not very common among nuns her age.

The Church teaches that women cannot become priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.

Proponents of a female priesthood, like 32-year-old Kate McElwee, who organised the protest on the synod’s opening day, say Jesus was merely acting according to the norms of his times.

“Some women feel called by God to be priests. They discern a vocation to the priesthood just as men do,” said McElwee, the Rome-based executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, a U.S. lobbying group.

McElwee has found kindred spirits in nuns like Berzosa.

The nun said she knows women won’t be priests in her lifetime because change comes slowly and piecemeal in the Church.

Still, between one easy laugh and another, her frustration slipped through.

“I lead spiritual exercises, I develop a deep rapport with people, I teach them how to pray, and then someone else comes along to say the Mass,” Berzosa said. “It’s not fair.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

At least 18 killed in Baghdad explosion: source

People react at the site of a car bomb attack in Sadr City district of Baghdad, Iraq June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili

By Ahmed Aboulenein and Huda Majeed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least 18 people were killed and over 90 wounded in an explosion in Baghdad’s Sadr City district on Wednesday, an Iraqi police source said.

Photos from the scene showed a destroyed car and building as well as weeping relatives of victims.

An interior ministry spokesman said in a brief statement the blast was the result of the detonation of an ammunitions cache and that security forces had opened an investigation.

The ammunition had been stored in a mosque and the explosion happened during its transfer into a car parked nearby, the police source said.

Earlier, state television cited a ministry spokesman describing the explosion as “a terrorist aggression on civilians,” which had caused “martyrs and wounded”.

Authorities did not offer an explanation of the discrepancies between the two statements, neither of which gave casualty figures.

Sadr City is a stronghold of nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc won a May 12 parliamentary election. Parliament ordered a national recount of votes on Wednesday.

In May, two homemade bombs targeted the headquarters of the Iraqi Communist Party, which is part of Sadr’s bloc.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Huda Majeed; Editing by Andrew Roche and Peter Cooney)

Ireland quietly comes to terms with dramatic change after abortion vote

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish people paid homage on Sunday to an Indian immigrant woman whose death inspired a historic vote to repeal Ireland’s strict abortion laws while the Catholic Church rued the outcome saying it showed indifference to its teachings.

In a referendum on Friday, the once deeply Catholic nation voted to scrap a prohibition on abortion by a margin of two-to-one, a landslide victory that astonished campaigners as citizens of every age and background demanded the change they had spent decades fighting for.

The vote overturns a law which, for decades, has forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations that they could not legally have in their own country. “Yes” campaigners had argued that with pills now being bought illegally online abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

Hundreds of people on Sunday continued to leave flowers and candles at a large mural in Dublin of Savita Halappanaar, the 31-year-old Indian whose death in 2012 from a septic miscarriage after being refused a termination spurred lawmakers into action.

Katy Gaffney, a 24-year-old baker who traveled home to Dublin from Berlin to vote, stood silently in front of the makeshift memorial crying.

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

“I am relieved but devastated that it had to come to this,” she said.

Others, many with tears in their eyes, pinned messages to the wall. One read: “I’m so sorry this happened to you before the country woke up. My vote was for you.” Another: “I’m sorry we let you down. It won’t be in vain.”

“It’s not a high. It’s more of a relief,” said Lynda Cosgrave, a 35-year-old legal associate, wearing the black sweatshirt with ‘Repeal’ in white that become the symbol of the youthful “Yes” campaign.

“I thought when I came in last night it would be jubilant, but it was a bit down. It’s a bit sad. I don’t think we ever thought it would actually happen.”

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of going abroad for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes”.

The government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, will begin drafting legislation in the coming week to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy by the end of the year.

Many lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not try to block the bill.

NEW MILESTONE

The outcome was a new milestone on a path of change for the country of 4.8 million which only legalized divorce by a tiny majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

With the vote making newspaper frontpages across the world, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that “Ireland has once again made history.” He called the vote an essential symbol for women’s freedom.

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May faces a showdown with ministers and lawmakers in her Conservative party after refusing to back reform of highly restrictive abortion laws in the British province of Northern Ireland which has a 500 km (312 mile) land border with Ireland.

Ireland’s push to liberalize its laws is in contrast to another traditionally Catholic European country, Poland, where the ruling conservative party and still powerful church are seeking to ban most abortions.

In Ireland though, the once all-powerful Catholic Church, which has seen its public influence collapse since the 1980s after a string of child sex abuse scandals, took a back seat throughout the referendum campaign.

In churches across the country on Sunday there was only regret at the outcome.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told parishioners that the church had to “renew its commitment to support life.”

“Many will see the results of Friday’s referendum as an indication that the Catholic Church in Ireland is regarded today by many with indifference and as having a marginal role in the formation of Irish culture,” Martin said in a homily published by the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick called the result “deeply regrettable and chilling for those of us who voted ‘No’.” He asked those attending mass to pray for healing in Irish society.

Calling on colleagues to move quickly on legislation, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone reminded lawmakers that Irish women would still have to travel across the water to Britain for terminations until they acted.

“Women are leaving the country today,” she told national broadcaster RTE. “We have to be aware of that and have that sense of urgency in order to legislate as soon as possible.”

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Ireland ends abortion ban as ‘quiet revolution’ transforms country

Observers watch as votes are tallied folowing yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s prime minister on Saturday hailed the culmination of “a quiet revolution” in what was once one of Europe’s most socially conservative countries after a landslide referendum vote to liberalize highly restrictive laws on abortion.

Voters in the once deeply Catholic nation backed the change by two-to-one, a far higher margin than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote had predicted, and allows the government to bring in legislation by the end of the year.

“It’s incredible. For all the years and years and years we’ve been trying to look after women and not been able to look after women, this means everything,” said Mary Higgins, obstetrician and Together For Yes campaigner.

For decades, the law forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations and “Yes” campaigners argued that with others now ordering pills illegally online, abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of leaving the country for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes”.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, had called the vote a once-in-a-generation chance and voters responded by turning out in droves. A turnout of 64 percent was one of the highest for a referendum.

“Today is an historic day for Ireland. A quiet revolution has taken place,” Varadkar, who became Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister last year, said in a speech after the vote.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. This is Ireland’s second chance to treat everyone equally and with compassion and respect. We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink.”

The outcome is a new milestone on a path of change for a country which only legalized divorce by a razor thin majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

The once-mighty Catholic Church took a back seat throughout the campaign.

ASTONISHING MARGIN

Anti-abortion activists conceded defeat early on Saturday as their opponents expressed astonishment at the scale of their victory. Lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not seek to block the government’s plans to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

“What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions,” the Save The 8th group said. “However, a wrong does not become a right simply because a majority support it.”

Voters were asked to scrap the constitutional amendment, which gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life. The consequent prohibition on abortion was partly lifted in 2013 for cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

The country’s largest newspaper, the Irish Independent, described the result as “a massive moment in Ireland’s social history”.

Activists react at the count centre as votes are tallied folowing yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Activists react at the count centre as votes are tallied folowing yesterday’s referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Campaigners for change, wearing “Repeal” jumpers and “Yes” badges, gathered at count centers, many in tears and hugging each other. Others sang songs in the sunshine outside the main Dublin results center as they awaited the official result.

The large crowd cheered Varadkar as he took to the stage to thank them for “trusting women and respecting their choices”.

Reform in Ireland also raised the prospect that women in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, may start traveling south of the border.

“The outcome of the referendum is an extremely worrying development for the protection of the unborn child in Northern Ireland,” said Jim Wells, a member of Northern Ireland’s socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

MIDDLE GROUND

No social issue had divided Ireland’s 4.8 million people as sharply as abortion, which was pushed up the political agenda by the death in 2012 of a 31-year-old Indian immigrant from a septic miscarriage after she was refused a termination.

Campaigners left flowers and candles at a large mural of the woman, Savita Halappanavar, in central Dublin. Her parents in India were quoted by the Irish Times newspaper as thanking their “brothers and sisters” in Ireland and requesting the new law be called “Savita’s law”.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he believed a middle ground of around 40 percent of voters had decided en masse to allow women and doctors rather than lawmakers and lawyers to decide whether a termination was justified.

“For him, it’s a different Ireland that we’re moving onto,” said Colm O’Riain, a 44-year-old teacher referring to his son Ruarai, born 14 weeks premature in November who was in his arms.

“It’s an Ireland that is more tolerant, more inclusive and where he can be whatever he wants without fear of recrimination.”

(Additional reporting by Graham Fahy and Emily Roe in Dublin; Amanda Ferguson in Belfast and Michael Holden in London; Editing by Alison Williams and Richard Balmforth)

Church and religion take back seat as a secular Ireland votes on abortion

Pro-Life campaigner Vicky Wall holds a poster ahead of a 25th May referendum on abortion law, in Wicklow, Ireland, May 8, 2018. Picture taken May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Conor Humphries and Emily G Roe

NENAGH/CORK, Ireland (Reuters) – Three decades after Ireland introduced one of the world’s only constitutional bans on abortion, the Church that was so pivotal in securing the law’s passage finds itself a minor player in the now mainly secular battle to repeal it.

A vote on May 25 on whether to scrap the 1983 ban is the latest referendum to gauge just how much has changed in Ireland, once one of Europe’s most socially conservative and staunchly Catholic countries.

Polls suggest the repeal camp is in the lead but the vote is much closer than three years ago when Ireland became the first country to back gay marriage in a national referendum. The one-in-five who are undecided are likely to decide the outcome, both sides say.

As in the gay marriage case, the role of the Catholic Church this time is tricky: some feel the Church should be out in front robustly defending one of its core teachings. Others worry moralizing by celibate priests may prove counter-productive.

“The priests in a way are damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” leading anti-abortion activist Vicky Wall said as she campaigned in central Ireland against repeal.

The leaflets she distributed around the rural market town of Nenagh mentioned religion just once, to address concerns that campaigners in favor of the ban were imposing their beliefs on the country.

“Not true. You don’t have to be from any faith tradition to agree that human life should be protected… The right to life is first and foremost a human rights issue,” it read.

Religion was front and center when Ireland voted to ban abortion in a 1983 referendum described by columnist Gene Kerrigan as part of a “moral civil war” between conservative Catholics and progressive liberals for the country’s future.

The eighth amendment to enshrine the equal right to life of mother and her unborn child was proposed by a coalition of Catholic groups who feared Ireland would follow the United States and United Kingdom into expanding access to abortion.

Protestant churches felt the wording was too rigid, but it passed by a margin of two to one.

The result showed the depth of Catholic influence in Ireland. But it also consolidated opposition when the implications of the ban became clear in a series of legal cases just as clerical abuse scandals rocked trust in the Church.

Ireland was transfixed by the 1992 case of a 14-year-old rape victim barred from leaving the country by judicial order after she told the police she was planning to get an abortion. The injunction was lifted by the Supreme Court on the grounds her life was deemed at risk by suicide.

A referendum later that year enshrined the right of women to travel for an abortion, legalizing a stream of more than 3,000 women who go to Britain every year for terminations.

In 2012 a 31-year-old Indian immigrant died from a septic miscarriage after being refused an abortion that might have saved her life.

The ensuing outcry led to legislation the next year to allow abortion when a woman’s life is in danger and, combined with criticism from the United Nations and European Court of Human Rights, helped build political pressure for a referendum to repeal the ban.

CHURCH BATTLE

With just over two weeks to go before the vote, the Church has only recently begun to get involved, putting up posters at a few churches and allowing some anti-abortion campaigners to speak from the pulpit during Mass.

The small interventions have caused a rare public split.

The liberal Association of Catholic Priests, which represents more than 1,000 priests in Ireland, called the sermons “inappropriate and insensitive” and said that they would be regarded by some as “an abuse of the Eucharist.”

“As leadership of an association made up of men who are unmarried and without children of our own, we are not best placed to be in any way dogmatic on this issue,” it said.

Pastoral letters from some of the country’s 25 bishops have used increasingly emotive language in defense of the ban in recent days, however.

“We must not be naive about what is at issue in this Referendum. It is a great struggle between light and dark, between life and death,” Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said in his letter. “I invite you to CHOOSE LIFE!”

Campaigners on both sides say they are generally avoiding religion because they are afraid to alienate undecided voters and because it’s just not as relevant as it once was.

Seventy-eight percent of Irish people identified as Catholic in the 2016 census, down from 92 percent in 1991; 10 percent said they had no religion and 3 percent were Protestant. But a survey by national broadcaster RTE in 2006 showed Mass attendance had dropped to 48 percent from 81 percent since 1990. In 2011 the Dublin diocese said as few as 18 percent of Catholics in the capital went to Mass every week.

“I think telling voters to vote a particular way because God wants them to was never likely to be a winner for either campaign on either side,” said John McGuirk, spokesman for the Save the 8th umbrella group.

He described the campaign as a “much more secular battle” than 1983. While religious iconography featured in one recent national anti-abortion rally, campaigners are focusing on the science of how the fetus develops in the stages of pregnancy.

Yes campaigners, outfitted in the black sweatshirts with ‘Repeal’ in white that have become their symbol, talk about women’s rights and the medical dangers they say are created by the ban.

“It’s about the fact that … women don’t get a say in what they do with their bodies under the eighth amendment,” said 22-year-old Fay Carrol, a chef from Dublin who lives in Cork.

Others argue that since abortion is a reality for Irish women – by traveling or by ordering pills online – it should be acknowledged and integrated safely into the health care system.

“To require women to be dying to access termination of pregnancy… to demand that women who were raped carry their pregnancy to term, these are unacceptable risks and unacceptable situations,” said Rhona Mahony, Master of Dublin’s Holles Street Maternity Hospital.

Even without the Church’s active involvement, some Yes campaigners are concerned that the conservatism linked to Ireland’s Catholic tradition still guides many voters’ views.

“People are struggling with that legacy of centuries of Catholic Church teaching,” said veteran women’s rights campaigner Ailbhe Smyth. “I think this is, and will be, a very tight referendum.”

(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)