From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved SCARLET WOMAN 2020 JANUARY-MARCH

    This file is attached to from “Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.

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1/1/2020 Pope apologizes for “bad example” of slapping arm of pilgrim who tugged him by Crispian Balmer
Children dressed as the Three Wise Men walk past Pope Francis as he leads a Mass marking the
World Day of Peace in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, January 1, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis apologized on Wednesday for having angrily slapped a woman’s arm when she had grabbed hold of his hand and yanked him towards her, saying he had lost his patience and set a “bad example.”
    His unusual apology came after he used his first homily of the new year to denounce violence against women, which he compared to profaning God.
    Pope Francis, 83, had a sharp encounter with a woman on Tuesday evening during a walkabout in St. Peters Square.
    The pilgrim, who has not been identified, unexpectedly seized his hand and pulled him towards her, causing him evident alarm.    A clearly disgruntled Francis wrenched himself free by slapping down at her arm.
    “So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example,” the pope told thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday at the end of the traditional New Year Mass.
    He had used the service to issue a forthright condemnation of the abuse of women in modern society.
    “All violence inflicted on women is a desecration of God,” he told a packed St. Peter’s Basilica.
    “How often is a woman’s body sacrificed on the profane altar of advertising, profit, pornography,” he said, adding that the female body “must be freed from consumerism, it must be respected and honored.”
    Despite creating life, women “are continually offended, beaten, raped, forced into prostitution” and made to have abortions, he said.    “We can understand our level of humanity by the way we treat a woman’s body,” he told the congregation.
    During his homily, Francis also addressed another theme close to his heart, immigration, saying women who moved abroad to provide for their children should be honored, not scorned.
    “Today even motherhood is humiliated, because the only growth that interests us is economic growth,” he said.
    “There are mothers, who risk perilous journeys to desperately try to give the fruit of the womb a better future and are judged to be redundant by people whose bellies are full of things, but whose hearts are empty of love.”
    The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, which allows only unmarried men to be ordained as priests, also said women “must be fully involved in decision-making processes.”
    The pope said last April the Church had to acknowledge a history of male domination and sexual abuse of women.    A month later, he appointed for the first time four women to an important Vatican department that prepares the major meetings of world bishops.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/4/2020 Methodist leaders finalize plan to split by Travis Loller, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    NASHVILLE, Tenn. – United Methodist Church leaders from around the world and across ideological divides unveiled a plan Friday for a new conservative denomination that would split from the rest of the church in an attempt to resolve a yearslong dispute over gay marriage and gay clergy.
    Members of the 13-million-person denomination have been at odds for years over the issue, with members in the United States leading the call for full inclusion for LGBTQ people.
    At a specially called meeting last Feburary in St. Louis, delegates voted 438-384 for a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which affirmed bans on LGBTQ-inclusive practices.    A majority of U.S.-based delegates opposed the plan, but they were outvoted by U.S. conservatives teamed with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.
    Methodists in favor of allowing gay clergy and gay marriage vowed to continue fighting.    Meanwhile the Wesleyan Covenant Association, representing traditional Methodist practice, had already been preparing for a possible separation.
    The Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and one of 16 people on the mediation team that developed and signed the separation proposal, said he is “very hopeful” the plan will be approved at the denomination’s General Conference this year.
    This is the first time that “respected leaders of groups from every constituency” have come together to form a plan, he said.
    Boyette stressed that while the churches remaining in the United Methodist Church would keep the denomination’s name, both the new church and the post-separation Methodist Church would be different from the current Methodist Church.
    “This is not a leaving, but a restructuring of the United Methodist Church through separation,” he said.
    The proposal, called “A Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation,” envisions an amicable separation in which conservative churches forming a new denomination would retain their assets.    The new denomination also would receive $25 million.
A gay pride rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of
Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., last April. CHARLIE RIEDEL/AP
Revelation 2:18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; 19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. 20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. 24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. 25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.].

1/5/2020 5th year in a row, Louisville gets top score for LGBTQ inclusion by Savannah Eadens, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    For the fifth year in a row, Louisville received a score of “100” on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
    The Human Rights Campaign — the country’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve LGBTQ equality — rates hundreds of cities each year, including eight in Kentucky, on everything from equal housing to employment.
    The Municipal Equality Index, or MEI, rating is broken down into sections based on nondiscrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services for LGBTQ individuals, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality.
    The 2019 score of 100 points is a far cry from 2014, when Louisville received 66 out of 100 points.
    “I’m incredibly proud of the continued work of Mayor (Greg) Fischer and the Louisville government to achieve a perfect HRC rating on LGBTQ inclusion,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based advocacy organization.    “Twenty years after Louisville led the state in passing LGBTQ discrimination protections, our city continues to set the example for diversity and inclusion in Kentucky.”
    And though Louisville was one of the first cities in the South to earn the HRC’s recognition as an inclusive city, there is still a lot of work to be done in 2020, Hartman said.
    For example, Louisville received a “zero” in the following categories of the HRC evaluation:
    Hartman said there are also areas of the city’s policies and services that aren’t properly documented for the HRC’s evaluation and some loopholes that don’t reflect the city’s efforts.
    For example, Louisville did not receive recognition for its support of LGBTQ youth.    Though there are no specialized city services, Louisville has given grants to nonprofit organizations such as the Louisville Youth Group, which provides a safe space and resources for LGBTQ youth and allies.    And a new LGBTQ-affirming homeless shelter, Sweet Evening Breeze, which plans to open this year, has asked for grants from the city, too.
    A big change could come this year with a proposed ordinance that would codify Louisville’s desire to recognize and support LGBT-owned businesses, just as the city has long encouraged contract opportunities for businesses owned by minorities, women and people with disabilities.
    If passed, the legislation, proposed by councilwoman Jessica Green, (D-1st District), would extend those efforts to LGBTQ-owned enterprises, encouraging them to become certified through the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and apply for subcontracting bids.
    Hartman also suggested that Louisville take a fresh look at the Fairness Ordinance, which could use an update since it was passed 20 years ago.
    Continued growth and awareness will help maintain Louisville’s index score, said Erica Fields, board chair of Civitas, the region’s chamber of commerce for LGBTQ and ally businesses.
    Fields said the city could also implement a trans committee or task force made up of transgender members of the business, academic, public service and nonprofit communities, to help improve some of the lacking areas and identify how to maintain and grow scores in various city sectors.
    “(Civitas) is excited to be involved in this process and we look forward to receiving even more national recognition as we strengthen our region’s diverseowned businesses,” Fields said.
    Louisville is the only city in Kentucky to receive a score of 100.    Covington received a score of 94, Lexington received a score of 93, Berea received a 35, Bowling Green received a 20, Frankfort received a 66, Morehead received a 55 and Owensboro an 18.
Savannah Eadens is a culture and diversity reporter for the Courier Journal.    Reach Savannah at, 502-381-9498 or on Twitter at @savannaheadens.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
    “Twenty years after Louisville led the state in passing LGBTQ discrimination protections, our city continues to set the example for diversity and inclusion in Kentucky.” Chris Hartman, is the director of the Louisville based Fairness Campaign.
Megan Colianni, left, looks at girlfriend Elizabeth Yocum during the
2019 Kentuckiana Pride Festival near the Big Four Bridge. MATT STONE/COURIER JOURNAL

1/7/2020 New lawsuit seeks to grant D.C. jurisdiction of Boy Scout’s of America child abuse cases by OAN Newsroom
FILE – This photo shows a close up of a Boy Scout uniform badge during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America
headquarters in Irving, Texas. A team of lawyers filed a lawsuit on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, in federal court in Washington, D.C.,
seeking to establish the nation’s capital as a venue for men across the U.S. to sue the Boy Scouts of America. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
    A new lawsuit is looking to establish Washington, D.C. as the venue for child sex abuse accusations against the Boy Scouts of America.    Eight former Boy Scouts represented by a firm called ‘Abused in Scouting’ filed the lawsuit Monday. The victims claim they were sexually abused during their time with the organization.
    The Boy Scouts has recently come under fire for what some are calling a “pedophilia epidemic,” with thousands of former Boy Scouts alleging sexual assault from scoutmasters and volunteers.
    “I do feel the pain…while what happened to me was wrong and absolutely not okay, I’m confident in my mind with 100 percent certainty that much worse happened to many others,” stated one>     In a recent statement, the Boy Scouts of America said it is committed to fulfilling its social and moral responsibility to compensate victims.
File – In this Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019 photo, a Boy Scouts troop gathers
during their meeting, in Kaysville, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
    The victims have reportedly filed the most recent lawsuit after the statute of limitations expired in each of their states.    A 2019 D.C. measure opened a two year period, starting in May, for victims up to the age of 40 to file a civil case against their alleged abusers and the organizations involved.
    The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue victims should be able to file a lawsuit in D.C. because the organization was founded in the Capitol.    Attorneys have also said the sexual assault claims should not depend on “geography” because the Boy Scouts is a national organization.
    ‘Abused in Scouting’ represents about 1,600 clients and plans to file more lawsuits.

1/8/2020 Methodist churches uncertain of future - Denomination may split over same-sex marriage by Savannah Eadens, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Louisville faith leaders are anxiously awaiting the outcome of a proposal by the United Methodist Church that could split the nation’s third-largest denomination into two if it passes later this year.
    There has been talk of a schism in the United Methodist Church for years over LGBTQ issues, but Louisville Methodist reverends say this proposal is unique because it was brought forth by delegated church clergy and laypeople from both ends of the spectrum – conservative to progressive – and, if passed, would have the largest impact on the church body in years.
    Leaders of the United Methodist Church announced last week, after a decadeslong debate and tension over LGBTQ marriage, a proposal that would create a spinoff “traditionalist Methodist” denomination, which would continue to oppose same-sex marriage and to refuse ordination to LGBTQ clergy while allowing the remaining portion of the United Methodist Church to permit same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy for the first time in its history.
    It’s one of a few proposals that will be voted on at the denomination’s worldwide conference in Minneapolis in May.    The United Methodist Church has more than 13 million members worldwide, and there are 800 United Methodist congregations in Kentucky.
    This is likely the biggest and most challenging decision the organization has made in decades, the Rev. Darren Brandon, head pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church, told The Courier Journal.
    “My hope has always been that the United Methodist Church would find a way to stay together, so I grieve that there has been discussion about us splitting,” said Brandon, who has been ordained in the United Methodist Church for nearly 30 years.    “Yes, there is a high level of concern, because we love the church and it concerns us there is not a deep sense of unity,” Brandon added.    “We are looking as a local church to have open dialogue and be unified in our ministries.    In the midst of that, it’s important to reassure folks, in our congregation and in mission, that we are continuing to be the church that God calls us to be.”    Bishop Leonard Fairley, who leads the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, asked the congregation in a statement Tuesday to pray and ask God “to help us see the possibility of renewed hope and reconciliation, even in the midst of possible separation.”
    The Rev. Teanna Allen, a pastor at Highland United Methodist Church, called the possible split “devastating.”    When Allen came into ministry within the United Methodist Church five years ago, she was drawn to how connected the church felt.    “So, ‘surprised’ is definitely a feeling I’ve had through these last four years when the LGBTQ conversation came to the spotlight,” Allen told The Courier Journal.    For local congregations like Brandon’s and Allen’s, this is a process that will require a lot of “conversation and discernment,” but the actual decisionmaking is one locals have relatively no say in.    The general conference is comprised of a collection of delegation members from the denomination’s various regions across the country.    The delegation, made up of an equal number of clergy and non-clergy members, is voted in by representatives from local congregations every four years.    Those people represent United Methodist congregations but vote independently on church law, according to Cathy Bruce, communications director for the Kentucky Annual Conference of the UMC.    The proposal has received lots of media attention, Bruce said, but there are several other proposals up for consideration that wouldn’t require a split, such as a plan called “Next Generation UMC,” which would keep the organization intact and remove LGBTQ prohibitions and traditional plan additions.    In the meantime, Bruce said, members of the church should remain calm and keep in mind that nothing is set in stone until after all the proposals are presented and voted on in May.
    The announcement of the proposal came on Friday as new sanctions were set to go into effect in the church, which would have made punishments for United Methodist Church pastors who perform LGBTQ weddings much more severe: one year’s suspension without pay for the first wedding and removal from the clergy for any wedding after that.
    Instead, church leaders signed an agreement saying they will postpone those sanctions and instead vote to split at the worldwide church’s general conference in May.
    The agreement pledges $25 million to the new “traditionalist” denomination, which would potentially break away from the United Methodist Church.    In exchange, the announcement said the new denomination would drop any claim to United Methodist assets, such as church-owned properties.
    It has, however, created a “season of the unknown” for local Methodist communities, said the Rev. Becki Curry, interim senior pastor at Christ Church United Methodist, the largest congregation in the Louisville area with about 3,600 members.    Curry, a Louisville native, has been a part of the United Methodist Church organization for 43 years.
    But it’s not all unwelcome.    “I found it refreshing that there were persons from many advocacy groups and caucuses that all sat down together to make this decision,” Curry said.    “Everybody was at the table.”    Curry realizes the anticipation leading up to the May vote, however, will be difficult.    “It’s difficult to prepare the congregation for this situation because we don’t know what will happen,” Curry told The Courier Journal.    “I think we acknowledge that this is painful for people on both sides of the issue.    We have to trust and pray and then when a decision is made, we can decide how we will respond.”
    At Christ Church Methodist, there are church members who are part of the LGBTQ community, but none in the clergy, per the denomination’s rules, and the church has never hosted a same-sex wedding, Curry told The Courier Journal.    It’s the same case at St. Paul, where 400 people worship every Sunday, Brandon said.
    But that refusal to officiate a same-sex wedding or allow openly queer people to serve in the clergy is also why some people choose to leave the denomination, according to Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a Christian writer and activist based in Louisville.    Graves-Fitzsimmons was baptized and raised in the United Methodist Church, but after the last general conference in 2016, which was held in Portland, Oregon, he made the difficult decision to leave.
    “I hoped there would be a conscious uncoupling of the United Methodist Church, that it would split ways amicably, because they’ve been debating LGBTQ rights since the 1970s, and people have made a variety of changes on their own terms, staying in denominations fighting for equality or leaving to another denomination,” Fitzsimmons told The Courier Journal.    Four years ago, Graves-Fitzsimmons joined the Highland Baptist Church, where he was able to marry his husband and become ordained as a deacon.
    “I didn’t want to pursue ordination in a church where I was banned from doing so and wasn’t allowed to get married,” he said.    “I needed to go to a church where I could get married without fighting for it; I wanted to get married in a church where it was actually celebrated.”
    Graves-Fitzsimmons sees the schism as an opportunity for the United Methodist Church to move forward.    For now, the situation is cloudy, Allen said.    The pastor at Highland Methodist Church won’t know how to proceed until after the decision in May.    “My biggest prayer is that we lay down our opinions and hurts on the struggles that are before us and truly attempt to view this with the eyes of Jesus,” Allen said.    “All people are God’s children and all deserve the love that he has to offer no matter their race, gender, social status, and yes, even their sexual orientation.”
Savannah Eadens is a culture and diversity reporter for The Courier Journal.    Reach Savannah at, 502-381-9498 or Twitter at @savannaheadens
[The author of this article must be proud of themselves since they have put words in the mouth of Jesus and his eyes of what he should see.].

1/8/2020 N.J. classrooms to require LGBTQ lessons - Law touts inclusiveness; ‘morality’ worries critics by Hannan Adely, The Bergen Record USA TODAY NETWORK – NEW JERSEY
    NEPTUNE, N.J. – Twelve New Jersey schools will begin piloting a new LGBTQ-focused curriculum this month, the first wave of a requirement that will soon be mandated across the state.
    The pilot sites to be announced by the state Tuesday – including schools in Hackensack, Morristown, Newark and Asbury Park – are intended to be proving grounds for new lessons in history, economics and even grammar designed to improve awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender contributions and issues.    The instruction, approved by the state last year, will be a requirement for all of New Jersey’s public schools starting in the fall.
    “We want students to see themselves in the stories that are told,” said Ashley Chiappano, safe schools and community education manager for Garden State Equality, the advocacy group leading the pilot program.    “We want to make sure they are getting accurate, appropriate and historically relevant information about the community and the strides that have been made.”
    The law requires that middle and high school students learn about the social, political and economic contributions of LGBTQ people but leaves it up to local districts to determine how to teach those lessons.    School boards must update standards in time for the 2020-21 school year.
    New Jersey became the second state in the nation after California to require such lessons after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the measure into law Jan. 31.    Supporters say the move reflects an inclusive history and promotes understanding; opponents decry it as a violation of religious and parental freedom.
    “We’re all human and need to respect each other, but there’s a religious view that sexuality doesn’t define us,” said Shawn Hyland, director of advocacy for the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey, a conservative Christian organization.
    Hyland said he was concerned that the lessons would “normalize or promote certain desires and attractions that violate one’s religious and moral beliefs.”
    How will lessons be taught?
    Under the program, educators will get three to four lessons for each grade level and subject.    The intent of the law is for material to be weaved across subjects rather than taught as a standalone history lesson, said advocates and legislators who supported it, including Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, a primary sponsor.
    “We didn’t want this to be a heroes-and-holidays curriculum. We didn’t want there to be a lesson on just the historical contributions,” Chiappano said.
    Among the topics are gay victims of the Holocaust, who were forced to wear pink triangles, according to a review of the proposed curriculum.    Another lesson would include discussions about the memoir of a boy forced into gay “conversion therapy” and grammar lessons about using pronouns that reflect identity.
    The curriculum is intended as a model for other schools and eventually will be available online for all schools, according to Garden State Equality.
    Garden State Equality received 50 applications and chose schools that represent geographic and racial diversity, those that showed a strong interest and those with the greatest need for the lessons, the group said.    Participants will get curriculum coaches, site visits and training.    Those not chosen will have access to the curriculum online.
Support and criticism
    The Bergen Arts and Science Charter School in Hackensack announced in June that it would be part of the program amid controversy after the school painted over a student’s LGBTQ mural at the request of the Catholic church that owned the building.    At the time, leaders said they wanted to show they were committed to inclusiveness.
    “The curriculum test-pilot will be an opportunity for us to become a leader in this work, to create a model for other public schools.    We’re proud to participate with Garden State Equality to do that,” Nihat Guvercin, chief executive officer of iLearn Schools, a charter management organization that operates Bergen Arts and Science, said at the time.
    In Newark, school board member Reginald Bledsoe advocated for applying to the pilot program. Four local schools applied, and Newark Arts High School was chosen.
    “God knows if I had the opportunity to learn a little more about myself, the sky would have been the limit for me,” Bledsoe said, adding that he identifies as a gay man.    “It’s very important that all kids see themselves in what they are learning.”
    The law has provoked strong reactions from supporters, who say it’s about respecting rights and teaching a full picture of history, and opponents, who say it will take away power from parents and may encourage kids to question their sexuality.
    The Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey has collected more than 3,500 signatures on a petition calling the law a violation of religious liberties that “forces sexual ideology” onto children.    The petition asks the state to give parents the choice to opt their children out of lessons about LGBTQ history.
    “This law violates the fundamental and constitutional rights of parents to direct the moral and educational upbringing of their children,” the petition says.    “It was written with no protections for families – families cannot opt their child out of the content for any reason, not even if they have religious or moral objections!
    The law does not have an opt-out provision.    Lawmakers and advocates said it wasn’t an option because the lessons are supposed to be integrated into New Jersey’s curriculum through the year across subjects.
    Under the law, each school board is expected to adopt policies, curriculum changes and textbooks aligned with the new standards.    The state Department of Education will issue policy guidelines for local school boards outlining the steps they need to take.
    Bledsoe said that he expects some pushback and that boards need to explain that the lessons are not about sex.    “No one is teaching kids about sex, but more so teaching about contributions of LGBTQ figures,” he said.
Brett Essenter, a founding member of the Rutherford Pride Alliance, raises a rainbow flag for LGBT pride
at Rutherford Borough Hall in New Jersey on June 1, 2019. MICHAEL KARAS/NORTHJERSEY.COM

1/8/2020 After slapping incident, pope kisses nun who vows not to bite by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis kisses a nun on the cheek after making a joke to her saying "You bite! I will give you a kiss but you stay calm. Don't bite!"
as he arrives for the general audience at the Vatican, in this still image taken from a video, January 8, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, who last month angrily slapped the hand of a woman who yanked him toward her, gave a light-hearted reaction more typical of his papacy on Wednesday when a nun asked him for a kiss.    He said yes, although only after she promised not to bite him.
    The good-natured exchange took place at the start of Francis’ weekly general audience.    As he was walking into the large hall where thousands of people were waiting, an excited nun asked if he would kiss her, shouting in Italian “Bacio, Papa!” (A kiss, pope!)
Francis responded: “Oh, (but) you bite!,” prompting laughter from the people near them.
    Then Francis joked: “Stay calm!    I will give you a kiss but you stay calm.    Don’t bite!
    The diminutive nun promised, saying “Si” (Yes).    He then kissed her on the right cheek, leaving her even more ecstatic than before.    She jumped up and down shouted “Grazie, Papa.” (Thank you, Pope).
    On New Year’s Eve, Francis, 83, angrily slapped a woman’s hand after she hold of him and forcefully yanked him toward her in St. Peter’s Square.
    The video of that incident went viral on social media and the next day Francis apologized, saying he had set a “bad example
    Francis, unlike some of his predecessors, is usually very informal with well wishers at such non-religious events, stopping to kiss babies, bless the handicapped, and allowing hundreds of people to touch his hand.
    But he frowns on allowing people to kiss his hand at large events, saying he does not want that gesture of reverence to spread germs.
Last month’s slapping incident was an exceptional one.    It was similar to another several years ago when Francis chastised an over-exuberant woman who had pulled him so hard he nearly fell onto a person in a wheelchair.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, Editing by William Maclean)

1/9/2020 Alibaba praised by China’s gay community for ad recognizing same-sex couples by Josh HORWITZ
FILE PHOTO: A logo of Alibaba Group is seen at the company's headquarters in
Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, November 18, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Online gay communities in China are lauding e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd for releasing a subtle ad that appears to feature a gay couple returning home for the Lunar New Year.
    In the 20-second spot, a young man enters his home and introduces a male companion as “Kelvin” to his mother.
    The camera cuts to a father figure leering at the couple with suspicion, and then to two girls sitting at the table who giggle knowingly.
    The ad ends when Kelvin refers to his partner’s father as “Dad,” causing an awkward silence at the table.
    The narrator then promotes a site-wide discount on dried seeds and nuts, riffing a Chinese-language expression for watching drama unfold.
    The spot began to circulate widely on Chinese social media on Wednesday as gay groups praised it for its good-natured humor and subtlety.
    “Chinese New Year is a time for family reunion and inclusion, and the ad is a creative expression to celebrate such an occasion,” an Alibaba spokesperson said in a statement.
    Depictions of gay and lesbian individuals in entertainment and media are rare, due to government dissuasion or outright censorship.
    However, China has vibrant gay communities and activists in its major cities, and same sex couples are increasingly tolerated across society.
    Lovematters, a popular gay-themed account on China’s Twitter-esque Weibo, shared and thanked Alibab’s e-commerce site Tmall for supporting the gay community. The account’s post received over 25,000 shares.
    “The support of large companies for sexual minorities is one of the important factors for sexual minorities to gain visibility and be seen and recognized by the public.    Thank you Tmall!” wrote Lovematters.
    Alibaba did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for further comment on the ad.
    One top-rated comment on Weibo described the position of the Alibaba’s ad as clever.
    The spot “doesn’t directly support or not support [same-sex realtions], but the fact that we can see it is already an amazing step,” the commentor wrote.
    Alibaba has supported China’s gay community in the past. In 2017, the company teamed up with gay dating app Blued and flew 10 couples to Los Angeles for a week-long trip that included a group wedding ceremony.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; additional reporting by the Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/9/2020 Pope appeals to U.S. and Iran to pursue dialogue, self-restraint by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis leaves after the traditional exchange of the New Year greetings,
in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/Pool
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Thursday urged the United States and Iran to avoid escalation and pursue “dialogue and self-restraint” to avert a wider conflict in the Middle East.
    The pope made his appeal, his first direct comment on the current crisis, in a yearly speech that has come to be known as his “State of the World” address to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican.
    Speaking for nearly 50 minutes in the Vatican’s frescoed Sala Regia, the 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader offered a mostly grim overview of 2019, speaking of wars, global warming, xenophobia toward migrants and the danger of nuclear weapons.
    “Particularly troubling are the signals coming from the entire region following the heightening of tensions between Iran and the United States,” Francis told the diplomats from more than 180 states.
    He said the tensions risked “compromising the gradual process of rebuilding in Iraq, as well as setting the groundwork for a vaster conflict that all of us would want to avert.”
    “I therefore renew my appeal that all the interested parties avoid an escalation of the conflict and keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-restraint, in full respect of international law,” he said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested Iran was “standing down” after it fired missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq on Wednesday, itself an act of retaliation for the Jan. 3 U.S. strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.
    “Our human family is scarred and wounded by a succession of increasingly destructive wars that especially affect the poor and those most vulnerable,” Francis said.
    “Sadly, the New Year does not seem to be marked by encouraging signs, as much as by heightened tensions and acts of violence,” he said.
    Recent tensions could likely make it impossible for Francis to visit Iraq, which he has said he would like to do this year.
    Wars and conflicts have led to an exodus of Christians from Iraq and some other countries in the Middle East.
    Iraq’s small Christian population of several hundred thousand suffered particular hardships when Islamic State controlled large parts of the country, but have recovered freedoms since the jihadists were pushed out.
    Iraq is home to many different eastern rite churches, both Catholic and Orthodox.
    Francis said he still hoped to make a visit this year to mostly Christian South Sudan, which is emerging from civil war.
    The pope wove his speech around the foreign trips he made in 2019, which included a visit to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.    There, he became the first pontiff to set foot on the Arabian peninsula, home to Islam’s holiest sites.
    Speaking of climate change, he said it was sad that the urgency to tackle it “seems not to have been grasped by international politics.”
    He said last December’s U.N. conference in Spain raised “serious concern about the will of the international community to confront” the issue.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alex Richardson)

1/10/2020 Kentucky lawmakers introduce bill to outlaw gay conversion therapy by Ben Tobin and Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Two Kentucky legislators have filed a bill that would effectively ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy in the commonwealth.
    Conversion therapy is a practice that attempts to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.    Several states have made it illegal for licensed medical professionals to conduct the practice on minors.
    State Reps. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, and Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, introduced the legislation Tuesday in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
    If the legislation passes, mental health professionals in Kentucky would be prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy with people under the age of 18 and “adults,” defined by a Kentucky state statute as “a person eighteen (18) years of age or older who, because of mental or physical dysfunction, is unable to manage his or her own resources, carry out the activity of daily living, or protect himself or herself from neglect, exploitation, or a hazardous or abusive situation without assistance from others, and who may be in need of protective services.”
    Professionals who do practice conversion therapy on these individuals would be subject to discipline.    Additionally, if signed into a law, the legislation would prohibit public funds from being used for conversion therapy.
    Minter said she is co-sponsoring the bill because conversion therapy is a “dangerous practice that harms LGBTQ youth.”    According to the Human Rights Campaign, the practice has been denounced by every mainstream medical and mental health organization, and it can lead to depression, anxiety and suicide for LGBTQ recipients.
    “I believe Kentuckians statewide don’t want to do anything that is going to cause more young people to have depression and suicidal thoughts,” Minter told The Courier Journal on Thursday.
    “Kentuckians are good people who want everyone to have mental health and we need to stop allowing the practice of so-called conversion therapy, which violates people’s basic human rights and dignity.”
    Willner, the bill’s primary sponsor, said she’s the only psychologist in the General Assembly and thus knows about what she called a “shame-based treatment” that causes “psychological harm.”
Contact Ben Tobin at and 502-582-4181 or follow on Twitter @TobinBen.

1/12/2020 Israeli education minister implies homosexuality unnatural
FILE PHOTO: Protesters take part in a LGBT community members protest against discriminatory
surrogate bill in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 22, 2018. REUTERS/Corinna Kern/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Several Israeli school districts held impromptu tolerance classes on Sunday after the country’s education minister, an Orthodox rabbi, angered LGBT campaigners by implying homosexuality was unnatural.
    The furor over the remarks by Education Minister Rafael Peretz – who last year spoke favorably about gay “conversion therapy,” a widely discredited method – reached into the Israeli cabinet, one of whose members is openly homosexual.
    Asked by the weekend edition of the top-selling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper what he would do if one his children had a “different sexual orientation,” Peretz said: “Thank God, my children grew up in a natural and healthy way.    They are building their homes on the basis of Jewish values.    I don’t bother my head with ‘what if’ thinking.”
    Several Israeli municipalities said they would open the new school week with tolerance classes in response.
    “I will promote within the municipal educational system a program of democracy, equality, recognition of the other and acceptance of differences.    In short – everything that is the opposite of Rabbi Rafi,” Amir Kochavi, mayor of the city of Hod Hasharon near Tel Aviv, said on Facebook.
    Peretz, who heads the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, assumed the education portfolio within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition government in June.
    Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who has children with a same-sex partner, condemned his cabinet colleague’s remarks as “wretched, and not for the first time,” adding that they “do not reflect the government’s position.”
    “I grew up in a healthy, good and loving family, as are my children and the children of many LGBTs from all parts of the country, from all over the political spectrum,” Ohana tweeted.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Potter)
[Even the people of God are being attacked as in the story in the Bible Genesis account, God reveals to Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed for their grave sins (Gen. 18:20).    Abraham pleads for the lives of any righteous people living there, especially the lives of his nephew, Lot, and his family.    In Genesis 18:20, NASB: "And the LORD said, 'The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave."    Genesis 18:20, NLT: "So the LORD told Abraham, 'I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant."    Are there any voices talking to God to save their Lot?].

1/12/2020 Former Pope Benedict breaks silence on celibacy debate after synod by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis visits his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery
in Vatican, December 21, 2018. Picture taken December 21, 2018. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Former Pope Benedict, in a new book written with a conservative cardinal, defends priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church in what appears to be a strategically timed appeal to Pope Francis to not change the rules.
    Benedict wrote the book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” with Cardinal Robert Sarah, 74, a Guinean prelate who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
    Excerpts were published on Sunday on the website of the French newspaper Le Figaro.    The Vatican had no immediate comment on the book, which is due to be published on Monday.
    In October, the final document of an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops, or synod, from the Amazon proposed that married men in the remote area be allowed to be ordained priests, which could lead to a landmark change in the Church’s centuries-old discipline of celibacy.
    Pope Francis will consider it, along with many other proposals on issues that emerged during the synod, including the environment and the role of women, in a document of his own, known as an Apostolic Exhortation.    It is expected to be issued in the next few months.
    In 2013, when he became the first pope in 700 years to resign, Benedict, who lives in the Vatican and is now 92 and in failing health, vowed to remain “hidden from the world.”
    But he has given interviews, written articles and contributed to books, in effect breaking that pledge and cheering conservatives, some of whom do not recognise Francis’ legitimacy.
    Massimo Faggioli, a theologian at Villanova University in the United States, called it “a serious breach” by the former pope, who vowed “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor.
    In his part of the book, Benedict says celibacy, which became a stable tradition in the Church only about 1,000 years ago, carries “great significance” because it allows a priest to concentrate on his vocation.    He says “it doesn’t seem possible to realise both vocations (priesthood and marriage) simultaneously.”
    In a joint introduction, both men say they could not remain silent about the October synod, which at times led to clashes between progressive and conservative Catholic media outlets, underscoring the polarisation in the 1.3 billion-member Church.
    The proposal calls for older married men who are already deacons in the Church, have a stable family relationship and are proven leaders in their communities to be ordained as priests after adequate formation.
    This solution to the shortage of priests, backed by many South American bishops, would allow Catholics in isolated areas to attend Mass and receive the sacraments more regularly.
    For his part, Sarah says making exceptions to the celibacy rule would be a “a lie” that would set a dangerous precedent.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/14/2020 Indonesia rights body condemns LGBT raids ordered by mayor after UK rape case by Stanley Widianto
Reynhard Sinaga, 36, is seen in this undated handout photo released on
January 6, 2020. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)/via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s human rights commission on Tuesday condemned plans by a mayor to launch raids targeting the LGBT community in his city after a local man was convicted in Britain of sexually assaulting 48 men.
    Described by a prosecutor as “the most prolific rapist in British legal history,” Indonesian student Reynhard Sinaga last month was convicted of 136 rapes against the men, whom he drugged, and given a life sentence with a minimum term of 30 years.
    The mayor of Depok, Mohammad Idris, plans to enlist public order officers to raid residences of members of the LGBT community, according to a statement posted last week on the city’s official website.
    Homosexuality is not regulated by law in Indonesia, except in Aceh province where Islamic law bans same-sex relations.    But the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation has seen a rise in hostility toward the LGBT community.
    “The raids increase the risk of persecution and other law-defying acts,” a commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights, Beka Ulung Hapsara, told Reuters.
    The commission has also written to the Depok government.
    Idris did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
    In the statement, Idris also said the town would establish a rehabilitative center to assist “victims” in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
    The Sinaga case has received widespread coverage in Indonesia and left many in the already vulnerable LGBT community feeling even more under fire.
    Dede Oetomo, an Indonesian LGBT activist, said the community was braced for hysteria over the Sinaga case.
    A 22-year-old Indonesian student living in Depok, who identifies as bisexual and declined to be identified, slammed the move, saying it “violates private spaces” and was a waste of money.
    Nearly 90% of Indonesians who understand the term LGBT feel “threatened” by the community and believe their religion forbids same-sex relations, according to a 2018 survey.
    Arus Pelangi, an LGBT advocacy group, reported in September more than 1,800 cases of persecution of gay Indonesians between 2006 and 2017.
(This story corrects title to “commissioner,” not “head” in paragraph 5)
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Edwina Gibbs)

1/14/2020 Ex-pope Benedict wants name removed from new book: aide by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI finishes his last general audience in St Peter's Square
at the Vatican February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Former Pope Benedict wants his name removed as co-author of a new book on the issue of priestly celibacy, his personal secretary said on Tuesday, in the latest twist in a saga that has riveted the Roman Catholic world.
    Archbishop Georg Ganswein told Reuters that, at the former pope’s behest, he had asked the principal author of the book, Cardinal Robert Sarah, to contact the publishers and make the necessary changes.
    The book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” is due to be published in France on Wednesday.    Excerpts were released at the weekend, angering some Roman Catholic scholars who said Benedict risked undermining his successor, Pope Francis.
    The episode has underscored the polarization between conservatives and progressives in the 1.3 billion-member Church and prompted fresh debate on the role of a former pontiff.
    Hours earlier, Sarah rejected media accusations that he had used Benedict’s name without authorization and that he had taken advantage of the frail, 92-year-old former pontiff, who in 2013 became the first pope in 700 years to resign.
    “I solemnly affirm that Benedict XVI knew that our project would take the form of a book.    I can say that we exchanged several texts to establish the corrections,” Sarah, 74, wrote on Twitter.
    He later said that because of the polemics, in future editions of the book, Benedict would be named as a contributor and not a co-author.    “However, the full text remains absolutely unchanged,” he said.
    In the book, Benedict and Sarah defend priestly celibacy in what some have seen as a strategically timed appeal to Francis not to change the rules following a proposal that he allow older married men to be ordained on a limited basis to deal with a shortage of priests in the Amazon.    Francis is preparing a document on the issue.
    Sarah also issued a long statement in his own defense, detailing his recent meetings with Benedict and restating that the former pope was informed of everything, including the cover of the book.
    He said accusations that he was manipulating Benedict were “despicable” and that his allegiance to Francis was “total.”    He also published a signed letter from Benedict in which the former pope wrote in Italian: “For my part the text can be published in the form you have foreseen.”
    The episode has sparked heated debate, including on social media far from the Vatican, on the role Benedict should have, if any, and whether he is being used by others.
    “Has the pope emeritus become a brand that some manipulate and administer at will?” Luis Badilla, head of the Catholic website Il Sismografo, said in an editorial.
    “Can the status of the emeritus pope be left in the hands of private people who do not have to answer to anyone?”     Badilla said, in apparent reference to those with access to Benedict, who lives in seclusion in a former monastery in the Vatican.
    It is not the first time that Benedict has spoken out on Church matters despite his public vow when he abdicated in 2013 to live “hidden from the world.”
    Benedict caused a stir with an essay last year in which he blamed the Church’s sexual abuse scandal on the effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
    Many Catholic theologians and abuse experts rebuked him, saying he was trying to shift the blame away from the Church.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[I do agree with the Pope that the sexual revolution of the 60's all be it was to be "make love not war, but the sins of man in the 70's turned it into make homosexuals, etc. not war and it became okay and then GOD gave us AIDS for that sin, but they did not change and turned it into LBGT sins and that is even more worse and sinners will feel that in their future as thy defy it.
    Thousands of gorillas, chimpanzees, and other African wildlife on the brink of extinction are viciously hunted, butchered, and illegally imported throughout the United States.    Any one of these shipments can bring an HIV infection, an Ebola epidemic, or a number of other deadly diseases right into your neighborhood.    Now we are experiencing coronavirus COVID-19 which came from wombat etc. mixing with other wild animals for food in Wuhan China

1/15/2020 Republicans join the fight to ban conversion therapy in Kentucky by Ben Tobin and Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Led by a Republican legislator, a bipartisan group of Kentucky state senators proposed a bill that would effectively ban conversion therapy, a practice that attempts to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, in the commonwealth.
    Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Lexington Republican and 21-year member of the General Assembly, introduced the measure Monday in a short speech on the Senate floor in which she described the practice of conversion therapy as “discredited“ and “barbaric.”
    The bill has two co-sponsors, Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican, and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat.    Adams is a member of leadership among Republicans who control the Senate.    McGarvey is the Democrat’s minority leader.
    If the legislation passes, mental health professionals in Kentucky would be prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy with people under the age of 18 and “adults,” defined by a Kentucky state statute as “a person eighteen (18) years of age or older who, because of mental or physical dysfunction, is unable to manage his or her own resources, carry out the activity of daily living, or protect himself or herself from neglect, exploitation, or a hazardous or abusive situation without assistance from others, and who may be in need of protective services.”
    Professionals who do practice conversion therapy on these individuals would be subject to discipline.    Additionally, if signed into a law, the legislation would prohibit public funds from being used for conversion therapy.
    In introducing the bill, Kerr said the practice is linked to higher suicide rates among youths who undergo it and is based on the “false premise that being LGBTQ is a mental illness.”
    “There are a number of states that have banned this procedure,” Kerr said.
    She urged anyone seeking more information to view the movie “Boy Erased,” the 2018 film about a small town boy who is forced to undergo “conversion therapy” by his conservative parents after they discover he is gay.    Kerr said it is a disturbing but important film. Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manhester Republican, said Monday he wasn’t aware Kerr was going to introduce the bill and couldn’t speculate on its chances because he hadn’t seen it.
    This Senate bill mirrors a piece of legislation introduced in the House of Representatives last week by state Reps. Patti Minter and Lisa Willner, Democrats from Bowling Green and Louisville, respectively.
Contact Ben Tobin at and 502-5824181 or follow on Twitter @TobinBen

1/16/2020 Amid Benedict book controversy, Vatican officials see need for rules on ex-popes by Philip Pullella
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – An imbroglio over former Pope Benedict’s involvement in a book has sparked calls by some Vatican officials for clear rules about the status of any future pontiffs who may resign rather than rule for life.
    Senior official sources said they hope Pope Francis addresses the issue after the death of Benedict, who in 2013 became the first pope in 700 years to abdicate and who is now a frail 92-year-old.
    The idea of such rules, which is being discussed informally, is important because, as people live longer than they did in the past, it may become the new normal for popes to step down, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
    Francis, 83, has said he too would resign if ill health prevented him from properly running the 1.3 billion-member Catholic Church, as Benedict did.
    Church law says a pope can resign, but it lacks specific rules on his status, title, and prerogatives.    The issue exploded this week amid controversy around a book the publishers say was co-authored by Benedict and Cardinal Robert Sarah, a leading Vatican conservative, on the issue of priestly celibacy.
    On the eve of publication, Benedict said he wanted his name removed as co-author.    The publishers refused.    Sarah said Benedict had known he would be listed as co-author and dismissed accusations he had manipulated the ex-pontiff.
    “The pope emeritus has been dragged yet again into an unseemly power play against Francis,” wrote Austen Ivereigh, author of two biographies of Francis, adding that “the emeritus papacy has proved a disorderly institution, one vulnerable to manipulation …
    Supporters of Francis see the timing of the book as interference by Church conservatives such as Sarah, coming as the pope considers allowing older married men to be ordained in the remotest areas of the Amazon, to deal with the shortage of priests there.
    Since he stepped down, Benedict has occasionally allowed his views on specific subjects to be aired outside the Vatican, to the joy of fellow conservatives who have used them as ammunition to contest Francis’ more open-minded papacy.
    Papal resignations are still a new frontier. Days before Benedict abdicated on Feb. 28, 2013, he scripted his own rules, investing himself with the title pope emeritus, deciding to continue to wear white and to live in the Vatican.
    Some critics believe he should have stepped further away from the papacy and kept strictly to his promise to “remain hidden from the world” after abdicating.
    “In the Catholic Church, symbols are important,” said Father Tom Reese, a Washington-based Catholic author and commentator for Religion News Service.
    “Symbols communicate, they teach.    If you are not the pope, you should not be wearing white.    Having two men wearing white sitting next to each other makes them look like they are equals, when they are not,” he wrote.
    Reese said an ex-pontiff should not be called pope, should return to wearing either the red or black garb of a cardinal or priest, and should return to using his own name.
    Since a pope is also the bishop of Rome, Reese and others have suggested that a former pontiff should be called “bishop emeritus of Rome
    He would then be subject to the same written rules, last updated in 2004, that cover retired bishops.
    Those rules say any bishop emeritus “will want to avoid every attitude and relationship that could even hint at some kind of parallel authority to that of the diocesan bishop, with damaging consequences for the pastoral life and unity of the diocesan community.”
(This story corrects year of Benedict’s abdication to 2013 in second paragraph)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/16/2020 President Trump marks Religious Freedom Day by empowering prayer in school by OAN Newsroom
President Donald Trump speaks during an event on prayer in public schools, in the Oval Office
of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
    The Trump administration is moving to strengthen constitutional prayer by extending protections for students who want to pray in public schools.    On Thursday, President Trump said the government must never stand between the people and God.
    He added students are frequently stopped from praying in schools.
    The new protections will require schools to certify they have no rules conflicting with a student’s right to pray and notify the Education Department of complaints against the right to pray.
    This marked the first time the Department of Education has updated its guidance on school prayer since 2003.
    “Today, my administration is issuing strong new guidance to protect religious liberty in our public schools,” stated President Trump. “The right of students and teachers to freely exercise their faith will always be protected, including the right to pray.”
    The move also reversed regulations that required faith based providers to give notice of their religious nature and give referrals to secular providers upon request.
President Donald Trump speaks during an event on prayer in public schools, in the Oval Office
of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

1/17/2020 Trump boosts school prayer, faith groups by Collin Binkley and Elana Schor, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In a bid to solidify his evangelical base, President Donald Trump took steps Thursday to give religious organizations easier access to federal programs and he reaffirmed students’ rights to pray in public schools.
    Under orders from Trump, nine Cabinet departments proposed rules intended to remove “regulatory burdens” on religious organizations participating in federal programs by eliminating a rule that they refer people to alternative providers upon request.
    At the same time, the Education Department issued its first updated guidance on school prayer since 2003.
    The expansion of faith-based groups’ ability to participate in government programs is a significant show of support for an evangelical constituency long a vital part of Trump’s base.

1/22/2020 Don’t close ports to migrants, pope says after Salvini case
Pope Francis greets the faithful during the weekly general audience at the Vatican, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Wednesday said politicians should not close ports to desperate migrants, speaking after a court got a green light to pursue an investigation of Matteo Salvini, Italy’s anti-immigrant former interior minister.
    “In the whole world, men and women migrants face risky voyages to escape violence, to escape, war, to escape poverty,” Francis said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
    “Many times, they are not allowed to disembark in ports … they are exploited by criminal traffickers, today! Some politicians treat them like numbers and see them as a threat,” he said, partly departing from his prepared remarks.
    The comments by the pope, who has made defense of migrants a key part of his pontificate, came two days after an Italian Senate committee decision that could lead to a trial of Salvini for alleged kidnapping of migrants.
    In July 2019 Salvini, who had staked his political credibility on a vow to curb immigration from Africa, ordered 131 rescued migrants to remain on a ship off Sicily for six days until other European states agreed to take them in.
    The court in the Sicilian city of Catania — a special tribunal in charge of investigations into ministers — recommended last month that he stand trial on charges of illegally detaining migrants on the coast guard ship Gregoretti.
    If definitively found guilty, the head of the far-right League, currently Italy’s most popular party, would face up to 15 years in jail.    He could also be barred from political office, dashing his ambitions to lead a future government.     Salvini said he would face an eventual trial “with my head high
    Francis did not mention the case against Salvini, who has often criticized Francis for his defense of migrants.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Larry King)

1/23/2020 ‘Momentum is clearly on our side’ - 47 years after Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion advocates still fight by Ben Tobi, LouisvilleCourierJournal | USATODAYNETWORK
    With signs that read “Abortion: Greatest Destroyer of Peace” and other messages, about 40 people gathered for an anti-abortion rally Wednesday afternoon outside Louisville Metro Hall.
    The day marked the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.    Right to Life of Louisville, which has existed for 50 years, organized the rally, which included speakers from the group and the Louisville Metro Council.
    Margie Montgomery, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said that since Roe v. Wade, the “killing of innocent and precious preborn babies has climbed to proportions never imagined by our nation.”
    According to the latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 623,471 legally induced abortions reported in 2016.
    Despite the election of Gov. Andy Beshear, who supports abortion rights, Montgomery said that “the momentum is clearly on our side.”    She pointed to a House bill with nearly 30 co-sponsors that would amend the Kentucky Constitution to say that it does not “secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
    Another speaker, Louisville Metro Councilman Robin Engel, R-22nd, railed against fellow council members’ call for a 50-foot buffer, or “safety zone” outside Louisville’s EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the state’s only abortion clinic. He said the buffer, which was previously discussed by the Metro Council in 2017, is “against free speech.”
    Engel also encouraged the crowd to reelect President Donald Trump, who has not been shy about his anti-abortion opinions.
    Reelecting Trump would help bring “a couple more U.S. Supreme Court justices that are going to support life,” Engel said.
    One of the rally’s attendees, Jeana Miller, 58, said while in college she became pregnant with her husband’s child before they married.     Though several of her relatives “were thinking that abortion was the right decision for me,” Miller said she had always been strongly anti-abortion and had their son, who is now about to turn 37.
    “A lot of women are under pressure from all sides, and they feel like abortion is the only answer,” Miller said.    “But it’s not.”
    Abortion has been put under the spotlight over the past few years, as former Gov. Matt Bevin worked doggedly to shut down abortion clinics across the state.    Among other things, his administration blocked Planned Parenthood from providing abortions at its clinic in downtown Louisville.
    Beshear, Bevin’s successor, announced this month that Planned Parenthood would be allowed to apply for a license to provide abortions at the clinic.
    Contact Ben Tobin at and 502-582-4181 or follow on Twitter @TobinBen.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
    More online See video and more from the protest
ABOVE: Protesters rally against abortion during a demonstration Wednesday at Louisville Metro Hall. PHOTOS BY PAT MCDONOGH/COURIER JOURNAL
RIGHT: Schu Montgomery of Kentucky Right to Life prays during the opening of a rally to remember the 47th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.
Emily Broaddus, Christina Doan, Felicity Kaufman and Anastasia Kenney, students from Holy Angels Academy, pray
during the Right to Life rally at Louisville Metro Hall on Wednesday afternoon. PHOTOS BY PAT MCDONOGH/COURIER JOURNAL
Former Kentucky state legislator Bob Heleringer speaks at the Right to Life rally in downtown Louisville on the 47th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

1/23/2020 Utah bans conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids by Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press
    SALT LAKE CITY – The discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ children is now banned in Utah, making it the 19th state and one of the most conservative to prohibit it.
    Supporters navigated a winding path to passage and some dissent remains, but barring it in Utah could boost similar efforts in other right-leaning states, said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
    Virginia is considering a ban, and the question also could come up in this year in Texas and Kentucky, he said.
    The change in Utah comes after the state hammered out a regulatory rule that had the support of the influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.    Leaders had opposed a previous version because it didn’t have certain exceptions for clergy.
    Republican Gov. Gary Herbert took the unusual step of calling on regulators after a proposed law was derailed by changes made by conservative lawmakers.    State officials confirmed that the rule became final late Tuesday.
    The original sponsor of the proposal, GOP Utah Rep. Craig Hall, applauded the rule, saying in a statement that it prohibits dangerous practices while protecting health care professionals.
    Conversion therapy is a practice used to try to change sexual orientation or gender identity.    Many people who have been through it say it deepened feelings of depression and increased thoughts of suicide.    The new rule bans Utah therapists from subjecting LGBTQ minors to the practice that the American Psychological Association has said is not based in science and is harmful to mental health.
    Still, the ban has drawn pushback.    Opponents argued that it would prevent parents from getting help for children with “unwanted” gay feelings and keep therapists from even talking about sexuality with their kids.
    The Mormon church opposes same-sex marriage and teaches that same-sex relationships are a sin.    But it also urges members to be kind and compassionate to LGBTQ people.

1/23/2020 Supreme Court split on religious school aid - Separation of church, state concerns justices by Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court’s conservative majority decried discrimination against religious schools Wednesday in a case that could upend bans in many states against funding religious education.
    Though the high court’s decision in the school choice case remains in doubt, Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues voiced concern about dozens of state constitutional amendments that block religious schools from getting tax dollars.
    “They’re certainly rooted in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics,” Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said in reference to 19th century provisions in 37 states, including Montana, where parents of children attending religious schools are fighting at the high court to receive scholarships funded by tax credits.
    Roberts, who could be the swing vote in the case as in so many others, compared the parents’ plight to racial discrimination.
    “How is that different from religion, which is also protected under the First Amendment?” Roberts asked Adam Unikowsky, Montana’s lawyer.
    The high court’s four liberal justices defended the ruling of the Montana Supreme Court, which struck down the entire scholarship program – including for secular private schools – to keep the state from funding religious schools, even indirectly.
    “There is no discrimination at this point going on, is there?” Associate Justice Elena Kagan asked Richard Komer, the lawyer representing Kendra Espinoza and other parents who want the scholarships for their children’s religious school education.    Secular and religious schools, she said, “are both being treated the same way.”
    Espinoza, the other parents and the state are fighting over a discontinued state program that offered $150 tax credits to help spur $500 tuition scholarships.
    Teachers unions and civil rights groups worry that public schools will suffer.    They say a ruling for the religious school parents would violate the Constitution’s principle of separation of church and state.
Public-school supporters protest at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. MATTHEW SOBOCINSKI/USA TODAY

1/23/2020 French Senate approves bill allowing IVF for single women, lesbians by Elizabeth Pineau
FILE PHOTO: A medical technician selects eggs for an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)
at the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology CECOS of Tenon Hospital in Paris, France, September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s Senate voted on Wednesday in favor of a bill that would allow single women and lesbian couples access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the first major social reform of President Emmanuel Macron’s term.
    The bill was passed 160-116 in the Senate, where Macron’s centrist party is outnumbered by right-wing Republicans.
    The bill is part of a broader bioethics law, which in October cleared its first reading in the National Assembly, the lower house where Macron’s party commands a majority.
    The law would unwind some of western Europe’s strictest rules governing medically assisted pregnancies, a campaign promise of Macron.
    The senators, however, voted down an article approved by the lower house, that would have allowed IVF to be reimbursed by French social security.
    Under existing law in France, IVF is available only to opposite-sex couples, and only for reasons of infertility or the risk of transmission of a disease or medical condition to the child or either parent.
    Medically assisted reproduction – such as IVF – is widely available to all women in countries such as Britain, Belgium, Spain. But in France, it has fed into a broader debate about the commercialization of healthcare and gay rights.
    “What was recognized to heterosexual couples must be recognized for homosexual couples,” said Socialist party senator David Assouline.
    The legalization of gay marriage in France six years ago sparked massive street protests even though the influence of the Catholic Church was thought to be in decline.
    In a sign France has become more socially liberal, polls show a majority of French people back the bioethics reform.
    Some opponents of the bioethics bill fear it will pave the way for the legalization of surrogacy – where a surrogate mother is either implanted with a sperm and egg or becomes pregnant using her own egg – whose popularity is soaring globally, particularly among LGBT+ couples who want to become parents.
    Last weekend 41,000 people marched peacefully through Paris to oppose the bill.
    Conservative party The Republicans Senator Pascale Bories said she regretted that Macron “did not have the courage to do a referendum on this issue because debates transcend political parties.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Lisa Shumaker)

12/23/2020 Pope names Latino to replace conservative as Philadelphia archbishop by Philip Pullella and Rich McKay
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis holds the weekly general audience at the Vatican, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Nelson Perez, the Roman Catholic bishop of Cleveland and a critic of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, was named by Pope Francis to lead the Philadelphia archdiocese after the retirement of a leading church conservative.
    Perez, 58, succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput, a guiding light of the church’s traditionalist wing whom Francis replaced after the prelate reached the age of 75. Chaput has a reputation as a “culture warrior” on issues such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion.
    Perez said he was “deeply grateful” to the pope for picking him to head the Philadelphia archdiocese, home to about 1.4 million Catholics.    He had served there as a parish priest decades earlier.
    “It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment – joy that I will be returning to serve@ArchPhilly, sadness in that I will be leaving @DioceseofCLE,” he said on Twitter.
    Perez, who criticized Trump’s policy of separating migrant families, was born the son of Cuban exiles in Miami.    He grew up in New Jersey and began working as a priest in Philadelphia in 1989.
    Perez is the first Latino to be named archbishop of Philadelphia, one of the most important dioceses in the United States, and the third to head any American archdiocese.
    His appointment reflects changing demographics.    Thomas Groome, professor of religious studies and former director of the Boston College Center on the Church, said Hispanics now make up the backbone of the U.S. church.
    “The American church, for 100 years, had been predominantly Irish,” he said in a telephone interview.    “That era has passed.    I think it is a new day for the Hispanic ministry of the church.”
    About 55% of Latino adults in the United States, about 19.6 million people, identify themselves as Catholic, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center.
    At a press conference in Philadelphia on Thursday morning, Perez frequently addressed the audience in Spanish, translating some of his remarks into English.
    He said he would like people to call him “Father Nelson” as he was known by members of the Hispanic community when he was a young priest in Philadelphia.
    By reputation, Perez is more moderate than Chaput, who has supported the denial of communion to Catholic politicians who backed abortion rights, Groome said.    While a bishop in Denver, Chaput helped defeat local legislation supporting gay civil unions.
    Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict in 2011, has been outspoken politically and at times at odds with the more moderate leanings of Francis, the first Latin American to head the Roman Catholic Church.
    “He is a moderate replacing someone recognized as strongly conservative,” Groome said.    “In this sense Bishop Perez is far more in line with the pontificate of Pope Francis.”
    In his address, Perez also acknowledged the sexual abuse crisis that continues to rock the church.    The scandal, including a decades-long cover-up by senior prelates of sexual misconduct by hundreds of priests, has spurred lawsuits and criminal investigations.
    Between November 2018 and June 2019, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia paid more than $19 million to 93 people making claims of clergy sexual abuse, according to the online publication
    “I’d like to say to the victims of the church, that we hold you deep in our hearts and we are sorry,” Perez said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella in Vatican City and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)

1/23/2020 World financial intelligence group re-admits Vatican after suspension by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Mass for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees,
led by Pope Francis at the Vatican, September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican has been fully re-admitted to the Egmont Group of world financial intelligence units after a suspension two months ago sparked by an investigation into the purchase of luxury London real estate.
    Carmelo Barbagallo, president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF), said on Thursday the AIF would “resume its collaboration with foreign financial intelligence units in full transparency and in the spirit of active cooperation.”
    The Egmont Group’s president, Mariano Federici, had notified the AIF that it had been re-admitted to the use of Egmont’s secure communications network, Barbagallo said in a statement.
    Egmont is a Toronto-based informal organization with about 165 members.    Its secure network allows members to share information about crimes such as money laundering, tax fraud and terrorism>     Egmont’s acceptance of the Vatican six years ago was seen as a major step forward in cleaning up the Vatican’s negative image following years of scandals, particularly involving its bank.
    The suspension on Nov. 13 was a major setback for the Vatican, which risked again being seen as a pariah by the international financial community.
    On Oct. 1, Vatican police entered the offices of the AIF and of the Secretariat of State – the administrative heart of the Catholic Church – as part of their investigation of an investment the Secretariat had made in London real estate.
    The officers, operating under a search warrant secured by the Vatican’s own prosecutor, seized documents, computers and cellphones during the raids.
    The raid prompted concerns in the international financial community about the AIF’s ability to keep confidential documents secure and led to the suspension from Egmont.
    The suspension was lifted after the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Vatican prosecutors, the AIF statement said.
    Barbagallo, 63, a respected senior Bank of Italy official, was appointed by Pope Francis in November to succeed Swiss lawyer and anti-money laundering expert Rene Bruelhart.
    Bruelhart had headed the AIF for five years and the pope decided not to renew his mandate.
    Five Vatican employees were suspended after the Oct. 1 raids, including AIF director Tommaso di Ruzza.
    Domenico Giani, Vatican security chief and the pope’s bodyguard, resigned later over the leak of a document related to the investigation.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/24/2020 Democratic lawmakers are pushing for comprehensive sex ed for K-12 students by Olivia Krauth Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    All Kentucky students, from kindergartners to high school seniors, would receive comprehensive sex education under a new bill filed Tuesday.
    House Bill 296, sponsored by Louisville Democrat Lisa Willner, would require school districts to offer age appropriate, inclusive and medically accurate sex education classes beginning in the 2021-22 school year.
    Schools would need to cover human anatomy, reproduction and development.    They would also examine topics like healthy relationships, consent, sexually transmitted diseases and the effectiveness of contraceptives, plus the benefits of abstinence.
    Classes would also affirm the existence of different gender identities and sexual orientations and would examine “the harm of gender-role stereotypes” and the way those stereotypes can “harm all people.”
    Lessons would include information about local resources for sexual health, LGBTQ students and dealing with dating violence and sexual assault.
    “The bill is as much about social, emotional and mental health education as it is about human sexuality,” Willner, a therapist and former Jefferson County school board member, told The Courier Journal.
    Willner’s bill has 11 Democratic cosponsors.
    Kentucky struggles with high levels of dating violence, sexual assault and unintended pregnancies, Willner said.
    “We need to teach children early on, in medically accurate and age appropriate ways, about healthy relationships, consent about matters of their own bodies and healthy decision making about all relationships.”
    Specifically making the law inclusive for LGBTQ students, students of color and those with disabilities was important to represent typically underrepresented students, Willner said.    It also helps all students understand and accept differences, she added.
    Willner hopes discussing what healthy relationships look like – and don’t look like – will also help reduce bullying in schools.
    Kentucky doesn’t currently have a state policy governing sex education, instead leaving those decisions to districts.    Where it is taught, Willner says, there is little consistency.
    If passed, HB 296 seems to prevent districts from using abstinence-only sex education curriculum, which are often criticized for ignoring birth control or other topics.
    Teachers would not be allowed to shy away from students’ questions because a school or district tells them not to talk about certain topics, the bill says.    They would also not be allowed to withhold information about anatomy or the effectiveness of different contraceptives.
    Reach Olivia Krauth at okrauth@ or 502-5824471, and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth

1/24/2020 Abortion bill to protect infants born alive advances in committee by Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    FRANKFORT – A bill meant to protect lives of newborns, including any infant born after a failed abortion, won unanimous approval from a Senate committee Thursday.
    Senate Bill 9 would make it a felony for any physician or other health provider in Kentucky to fail to take steps to try to “preserve the life and health of a born-alive infant.”
    Sponsor Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who sponsored a similar bill last year that did not pass, said Thursday he is not aware of any such situation in Kentucky.    But he wants to make sure the law is clear, he said.    “We want to make sure the law is there to prevent it from ever happening,” he said.
    No one spoke in opposition to the bill that passed 9-0, and committee Chairman Al Robinson, a London Republican, praised Westerfield for sponsoring a measure “to protect the most innocent in our society.”
    But Kate Miller, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to vote no on SB 9, calling it an attempt to “criminalize the work that dedicated doctors do to provide this safe, legal, constitutionally-protected care.”
    “Senate Bill 9 has nothing to do with how abortion care actually works and is based on false claims,” Miller’s letter said.
    Critics have said that the law is unnecessary and that medical ethics would require any health professional to take appropriate steps to save the life of any infant in such circumstances.
    Medical groups and abortion-rights supporters have said such incidents are extremely rare and generally occur only in emergency situations in which the mother’s life is at stake or a fetus is too severely deformed to survive.
    Westerfield said he’s concerned about situations such as a late-term abortion allowed in some states where an infant might survive.
    Kentucky law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks, before a fetus is considered viable.    Westerfield said SB 9 is a priority bill for the Senate and he expects it to win quick passage.
    Last year, the General Assembly, controlled by Republicans, passed four bills to restrict or ban abortion.    Two have been delayed by legal challenges, including the “fetal heartbeat” law, which bans abortion once cardiac activity can be detected, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy.
    This year, two other abortion bills are pending in addition to SB 9.
    House Bill 67 would add language to the Kentucky Constitution to state it provides no constitutional right to an abortion.    House Bill 142 would ban any public funds for any agency that counsels patients about or refers them for an abortion.    Neither has had a committee hearing yet.
    Reach Deborah Yetter at or 502582-4228. Find her on Twitter at @d_ yetter.
    No one spoke in opposition to the bill that passed 9-0, and committee Chairman Al Robinson, a London Republican, praised Sen. Whitney Westerfield for sponsoring a measure “to protect the most innocent in our society.”

1/24/2020 Pence to Pope Francis: ‘You have made me a hero’ by Philip Pullella
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican, January 24, 2020. Vatican Media/via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a former Catholic, held an unusually long meeting with Pope Francis on Friday and quipped that he emerged from the encounter feeling like “a hero.”
    Pence’s talks with Francis in the papal library lasted about an hour, twice as long as the meeting between the pope and U.S. President Donald Trump in the same frescoed room in May 2017.
    During an exchange of gifts after the private talks, Francis gave Pence a small white box with a papal medal inside.     “I didn’t want to ask,” Pence said with a laugh as the pope handed him the box.    “This is for mom.”
    As he was leaving the papal library, Pence, still clutching the small white box, said: “Thank you, Your Holiness, you have made me a hero … God bless you.”
    Pence, who had a strict Irish Catholic upbringing but later converted to evangelical Protestantism, appeared to be referring to the fact that the rest of his family had stayed in the Roman Catholic Church and that his departure from the faith had put some strain on family relations.
    During their private talks, Pence and the pope discussed, among other topics, Friday’s “March for Life” anti-abortion demonstration in Washington, the vice-president’s office said.    Trump will become the first U.S. president to attend the annual rally.
    Thousands of people from around the country converged on the nation’s capital for the event, which began in 1973 after the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Roe v. Wade decision, established a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.
    After meeting the pope, Pence discussed global hot spots, including the situation in Venezuela, in separate talks with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pence’s office said.
    Francis also gave Pence some of his recent writings, including his World Day of Peace message for this year and Pence gave the pope a wooden cross made from a tree in the vice president’s official residence.
    “I want to extend the warmest greetings on behalf of President Donald Trump, who so enjoyed his visit here,” Pence said at the start of their meeting.
    Pence introduced his wife Karen to Pope Francis.    He also introduced the rest of the delegation, including U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich and her husband Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
    He was later given a tour of the Sistine Chapel.
    From the Vatican, he went to meetings with Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
    Pence flew to Italy from Israel, where he had attended events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones and Pravin Char)

1/25/2020 Pope backs Iraqi call for its sovereignty to be respected by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis meets Iraqi President Barham Salih at the Vatican, January 25, 2020. Domenico Stinellis/Pool via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis met Iraq’s president on Saturday and the two agreed that the country’s sovereignty must be respected, following attacks on Iraqi territory this month by the United States and Iran.
    President Barham Salih held private talks for about 30 minutes with the pope and then met the Vatican’s two top diplomats, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, its foreign minister.
    The talks “focused on the challenges the country currently faces and on the importance of promoting stability and the reconstruction process, encouraging the path of dialogue and the search for suitable solutions in favor of citizens and with respect for national sovereignty,” a Vatican statement said.
    On Jan. 8, Iranian forces fired missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops in retaliation for Washington’s killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike a Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.
    The Iraqi parliament has passed a resolution ordering the 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq to leave the country.
    Soon after the Iranian attack, Francis urged the United States and Iran to avoid escalation and pursue “dialogue and self-restraint” to avert a wider conflict in the Middle East.
    The pope discussed the Middle East with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday.
    The recent tensions in Iraq could make it impossible for Francis to visit the country, which he has said he would like to do this year.
    The Vatican said the pope and Salih also discussed “the importance of preserving the historical presence of Christians in the country.”
    The Christian presence in Iraq and some other countries in the Middle East has been depleted by wars and conflicts.
    Iraq’s several hundred thousand Christians suffered particular hardships when Islamic State controlled large parts of the country, but have recovered freedoms since the jihadists were pushed out.
(Editing by Helen Popper)

1/26/2020 Pope asks Catholics to say ‘Never Again’ to the Holocaust by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the Mass for the Epiphany of the Lord in
Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday asked the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to stop for a moment of prayer and reflection on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and say “Never Again.”
    The pope mentioned Monday’s anniversary during his weekly noon address and blessing to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
    “i>Indifference is inadmissible before this enormous tragedy, this atrocity, and memory is a duty. Tomorrow, we are all invited to stop for a moment of prayer and reflection, each one of us saying in our own heart: ‘never again, never again,'” he said.
    More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War Two.    Overall, some six million Jews died in the Holocaust.
    At Francis’ orders, the Vatican in March will open its secret archives on the wartime pontificate of Pope Pius XII, a historic move that Jews have sought for decades.
    Some Jews say Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, did not do enough to help those facing persecution by Nazi Germany and turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.    The Vatican maintains that Pius chose to work behind the scenes.
    The pope’s appeal to his own flock on Sunday comes amid a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States.    Last week, Francis called the rise a “barbaric resurgence.”
    On Friday, anti-Semitic graffiti was found scrawled on the door of the home of a son of a Holocaust survivor in northern Italy.
    The words “Juden Hier” (Jews Here) were written above a Star of David on the door, recalling the signs put on buildings in Nazi Germany to mark the homes and businesses of Jews.
    Last month in eastern France, scores of Jewish graves were found desecrated in a cemetery, hours before lawmakers adopted a resolution equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
    France has Europe’s biggest Jewish community – around 550,000 – and anti-Semitic attacks are common, with more than 500 alone in 2018.
    A global survey by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League in November found that anti-Semitic attitudes had increased in many places around the world and significantly in Eastern and Central Europe.    It also found that large percentages of people in Eastern and Western European countries think Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
    Before he became pope and was still archbishop of his native Buenos Aires, Francis co-authored a book with his friend, Argentine rabbi Abraham Skorka.
    In 2016, Francis visited Rome’s main synagogue, in the former ghetto established by his predecessor Pope Paul IV in 1555 and where Jews were confined until the 19th century.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/27/2020 A year later, face-off’s fallout lingers - CovCath student, Native American’s encounter turned viral by Cameron Knight, Cincinnati Enquirer USA TODAY NETWORK
    Thousands of Catholic school students and anti-abortion advocates rallied in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the annual March for Life.
    This marks the 47th year of the march protesting the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in all 50 states.
    But it’s more than that.    The weekend also draws counterprotesters and advocates.    Last year, it overlapped with the Indigenous Peoples March, a one-time event on the heels of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
    It was a conglomeration of political action that led to the now nationally known encounter between Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips.
    Sandmann took to Twitter in advance of the march, saying, “I won’t ever be bullied or surrender.    Thanks for all your support.”
    On Friday evening, he tweeted photos of himself at the D.C. event.    “I will never pass on an opportunity to March for Life!” he tweeted.
The Clip
    Sandmann was 16, a student at Covington Catholic High School.    He was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat.
    Phillips, a Native American activist, was playing a drum and singing.
    They stood face to face.
    Sandmann did not shout or say anything to Phillips.    On video, he does not appear to engage verbally in any way. However, the images of shouting students surrounding Sandmann and Phillips and the interaction between Native Americans and students cast the whole situation in a political light.
    Twitter exploded with accusations of racism and privilege. News outlets such as The Washington Post, NBC, CNN and The Cincinnati Enquirer, part of the USA TODAY Network, all began reporting the story.
    The day after the march, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington issued a statement condemning the action of the students and apologizing to Phillips, an action the bishop would later retract, saying he was bullied and pressured into making it.
    Phillips told reporters he was trying to defuse a tense situation – some of the students had just had a loud encounter with a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.    The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Black Hebrew Israelites a hate group that is “becoming more militant.”
    Sandmann identified himself as the teen featured in the video in a written statement.    He said he was also trying to deescalate the situation because he wasn’t sure why Phillips had approached him and the other students.
    In the meantime, more footage of the encounter was released offering more context.
    Weeks later, a third-party investigation paid for by the diocese reported that the students did not “instigate the incident” and that no evidence was found showing students made “offensive or racist statements.”    The report states: “We found no evidence of offensive or racist statements by students to Mr. Phillips or members of his group.    Some students performed a ‘tomahawk chop’ to the beat of Mr. Phillips’ drumming and some joined in Mr. Phillips’ chant.”
The lawsuits
    A few months after the incident, Sandmann and his family sued The Washington Post, NBC and CNN for libel and defamation. They have also threatened to sue other news organizations, including The Enquirer.
    The suit against The Washington Post said the paper’s coverage was like a “modern-day form of McCarthyism.”
    Sandmann’s attorneys claimed The Washington Post incorrectly characterized the teen as the aggressor in the situation and exposed him to public ridicule.
    The lawsuit states said the false “gist” of the coverage was that Sandmann “assaulted and/or physically intimidated Phillips” and “instigated a confrontation with Phillips and subsequently engaged in racist conduct.”
    CNN has settled its case.    The details of the settlement have not been made public.
    The Sandmann family and its lawyers declined to discuss the case, the incident or the aftermath with The Enquirer for this story.
    NBC and The Washington Post are still in going through the legal process.
    A separate lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight unnamed Covington Catholic students against specific journalists and celebrities.    That case is also working its way through the court system.
    U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, comedian Kathy Griffin, author Reza Aslan and activist Shaun King were among those named in the suit.
Where it stands
    Many of the defamation and libel claims brought forth by Sandmann’s lawyers, L. Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, have been dismissed by U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman.
    However, the judge has allowed one specific portion of the case to continue: three statements from The Washington Post that say Sandmann “blocked” Phillips and “would not allow him to retreat.”
    Bertelsman said the amended complaint also argues that Phillips “deliberately lied” and “had an unsavory reputation.”    The new complaint also states The Washington Post should have known about Phillips due to the previous coverage of him.
    The NBC lawsuit boils down the same issue – whether quoting Phillips as making these statements qualifies as a statement of fact or opinion.
    Bertelsman ordered that discovery can continue so Sandmann’s legal team can make requests for internal Washington Post and NBC documents like emails and communications between editors and reporters.
The impact
    George Freeman is the executive director of the Media Law Resource Center Center in New York City.
    He said, legally, the situation and subsequent lawsuit may not have much impact on libel law.    He called the legal questions concerning the claim of Phillips being “blocked” are a close call.
    A potentially bigger conversation, Freeman said, is about the duty of the media in an ongoing news situation.
    Should the media talk try to talk to every side in a given situation before reporting anything?    Freeman said that 50 years ago, this is exactly what journalists were taught.
    But in today’s social media environment, Freeman said things have changed: “It’s already out there.”
    “Not going on the air because we haven’t spoken to every witness is ludicrous,” Freeman said.    “You do the best you can with the information you have at the time.    That’s what the media did.”
    However, Freeman said, in the long term, the media could be pushed to do a better job of letting readers and viewers know what information may be available that has not yet been gathered.
    He said readers could be told who hasn’t yet had a voice in the story or whose side of the story is missing.
    The Cincinnati Enquirer reached out to the Sandmann family, their lawyers, the Diocese of Covington, Covington Catholic High School and Nathan Phillips, as well as to several families with students who attend the school.    Reporters also contacted the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a number of Catholic high schools to see if they were making changes to how March for Life trips are handled.    All of the parties declined to comment or did not reply.
    “We found no evidence of offensive or racist statements by students to Mr. Phillips or members of his group.    Some students performed a ‘tomahawk chop’ to the beat of Mr. Phillips’ drumming and some joined in Mr. Phillips’ chant.”    Third-party investigation Ted Sandmann, father of Nick Sandmann, addresses a public hearing on March 6 in support of SB 240, which would criminalize revealing personal information about a minor online. PAT MCDONOGH/COURIER JOURNAL
In an image made from a video, Nick Sandmann, center left, stands in front of Native American
activist Nathan Phillips at a rally in Washington, D.C. SURVIVAL MEDIA AGENCY VIA AP

1/28/2020 KENTUCKY GENERAL ASSEMBLY - Bill: Athletes must play based on biological sex - Students would compete based on birth certificate by Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    High school and college athletes in Kentucky would only be allowed to compete in sports that align with their biological sex and not their preferred gender identity under a bill that a state lawmaker filed Friday.
    Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, introduced Senate Bill 114 and titled it the “Save Women’s Sports Act.”
    The bill calls for students to only participate in sports and use athletic facilities that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates.
    If a student’s birth certificate has been edited or if the student’s biological sex is officially challenged, then the student would have to undergo a medical examination performed and signed by a physician, physician’s assistant or advanced practice registered nurse.    The examination would establish the student’s sex based solely on “internal and external reproductive anatomy,” testosterone levels and an “analysis of the student’s genetic makeup,” according to the bill.
    Mills could not immediately be reached for comment.
    SB 114 would allow students who have been “deprived of an athletic opportunity” or who have suffered “any direct or indirect harm” or privacy violations due to violations of the bill’s regulations to school districts and universities within two years “after the harm occurred.”
    Chris Hartman, executive director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, said the bill is “once again a solution in search of a problem” and “a plea for votes in an election year.”
    “This is clearly part of a politically motivated (and) expanding slate of hate that’s being introduced in the state targeting all LGBTQ people but with particular emphasis on transgender students,” Hartman said. “... Imagine how hard it is for trans kids already on a daily basis.    This bill tells them they shouldn’t be participating in athletics."
    “Transgender kids want to join sports teams for all the same reasons any other student does,” Hartman added.
    The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has a policy that recognizes the ability of transgender student-athletes to compete in sports “free from unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
    But some still view the KHSAA policy as restrictive, as it requires transgender athletes to undergo sex reassignment surgery either before or after puberty in order to compete in sports based on their gender identity.
    If reassignment surgery occurs after puberty, then transgender student-athletes in Kentucky must demonstrate that they’ve taken or are taking hormone therapy “for a sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages in sports competition,” according to the KHSAA policy.
    As The Courier Journal reported last year, Kentucky was one of nine states with such policies for transgender high school athletes.
    Hartman said that “few, if any” transgender students can meet the KHSAA guidelines, making Mills’ bill unnecessary.     “I guarantee that Sen. Mills doesn’t have a single instance in Kentucky athletics that this bill would address, not a single one,” Hartman said.    “If he can bring a witness to the table whom this applies to. ... I’d be shocked.”
    The topic of transgender athletes in Kentucky came up during the 2019 gubernatorial race between Democrat Andy Beshear and then-Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, when a conservative political action committee released an ad claiming Kentucky boys are changing their gender to participate in high school sports.
    The ad from the Virginia-based Campaign for American Principles featured a narrator saying that Beshear — the state’s attorney general at the time who is now governor after beating Bevin in November’s election — “supports legislation that would destroy girls’ sports.”
    It showed a male competitor portraying a transgender girl and passing a group of female runners to finish first.
    The new proposal from Mills related to high school and college athletes is not the only bill in the 2020 legislative session that deals with transgender students.
    House Bill 132 would bar transgender students from using restrooms that align with their gender identities.
    State Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, is the lead sponsor of the bill, which is titled the “Kentucky Student Privacy Act” and says non-transgender students could suffer “potential embarrassment, shame and psychological injury” by using the same restroom or changing room as their transgender peers.    LGBTQ advocates have called Hale’s bill “dangerous” and warned it would contribute to depression and suicide rates among transgender youth.
    Similar bills have been introduced in past General Assembly sessions, including one proposal in 2015 that would have allowed students to sue a school for $2,500 if they encountered a person of the opposite biological sex in a bathroom or locker room and staff had allowed it or failed to prohibit it.
    State Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, proposed the 2015 version of the “Kentucky Student Privacy Act” in response to a 2014 controversy at Louisville’s Atherton High School in which the principal allowed a transgender student who was born male but identifies as a female to use the girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
    Reach Billy Kobin at or 502-582-7030.
    “Transgender kids want to join sports teams for all the same reasons any other student does.” Chris Hartman, executive director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign

1/28/2020 Bill targets doctors who help transgender youth - Physicians could be jailed over treatments by Chris Kenning, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Doctors could be jailed for providing transgender youth with identity-related medical treatments under a new bill in the Kentucky legislature, the latest in a series of conservative legislative efforts in several states aimed at transgender minors.    The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Savannah Maddox, would make it a felony for medical providers to prescribe medications, including pubertyblocking or hormone treatments, or conduct surgeries, for anyone younger than 18 with the intent to alter their gender.
    Ostensibly aimed at barring children who could still be grappling with their gender identity from undergoing body-changing treatments, the measure drew a sharp rebuke from LGBTQ advocates and families who say it would only heighten risks for transgender youth.
    “These sorts of decisions need to be made by medical providers, not politicians,” said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQrights organization in Louisville. He said it represents a “coordinated political attack” on transgender people “for election-year purposes.”
    Maddox did not respond to messages seeking comment.    But last fall she wrote on her Facebook page her intention to draft the bill, saying, “I am a strong advocate for parent’s (sic) rights — but it is not the right of a parent to permanently alter a child’s gender or identity, even when based upon certain behaviors or the perceptions of a child’s mind which has not yet had time to fully develop.”
    It’s rare for transgender minors to get surgery, and most have undergone years of consultations with doctors, before any medications are adopted, experts said.
    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued a study that found access to puberty blockers helped reduced risks of mental health problems and suicide attempts, which some studies say are as high 40% among transgender youth.
    “It’s a horrible thing,” Cassie Kasey said of the bill. Kasey said puberty blockers were important during a critical juncture for her transgender daughter, Maddie Dalton, who is now 20.
    Dalton was among the first students at Louisville’s Atherton High School to come out as transgender, and her subsequent push for a policy allowing her to use the women’s restroom and locker room sparked a fiery public controversy in 2014 that made national headlines.
    The measure joins several other proposed bills targeting transgender individuals in Kentucky’s General Assembly this year. That includes a resurrected “bathroom bill” that would ban transgender students from using public restrooms that align with their gender identities.
    Another bill targets transgender individuals in sports, forcing studentathletes to compete in school sports based on the sex listed on their birth certificate.
    Bills restricting access to hormone treatment and surgeries for young transgender people have been introduced in several states, including South Dakota, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
    Such measures run counter to standards and guidelines endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, the group said.
    The Kentucky Medical Association did not immediately provide a response to the legislation.    Some transgender residents said it would make getting knowledgeable transgender medical care extremely difficult for families.
    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving youths access to “comprehensive gender-affirming and developmentally appropriate health care” while laying out risks and benefits.
    Janet Vessels, a Kentucky clinical counselor who works with transgender youth in collaborations with doctors, said providers follow established medical guidance and families carefully weigh risks and benefits at every step.
    “They don’t do it haphazardly,” she said.
    “There are a lot of things about trans kids that a lot of people don’t understand,” said Jeri Stine Hahn, who raised a Lexington transgender stepdaughter and who runs a support group for parents.
    Her stepdaughter, Crystal Hahn, 20, said she socially transitioned at age 10, began hormone blockers at age 11 and began estrogen treatment at age 15.    If the proposed bill were law, she said, the struggles would have been monumental.
    “I genuinely don’t know if I’d even be alive,” she said.
    Hahn believes the bills were fueled in part after conservatives seized on a case in Texas last year, when two parents clashed in a highly publicized custody battle that included a clash over their 7 year-old and gender identity.
    According to media reports, the father alleged that the mother, a doctor, had pushed their child into self-identifying as a girl and advocated for related medical care, a charge the mother flatly denied.
    Nonetheless, the father drew support from conservative politicians. Donald Trump Jr. last fall tweeted, “This is child abuse.    People need to start to stand up against this bullshit.”
    The proposed bill in Kentucky would create protections for public employees who express opinions about gender identity.
    And it says parents can withhold consent for “any activity designed and intended to form their child’s conceptions of sex or to treat gender dysphoria,” the mismatch between gender identity and a person’s sex at birth.
    The state, under the bill, cannot infringe on that decision.    Its intent may be to give objecting parents a legal foothold, Keisling said.
    Reporter Chris Kenning can be reached at or 502-396-3361.

1/29/2020 Gays in Hungary facing increased government hostility: rights group by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: People take part in the annual Pride festival in Budapest, Hungary July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s gay community is facing increased government “attacks” and fears that its hard-won rights, and an improvement in public acceptance of them, may be at risk, a rights group said.
    The European Union has long criticized Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government over its record on the rule of law and civil liberties, including its attitude toward minorities such as homosexuals.
    The Hatter (“Background”) group said various legislative moves, a lack of police vigilance and sometimes hostile rhetoric from the ruling Fidesz party threatened to undo the progress seen since the fall of communism three decades ago.
    “By the end of 2019, our worst fears had become reality when Hungarian state actors led by the governing parties started increasingly concentrated attacks against the LGBTQI community,” it said.
    The acronym denotes lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, questioning (or queer) and intersex
    “We fear that this… might become the modus operandi of the government.    Ultimately, this will shift Hungarian public opinion that has otherwise shown signs of growing support for LGBTQI causes in recent years.”
    Hatter cited several recent homophobic attacks which it said the police had failed to investigate with proper vigor.
    Asked about the complaints, a government spokesman said the constitution and other laws guaranteed the same freedoms for all Hungarian citizens.
    Hungary does not allow gay marriage but gay couples can acquire a legal status short of marriage.    Individual gay people can adopt children but gay couples can’t.
    Orban has spoken of closing “loopholes” in adoption law where it applies to gays but has not proposed new legislation.    He has also not called into question the legitimacy of gay pride marches, unlike the leader of Poland’s ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
    However, Orban has defended the traditional family model.    In 2018, his government promoted the legal recognition of the traditional heterosexual family model, even though the constitution already defines marriage and family as one man, one woman and their children.
    Last year parliament speaker Laszlo Kover, a prominent Fidesz member, outraged rights groups by equating gay adoption with child sex abuse.
    “In a moral sense there is no difference between pedophiles and those who demand (gay adoption),” Kover told a public forum, according to the news portal    “Both objectify the child as a consumer good, and consider it a means of self-fulfillment.”
    Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, endorsed Kover’s remarks at the time.
    “Such adoptions put the child’s interests below those of the adopters who cannot have children on their own.    That is factually correct.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/30/2020 Federal court hears appeal of Kentucky abortion law by Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    CINCINNATI – A federal appeals panel on Wednesday heard arguments on whether Kentucky can ban a type of abortion performed later in a pregnancy that opponents claim is barbaric but advocates say is safe and commonly used.
    Matthew Kuhn, a lawyer for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is defending the 2018 Kentucky law, insisted it doesn’t ban the type of abortion known as dilation and evacuation, or D & E.
    “All it does is change how the abortion must be performed,” Kuhn told the three-judge panel, adding that the law offers a “reasonable alternative.”
    But Andrew Beck, a senior trial attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the judges the law would effectively ban some abortions because of its requirement that physicians induce fetal demise prior to the procedure.    That is medically unproven and poses a greater risk of complications, said Beck, whose organization is challenging the law.
    Physicians at EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky’s only abortion clinic, don’t perform the procedure, which requires injecting a fetus with a chemical solution or cutting the umbilical cord prior to an abortion, and aren’t interested in doing so, Beck said.
    “Doctors don’t perform procedures in general that carry no health benefits,” Beck told three judges with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
    Under the D & E procedure, generally used after the 14th week of pregnancy, the fetus is removed with instruments.
    Opponents call the method “dismemberment.”
    Abortions earlier in a pregnancy can be induced through medication or performed through a suction procedure.
    State records show that nearly 300 of the 3,200 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2018 were done after 14 weeks of pregnancy. State law bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
    In a ruling last year, U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley struck down the D & E law as unconstitutional because it restricts a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus is considered viable, at around 24 weeks.
    The ruling was appealed, initially by former Gov. Matt Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican, and now by Cameron, a Republican who took office in January vowing to defend laws to restrict abortion.
    Two of the judges on the panel, Eric Clay, of Detroit, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, and John Bush of Louisville, appointed by President Donald Trump, interrupted Wednesday’s hearing with frequent questions.
    Gilbert Merritt, of Nashville, Tennessee, appointed by former President Jimmy Carter, remained silent throughout the 45-minute hearing.
    Clay seemed concerned about the necessity of the procedure required by the law and whether it could limit abortion access in Kentucky, which has only one clinic.
    “The procedure you just mentioned is an added procedure that’s not necessary to perform the abortion,” he told Kuhn.
    Bush questioned lawyers about details of the law, such as what would happen should a patient ask a doctor at EMW to induce fetal demise prior to an abortion and what would happen if the doctor refused.
    Beck said the patient would likely be referred to a clinic in another state.
    Bush is the author of a 6th Circuit decision upholding a 2017 Kentucky law requiring doctors who perform abortions to first complete an ultrasound and attempt to show and describe the image to the patient, as well as to play an audible heartbeat of the fetus.    Opponents argued the law was unnecessary, demeaning and interfered with the doctor- patient relationship.
    The ultrasound and D & E laws are among more than half a dozen laws to restrict or attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky passed since 2017 by the Republican- controlled General Assembly.    Three more are pending in the current legislative session.
    After Wednesday’s hearing, both sides spoke outside the courthouse Addia Wuchner, a former state representative from Northern Kentucky who sponsored House Bill 454, the D & E law, called it a humane method to terminate a pregnancy.
    “It does not take away the right to an abortion,” she said.
    Cameron noted a similar law was enacted in Ohio and several clinics are using the procedure to induce fetal demise prior to an abortion.
    “This is without a doubt a more humane way to perform the procedure,” he said.
    But Beck said that law is being challenged in Ohio as unconstitutional.
    And such laws, which he said are based on “junk science,” are part of a national movement by abortion opponents to chip away at abortion access with no medical basis.
    “The evidence showed this law would jeopardize women’s health,” he said.    “This law puts abortion care out of reach.”
    Reach Deborah Yetter at or 502582-4228. Find her on Twitter at @d_ yetter.

1/30/2020 French court overturns earlier guilty verdict on cardinal Barbarin
FILE PHOTO: Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, walks inside the courthouse during a break on the
last day of his trial, charged with failing to act on historical allegations of sexual abuse of boy scouts by a
priest in his diocese, at the courthouse in Lyon, France, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot/File Photo
    LYON, France (Reuters) – A French appeals court on Thursday overturned an earlier ruling against Philippe Barbarin, a Roman Catholic cardinal who was convicted last year of failing to report sexual abuse charges.
    Barbarin, 69, had been the highest-profile cleric to be caught up in a child sex abuse scandal in the French Catholic Church.
    He was given a six-month suspended sentence in March 2019 but he denied the allegations and appealed the ruling.
    The Lyon court had ruled that from July 2014 to June 2015 Barbarin covered up allegations of sexual abuse of boy scouts in the 1980s and early 1990s by former French Catholic priest Bernard Preynat.
    The trial for Preynat, who faces charges of abusing dozens of boy scouts, began this month.
    Barbarin’s trial has put Europe’s senior clergy in the spotlight at a time when Pope Francis is under fire for the church’s response to a sexual abuse crisis that has engulfed the church, damaging its standing around the globe.
(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Lyon; Writing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Matthieu Protard; Editing by Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson)

1/31/2020 Pope Francis promises to help Argentina in debt crisis, president says by Philip Pullella
Fabiola Yanez, partner of Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez, reacts during a private
audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/Pool
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said Pope Francis had promised him in a meeting to do everything he could to help with his homeland’s debt crisis.
    Fernandez, who was sworn in last month, met Francis privately for about 45 minutes in the papal library.
    “The pope is helping us a lot and I appreciate it because he is an Argentine worried about his homeland,” Fernandez told reporters.    “The pope is going to do everything he can to help us.”
    The 60-year-old center-left president has promised to bridge social divisions and roll out a massive credit system with low rates to bolster domestic demand, and to boost spending to address hunger and poverty.
    His administration has said it needs to restructure $100 billion in sovereign debt with its creditors, including the IMF, amid a steep recession and inflation of more than 50%.
    Next Wednesday, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and Argentine Economy Minister Martin Guzman are due have a meeting on the debt on the sidelines of a conference at the Vatican.
    A Vatican statement said Fernandez and the pope had discussed the economic crisis, poverty, corruption and drug trafficking.
    Fernandez shares many of the pope’s ideas on social justice and quoted the pontiff repeatedly in his inaugural address last month.
    In the public part of the meeting, Francis asked him to be “a messenger of peace” in their common homeland.
    Francis has not visited Argentina since becoming Latin America’s first pope in 2013.    Fernandez said he there was no need to issue a formal invitation because the pope could go home whenever he wanted.
    Perhaps as a nudge to return, Fernandez gave him two coffee table books about the most famous cafes of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/31/2020 Trump vows to reverse course on deportations of Iraqi Christians by Ted Hesson
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to deliver remarks to employees gathered at Dana Incorporated
during a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan, U.S., January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump promised on Thursday during a speech in Michigan to reverse course on some deportations of Iraqi Christians whom his administration sought to remove earlier in his term, but gave no specifics.
    Trump said during an event at an auto parts manufacturer in the city of Warren that his administration would grant an “extension” to Iraqi Chaldean Catholic immigrants, a group that has been targeted for immigration enforcement during his presidency.
    “We’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm’s way,” Trump said.    “When I get back, we’re going to give those who need it an extension to stay in our country.”
    Trump hopes to be reelected in November and Michigan, which he won narrowly in 2016, could be a competitive battleground during the campaign.
    Trump launched a broad immigration crackdown after taking office that included arrests of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics with outstanding deportation orders in the Detroit area, some of whom had lived in the United States for decades.
    Some of the arrests took place in Michigan’s Macomb County, which Trump won by 53.6 percent in 2016 with the support of many in its Iraqi Christian community.
    Federal immigration authorities previously had been unable to remove the Iraqi immigrants because the government in Baghdad would not accept them.    But Iraq agreed in 2017 to accept U.S. deportees as part of a deal to remove it from the Trump administration’s travel ban list.
    Advocates have argued the Iraqi Christians deported to Iraq could be targeted in that country as a religious minority. They also contend some face deportation because of old or relatively minor criminal convictions.
    In a case that received widespread media attention last year, a 41-year-old Iraqi national who had lived in the United States for most of his life died after being deported to Iraq.
    The man, Jimmy Aldaoud, suffered from mental health issues and diabetes, and his family said at the time that he died because he could not get access to care in Iraq.
    Trump told the crowd in Warren he had discussed the issue of Iraqi Christians with lawmakers during the flight from Washington, but did not give more details.
    The White House said five Republican lawmakers from the state attended the event, which focused on the new North American trade agreement.
    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson, Andrea Shalal and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

1/31/2020 Kansas conservative lawmakers push to require ‘In God We Trust’ poster in every state public building by OAN Newsroom
Kansas state Rep. Michael Capps, R-Wichita, testifies during a committee hearing in favor of his bill to require the national motto of
In God We Trust” to be posted in public buildings and schools, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
    Kansas Republican lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would require the nation’s motto to be posted in all public buildings in the state.    During a committee session Thursday, Kansas representatives argued that posting “In God We Trust” in every classroom and library would pay tribute to the country’s “history and founding principles.”
    Though the motto was adopted in the 1950’s, conservative lawmakers argue its meaning has always been apart of the founding father’s sentiment and was echoed in the Declaration of Independence as well as the national anthem.
    A sponsor of the bill, state Republican Rep. Brandon Reed, said the historical phrase can have a positive impact for those struggling. He made the following comments regarding the issue:
    “If one kid walks into school and they see over the auditorium or in the office window, or something like that, and they’ve been having a bad day, if they just see that message, if it speaks internally to them someway, and they can change their outlook for the day, I think it’s worth it.”
File – This photo shows “In God We Trust” stenciled in a wall at
South Park Elementary in Rapid City, S.D. (Adam Fondren/Rapid City Journal via AP)
    This comes as eight other states in the U.S. already require schools to display the national motto “In God We Trust.”
    Meanwhile, atheist groups have argued against the Kansas bill.    They believe it promotes Christian beliefs in the public sphere and violates the separation of church and state.

2/1/2020 OK given for 2nd abortion clinic - Planned Parenthood in Louisville gets approval by Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Planned Parenthood now has permission to provide abortions at its clinic in downtown Louisville, making it the second facility in Kentucky to offer the procedure at a time when providers in some states are closing clinics under pressure from anti-abortion laws.
    The decision by the administration of Gov. Andy Beshear was hailed by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky as a victory for women’s health and reproductive rights, saying the move allows it to provide “a full range of reproductive health care.”
    “This week, Kentucky went from one abortion provider to two, which is a significant win for reproductive health care in the state,” said Chris Charbonneau, Planned Parenthood’s CEO for Kentucky and Indiana.    “All people in Kentucky deserve to make their own pregnancy decisions and to have access to safe and legal abortion.”
    But the decision is sure to infuriate abortion opponents, including Republicans in the legislature who have pushed through more than half a dozen bills to limit or ban abortion in the past three years, though some have been blocked by court challenges.
    Just this week, Kentucky abortion opponents rallied outside a federal courthouse in Cincinnati, where judges with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether a 2018 Kentucky law to restrict abortions is constitutional.
    Among them was state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican and sponsor of one of three anti-abortion bills pending in the legislative session.
    “I’m disappointed to learn that Planned Parenthood has obtained approval to open an abortion clinic, but not surprised,” Westerfield said Friday.    “The Beshear administration has regrettably welcomed them with open arms.”
    Westerfield said he and other legislators will continue to work to fully inform people about abortion and to “protect the lives of the unborn.”
    Margie Montgomery, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, could not be immediately reached for comment.
    Montgomery told The Courier Journal earlier this month she disagreed with the decision to allow Planned Parenthood to proceed with the license application.
    The decision to grant the approval follows a four-year fight by Planned Parenthood with former Gov. Matt Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican whose administration had twice denied it a license to provide abortions.
    But in January, the administration of Beshear — a Democrat who supports the right to abortion — rescinded that denial and announced that officials would allow Planned Parenthood to pursue approval.    Beshear took office Dec. 10
    Currently, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville is the state’s only abortion clinic, making Kentucky one of only six states to have just one abortion provider.    And the Bevin administration had attempted to close EMW by revoking its license before a federal judge struck down that effort as unconstitutional.
    Planned Parenthood said it plans to begin offering abortions in March.
    Unlike EMW, which operates a storefront clinic and is the site of daily sidewalk protests by people opposed to abortion, Planned Parenthood’s clinic is set back off the road with on-site parking surrounded by a privacy fence.
    The regular protests at EMW have prompted some Louisville advocates to propose a buffer zone to protect patients entering EMW or other medical facilities.
    Under the decision by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which inspects and licenses health facilities, Planned     Parenthood has received a “provisional” license to begin providing abortions so that state officials can conduct a final, unannounced inspection to determine whether it meets all state standards.
    If it meets with approval, a final license would be issued.    If any deficiencies are found, the state generally allows a facility time to correct them, then reinspects it.
    That appears to address the dispute that arose in 2015 when Planned Parenthood initially sought the license for its newly opened clinic under the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat and the father of Andy Beshear.
    State officials advised Planned Parenthood to begin offering abortions at its clinic so that officials could inspect the facility to ensure it met state standards, but they did not issue a provisional license.
    Planned Parenthood began providing abortions in December 2015.    But after Bevin took office later that month, his administration ordered a stop to the abortions and accused Planned Parenthood of providing illegal abortions without a license.    Planned Parenthood objected, producing emails and other records its officials said showed they were acting on the state’s instructions.
    The dispute ended up in court after the Bevin administration filed a lawsuit alleging the clinic had violated the law.    That lawsuit was dismissed this month under an agreement with the Beshear administration and Planned Parenthood.
    The provisional license issued Jan. 24 specifically authorizes Planned Parenthood to offer the procedure.
    Reach Deborah Yetter at or 502582-4228. Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
An abortion suite at the Planned Parenthood in Louisville. MICHAEL CLEVENGER/LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL

2/3/2020 Pope plans Indonesia trip to promote inter-religious dialogue
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis gestures during the weekly general audience
at the Vatican, January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis will promote inter-religious dialogue this year during a trip to the world’s biggest Muslim country Indonesia and make the first papal visit to mainly Catholic East Timor since it won independence from Jakarta, diplomatic sources said.
    The trip, which will also include a visit to Papua New Guinea, is likely to take place in September, the sources said.    The Vatican has not yet announced the trip.
    East Timor is more than 95% Roman Catholic, a legacy of colonization by Portugal.    It won independence in 2002 from Indonesia, with which it shares a land border. The late Pope John Paul visited East Timor and Indonesia in 1989.
    Papua New Guinea, which also shares a land border with Indonesia on another island, is predominantly Christian. Pope John Paul visited in 1984.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/4/2020 In his old parish, Argentines hope Pope Francis can help solve debt crisis by Marina Lammertyn
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis speaks with Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez during
a private audience at the Vatican, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/Pool/File Photo
    BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – In the Buenos Aires neighborhood where Pope Francis grew up, Argentines quietly hope the pontiff can help solve a debt crisis that has rippled through every part of Argentine society and put the serial defaulter at risk in the markets.
    Argentina’s new Economy Minister Martin Guzman will meet with International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva on the sidelines of a Vatican event on Wednesday, a key meeting with the country racing to restructure $100 billion in debt.
    The symbolism of the Vatican meeting, facilitated by an Argentine pope who has been outspoken about economic fairness, is not lost on the streets of the predominantly Roman Catholic country’s capital, where many are grappling with recession, high inflation and capital controls.
    “It seems to me that the pope is playing an important role as a mediator to unlock the financial situation of our country,” said Mercedes     Fariña, an artist in the district of Flores best known for her paintings of the pope.    Farina reminisced about receiving a hand-written letter from Francis, who she had heard say Sunday mass when he was a parish priest.
    “I think he has this country in his heart so I think he will support this government,” she added. “Hopefully it helps.”
    Argentina’s new center-left President Alberto Fernandez, who met the pope last week, needs all the help he can get.    The country cannot currently pay its debts and has an ambitious aim to restructure payments by the end of March.
    Winning over the IMF, which extended a $57 billion facility to the country in 2018, is key.    Both sides have heralded positive talks so far, with Fernandez’s Peronist government hoping it can strike a good faith agreement with the fund.
    That is no easy matter for a country that has defaulted twice since the turn of the century, most recently in 2014, straining its relationship with international creditors.
    Father Gabriel Marronetti, a priest at the pope’s old Basilica San José de Flores church, said the pontiff’s involvement would help lend a higher moral authority to any agreement.
    “I believe Pope Francis adds confidence to something by his word,” Marronetti, a disciple who recently visited the pope at the Vatican, told Reuters at the Buenos Aires church.
    “When he is involved in something, he will do everything possible to make sure whatever is said is fulfilled.”
    In the neighborhood of old buildings and squares full of people selling handicrafts, residents had some mixed feelings about Pope Francis, who has not visited the country since being ordained. But all hoped his focus on poverty would help.
    “The pope’s support with his gaze towards the poor is always valuable,” said Patricia Zanollo, a 61-year-old orthodontist as she left the church where Francis found his vocation.    “It’s a positive and it gives me hope.”
    On streets near the house with a marble plaque marking the birthplace of Jorge Bergoglio, as Francis was named, psychoanalyst Andrea Muiño praised his focus on “social justice” – a term often used by Fernandez who took office in December.
    In the Flores district museum, which displays photos and recollections of the pope as a young man, museum official Juan Braña said he hoped the pontiff could help different sides strike an agreement.
    “I believe Francisco is historically a peacemaker.    He always tries to unite different parties,” Braña said.
    Francesca Ambrogetti, a journalist and biographer of Bergoglio who lives in Buenos Aires, said the debt talks could even be a chance for the pope to bolster his standing among Argentines.
    “I hope that Argentine society takes these meetings as something positive,” she said.
(Reporting by Marina Lammertyn; Additional reporting by Horacio Soria; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Tom Brown)

2/4/2020 Nigerian court adjourns case of 47 men charged under homosexuality law
Some of the 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex sign an attendance list within the premises
of the Federal High Court after the court-hearing of their case in Lagos, Nigeria February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
    LAGOS (Reuters) – After months of delays, Nigerian prosecutors began presenting their evidence against 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex, but asked for an adjournment after calling one witness.
    Prosecution lawyer Ilyas Abdulrahman said their lead witness, the police inspector who led the raid in which the men were arrested, would appear on Wednesday.
    The trial in Lagos is seen as a test case for a law that criminalizes homosexuality, which is outlawed in many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups brand it a corrupting Western import.
    On Tuesday the prosecution called police Inspector Ade Adegboye, who said he knew three of the defendants from his “anti-cultism” work.    He declined to answer questions from the defense and said nothing regarding the charges against the men, who face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.
    The men were arrested in a police raid on a hotel in the Egbeda district of Lagos in August 2018.    Police said they were being “initiated” into a gay club, but the accused said they were attending a birthday party.
    Their case is seen as a test for a Nigerian law that bans gay marriage, punishable by a 14-year jail term, and same-sex “amorous relationships”.     The law caused an international outcry when it came into force in 2014.    Nobody has yet been convicted under the law, prosecution and defense lawyers in the case have previously told Reuters.     The trial was previously adjourned twice without opening remarks because the prosecution did not bring its witnesses to court.
(Reporting by Libby George; Editing by Pravin Char)

2/5/2020 Qatar Foundation rejects U.S. university’s reason for scrapping event after anti-gay backlash by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila performs in Washington, DC, U.S. June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Yeganeh Torbati/File Photo
    DOHA (Reuters) – An American university’s partner in Qatar has rejected the university’s explanation for cancelling an event in Doha that would have featured a prominent Middle East band whose singer is openly gay.
    Members of Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila had been scheduled to take part in a discussion at Northwestern University’s Qatar campus on Tuesday, but the university moved the event to its U.S. campus after hostile online comments against Mashrou’ Leila’s appearance.
    Northwestern cited “safety concerns” for the band and its community, among other, unspecified factors.
    But Qatar Foundation, a state-linked non-profit body in the conservative Gulf Arab state, challenged the reasons given by Northwestern.
    Asked about Northwestern’s comments, a Qatar Foundation spokesman told Reuters: “We place the utmost importance on the safety of our community and currently do not have any safety or security concerns.”
    “We also place the very highest value on academic freedom and the open exchange of knowledge, ideas and points of view in the context of Qatari laws as well as the country’s cultural and social customs.    This particular event was canceled due to the fact that it patently did not correlate with this context.”
    Northwestern has not detailed its safety concerns.
    Critics of the event demanded on social media that it be canceled.    Some accused Mashrou’ Leila and the university of spreading views that are against Qatari and Islamic values.    Others said they opposed same-sex relationships.
    Gay sex is punishable by jail in Qatar, as in many Muslim-majority countries.
    Mashrou’ Leila has garnered international acclaim with lyrics tackling issues of sectarianism, gender equality and homophobia.
    A vocal supporter of equal rights for marginalized groups, the band has also had other events canceled in the Middle East following pressure by conservative groups.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/5/2020 Court case of 47 Nigerian men charged under homosexuality law delayed again by Libby George
Some of the 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex sign an attendance list within the
premises of the Federal High Court after the court-hearing of their case in Lagos, Nigeria February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
    LAGOS (Reuters) – A closely-watched trial of 47 Nigerian men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex, seen as a test of a law criminalizing homosexuality, was delayed for a third time on Wednesday after a lead witness did not appear.
    Justice Rilwan Aikawa at the Lagos court warned prosecutors that the adjournment, to March 3, would be the last he granted them.    The case was previously adjourned twice after the prosecution failed to produce witnesses.
    Homosexuality is outlawed in many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups brand it a corrupting Western import.
    On Tuesday, the prosecution opened its case by producing a police inspector witness who shared only his name, rank and that he knew the defendants from “anti-cultism” work.
    The lead witness was due to appear on Wednesday but Prosecutor Joseph Eboseremen said the witness had not received a court summons on time.
    The men, who face a 10-year jail term if convicted, were arrested in an August 2018 police raid on a Lagos hotel.    Police said they were being “initiated” into a gay club, but the men said they were attending a birthday party.
    Police paraded the accused in front of journalists at a press conference held by the state police commissioner the day after the raid.
    The men pleaded not guilty to the charge last November, and said the prolonged case is causing financial and emotional distress.
    “It’s affecting my life, it’s affecting my work,” defendant Onyeka Oghuaghamba, 43, told Reuters, adding: “I am not coping.”
    He said he had been forced to take out loans to support his four children and wife because the appearances forced him to skip his work as a long-haul driver.    Still, he said he had faith in the court.
    “I want to prove that my hand is clean,” he said.
    The trial is a test case for a law banning gay marriage, punishable by a 14-year jail term, and same-sex “amorous relationships.”    It caused international outcry when it came into force under former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
    Nobody has yet been convicted under the law, prosecution and defense lawyers in the case told Reuters.
    But Human Rights Watch and other activists say it has been used to extort bribes from suspects in exchange for not pursuing charges.
(Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

2/6/2020 U of L student targets LGBTQ class with anti-gay pamphlets by Emma Austin and Savannah Eadens, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Students and faculty are upset with the University of Louisville’s response after a student showed up at an LGBTQ studies course in which he is not enrolled and passed out anti-gay literature.
    Kaila Story, an associate professor of women and gender studies and Pan-African studies, said the student came to her Introduction to LGBTQ Studies class last week, passed out pamphlets and then “lurked outside the class.”
    The pamphlet, published by the Christian group Living Waters Publications, begins by describing a woman who is locked in a car on a train track and is rescued at the last minute from being hit by an oncoming train she didn’t see.
    “Perhaps you believe you are gay, or maybe you are sympathetic toward homosexuality and you think that what people do sexually is their own business,” the 36-page pamphlet says.    “Whatever the case, I want to convince you that you are sitting in a car on a railroad track with a train coming, and you don’t know it.”
    Ricky L. Jones: U of L is a fear factory where leaders talk diversity but don’t take action.    Community Forum, 15A Story said she reported the incident to the leaders of her departments, who contacted the university’s administrators.
    Pan-African Studies Department Chair Ricky Jones said the Office of Student Affairs met with the student and told him he could return to the class again as long as he gives 48 hours’ notice.
    “I want to be clear, we do not believe this is a free speech issue,” said Jones, who also writes opinion pieces for The Courier Journal.    “I believe it is an issue of hate speech, and it is an issue of harassment.”
    University spokesman John Karman said in an email that administrators were informed about the incident last week and have met with the faculty who raised the issue.
    “Officials also have met with the student and have been assured that his intention was only to provide information rather than to intimidate,” Karman said.    “While the student’s actions caused concern among the students and faculty in the classroom, he apparently followed the law and university policy when distributing the literature.”
    Karman said administrators will continue to monitor the situation.    He declined to name the student who delivered the pamphlets because of privacy rules.
    Story said she was “beyond disturbed” by how the incident was handled.    “This kind of disregard and dismissive attitude by the Dean of Students Office when it comes to concern of student and faculty safety is not and will not be tolerated by me or my students.    It’s blatant disregard.”
    Students said they are planning a protest at 1 p.m. Thursday outside Grawemeyer Hall.
    Luke Moore, president of Shades, an LGBTQ student organization, said group members are disappointed and angry about the “inaction and incompetence of the University of Louisville, Neeli Bendapudi and her staff, and the Student Affairs office.” Kaelan Strom, a student in the class, told The Courier Journal the incident made him feel harassed and unsafe.     “Throughout my life, I have been in situations where my sexuality has (led) to fearful interactions between hateful groups and people, but when that compromises my education, I draw the line,” Strom said.    “I should not be afraid to learn my history.    I should not be afraid to attend a class.    I should not be afraid that things may escalate.”
    Another student in the course, Charlotte Haydon, said she and her classmates want to make university officials understand their concern.
    “It’s distressing to know that an individual went out of his way to target a specific group and invalidate their existence,” Haydon said.    “And to have that happen and not have university staff even blink an eye. ...     We don’t feel safe.”
    The University of Louisville is governed by the Campus Free Speech Act, which was passed by the Kentucky legislature in 2019. It broadly protects student and faculty freedom of expression in the classroom, including religious and political viewpoints.
    U of L’s policies allow students to demonstrate as long as they are acting in an “orderly and peaceful manner” and do not in any way “interfere with the proper functioning of the university.”
    Students and student organizations are allowed to distribute written material on campus without prior university approval as long as the “distribution does not disrupt the operations of the University or violate University rules.”
    “When students or student organizations demonstrate in an area not traditionally used as an open public forum, the University reserves the right to make reasonable restrictions as to time, place, and manner of the student demonstrations,” according to U of L’s website.
    The university says it has a history of being a “trailblazer” in making the campus more inclusive for the LGBTQ community.    It opened its LGBT Center in 2007 to provide support for students after its campus “was littered with homophobic flyers,” the center says on its website.
    The LGBT Center’s director did not return a phone call and email from The Courier Journal requesting comment.
    While the university has won awards for being LGBTQ-friendly, Jones said that doesn’t represent the campus’ culture.
    “This type of terror is ongoing, but people don’t want to say anything about it,” Jones said.    “The university is not only unprepared, but also trying to justify their approach that places students and faculty members in danger.”
    Moore said the university “has touted itself for its diverse and inclusive community.    However, when this community asks the university to fight for them, the university has shown that they do not care about the safety and well being of the LGBTQ students and faculty (and) staff here.”
    Reach Savannah Eadens at seadens@, 502-3819498 or on Twitter at @savannaheadens.    Reach Emma Austin on Twitter at @emmacaustin.

2/6/2020 McCarrick report expected soon but pope has last word: Vatican official by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall
in the Vatican March 4, 2013. Picture taken March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Work on a Vatican report into disgraced ex U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is complete and it may be released in the near future but Pope Francis will have the final word on timing, the Vatican’s number two said on Thursday.
    McCarrick was expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood a year ago after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults and abuse of power.
    The 89-year-old, once a power-broker as Archbishop of Washington, D.C. from 2001 to 2006, is the highest profile Church figure to have been dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.
    In 2018, Francis ordered a through study of all documents in Holy See offices concerning McCarrick.        The four U.S. dioceses where he served – New York, Metuchen, Newark, and Washington, D.C. – carried out separate investigations to feed into the Vatican report.
    Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, was asked about the status of the eagerly awaited report on the sidelines of a conference.
    “I think it will come out.    I can’t tell you exactly when.    We are trying to speed things up in order to publish it in the near future,” said Parolin, the highest ranking person in the Church hierarchy after the pope.
    “But the publication depends on the pope.    The work has been done but the pope has the last word,” he said.
    There is great anticipation for the report in the United States because it may show McCarrick managed to rise through the ranks although his history of sexual misconduct with adult male seminarians was an open secret.
    McCarrick’s steady ascent in the U.S. Church hierarchy, with Vatican approval, came during the pontificate of Pope John Paul, which lasted from 1978 until his death in 2005.
    The allegations against McCarrick, whose fall from grace stunned the U.S. Church, dated back decades.
    Allegations of his abuse of minors decades ago did not surface until 2017.
    But many in the United States knew of his habit of using his authority to coerce adult seminarians studying for the priesthood to sleep with him.
    McCarrick, who has been living in seclusion in the United States, has responded publicly only to the allegations of abuse of minors, saying he has “absolutely no recollection” of them.
    He has not commented on sexual misconduct with adult males.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

2/7/2020 Activist aims to shame Polish towns opposed to LGBT community
FILE PHOTO: A sticker with words "LGBT-free zone" distributed in weekly conservative magazine
"Gazeta Polska" is pictured in Warsaw, Poland July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    TRZEBIESZOW, Poland (Reuters) – An activist has begun photographing members of Poland’s LGBT community next to a fake “LGBT-free zone” sign outside towns that passed motions rejecting what they call “LGBT ideology” or defending traditional family values.
    Bartosz Staszewski, a 29-year-old filmmaker, has taken portraits of five people so far, and plans another 32 that would target towns he considers took the strongest stance against the gay community.
    His action is in protest against what he calls a “hate campaign” by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which says lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) “ideology” is an invasive foreign influence that undermines traditional values in the staunchly Catholic country.
    In Poland, which doesn’t recognize any form of same-sex union, parades to celebrate LGBT life became violent flashpoints last year in the buildup to October elections. [nL3N26B2VT]
    The self-funded artistic project, which is published on social media, involves Staszewski photographing local members of the LGBT community in front of a sign saying “LGBT-free zone” in four languages.    He removes the sign after each photoshoot.
    “I’m visualizing, encouraging a debate,” Staszewski told Reuters, as he prepared to photograph Jakub Przybysz, 26, a former resident of the eastern Polish town of Trzebieszow and a gay man.
    Miroslaw Szekalis, the mayor of Trzebieszow, where a motion to reject “LGBT ideology” was passed last year, defended the town’s decision.    “Neither I, nor any of the council members … have a reason to be ashamed,” he told Reuters.
    While the motions are largely symbolic, they can be intimidating for members of the LGBT community.    Municipalities and regions that have rejected LGBT “ideology” cover nearly a third of the country.
    When Staszewski first published the pictures on social media, some members of the European Parliament and a Polish presidential candidate, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, criticized the signs which they thought had been put up by towns.
    “False accusations appearing in the EU institutions directed at the Polish government create a false picture,” PiS members in the European Parliament said in a statement on Thursday. They did not mention Staszewski’s project specifically.
    Staszewski, who has been accused of spreading fake news and received threats on social media, changed the captions accompanying his pictures to explain the project better.
    “I thought … we live in such a time that people will understand that this is an art project,” he said.    “(But) we are living in a time when there is a thin line between what is absurd and what is reality.”
(Reporting by Dominik Starosz, Robert Furmanczyk and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Joanna Plucinska and Mike Collett-White)

2/7/2020 Swiss vote on anti-homophobia law as critics decry censorship by Cecile Mantovani and Marina Depetris
FILE PHOTO: Stickers are pictured on a poster of the Federal Democratic Union (EDU) party that
launched the referendum to ban the discrimination based on sexual orientation ahead of vote in
Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. The stickers read : "Stop the hatred, yes." REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – When 41-year-old Jehanne, a lesbian, was repeatedly insulted for supporting LGBT rights during a tram ride in the Swiss city of Geneva last month, she threatened to call the police.
    But her aggressor said his remarks were not a crime under Swiss law.
    “I was shaking, I was crying too,” said Jehanne, an artist and mother of an eight-year-old boy, who asked for her last name to be withheld.    “I looked around me and I was really surprised that no one looked at me or intervened at all.”
    In his response to Jehanne, her aggressor was strictly correct, exploiting a Swiss loophole in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
    Conservative Switzerland, unlike many of its western European neighbors, does not have yet have laws that specifically protect lesbians, gays and bisexuals from discrimination.
    The government hopes to change that. Parliament passed a law in 2018 to extend anti-racism statutes to cover sexual orientation, and offenders could be jailed for three years.
    But opponents last April obtained the minimum 50,000 signatures necessary under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy to put to the matter to a vote, to be held on Sunday.
    “I trust the Swiss people will not let themselves be censored,” said Marc Früh, a member of the small Federal Democratic Union (EDU) party, which launched the referendum.
    His party, which has a Christian base and is stronger in the German-speaking east, has placed posters around the country showing a blonde woman with bulging eyes and black tape forming a cross over her mouth.
    Supporters of the law have countered with images of two pink hearts rubbing up against each other beneath an umbrella – a symbol Jehanne was wearing on a pin the day she was verbally assaulted.
    Caroline Dayer, an expert in preventing violence and discrimination, said attacks on gays, already common, had increased as the vote has stirred emotions.    In Switzerland, two-thirds of lesbians and 80% of gay men are targeted at some point in their lives, she said.
    The government stresses that the new law will not hinder public debate or affect private conversations.
    Even jokes about gays are still OK “as long as they respect human dignity,” Interior Minister Alain Berset said in a video message to voters.
    Opinion polls suggest opponents do not have enough backing to scupper the new law, with 65% inclined to vote yes, according to Swiss broadcaster RTS.    Even so, the law’s supporters say Switzerland still trails most neighbors on LGBT+ rights.
    The protections under the new law do not apply to gender identity, for example, meaning transgenders are excluded.
    Mathias Reynard, a Socialist MP who first raised the need for homophobia protection in 2013, hopes to bring Switzerland in line with 18 other European jurisdictions on gay marriage and a debate is planned next month.    Civil unions are already legal.
    “I hope one day we won’t need all of this (protection),” said Jehanne.    “But I have the impression it won’t be the case any time soon.”
(Writing and additional reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood)

2/8/2020 Ukraine’s president asks pope to help win release of prisoners of war by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a joint news conference after a
Normandy-format summit in Paris, France December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked Pope Francis on Saturday for help to win the release of prisoners of war held by Russia and Russian-backed separatists.
    “(The pope) does everything possible to achieve peace and harmony throughout the world,” Zelenskiy said in a tweet after their meeting at the Vatican.
    “I asked for help with the release of Ukrainians captured in Donbass, Crimea and Russia,” he said.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its subsequent support for separatists in a conflict in eastern Ukraine.
    The Vatican has diplomatic relations with both Ukraine and Russia.
    Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east completed a large-scale prisoner swap on December 29 in the breakaway Donbass region.    It is not clear how many Ukrainian government soldiers are still being held, but activists say there are about 100.
    Zelenskiy won a landslide election victory in April, promising to end the five-year-old conflict and bring prisoners home.
    The 42-year-old president, a former comedian, said he emerged from the meeting with the pope, who is nearly twice his age, “inspired by our talk about peace in Ukraine
    During the photo session of the meeting, which was open to reporters, Francis gave Zelenskiy a medal of St. Martin of Tours and said he hoped the saint “will protect your people from war.”
    A Vatican statement made no mention of what the pope and Zelenskiy spoke about in their private talks.
    It said the president did discuss the conflict and its effects on the civilian population in separate talks later with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and its foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Editing by Ros Russell)

2/9/2020 Swiss voters back anti-homophobia law, projection shows
FILE PHOTO: A poster in favour of the change of the penal code is pictured ahead of a referendum
on anti-homophobia law in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. The poster reads:
"Stop the hatred, yes". Picture taken February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – A Swiss referendum on Sunday cleared the way for the country to close a loophole in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights by extending anti-racism laws to cover sexual orientation, a widely used projection showed.
Conservative Switzerland, unlike many of its western European neighbors, does not yet have laws that specifically protect lesbians, gays and bisexuals from discrimination.
    Parliament passed a law in 2018 to widen the application of anti-racism statutes, so that offenders would face jail for up to three years.    But opponents obtained the 50,000 signatures necessary under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy to put to the matter to a vote, which was held on Sunday.
    Roughly 62% of voters backed the change, a projection by pollster gfs.bern showed 30 minutes after polls closed at midday (1100 GMT).    The projection had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
    The government backed the new law, and supporters’ campaign posters featured two pink hearts rubbing up against each other under an umbrella.    Opponents framed the change to the law as an infringement of free speech.
    Swiss voters on Sunday also rejected a second initiative calling for at least 10% of new housing to be built by not-for-profit cooperatives in an attempt to reduce the cost of living.    The same pollster projected that only 42% of voters had backed that proposal, again with a margin of error of 3 points.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/9/2020 Pope calls for respect of humanitarian law in Syria’s Idlib amid escalation
Pope Francis speaks at a conference hosted by the Vatican on economic solidarity, at the Vatican, February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis called on Sunday for respect of humanitarian law in Syria’s Idlib province, amid an escalation of a Syrian government offensive that has displaced more than half a million in two months.
    He told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s square that the reports from Idlib were “painful … particularly regarding the conditions of women and children, of people forced to flee from a military escalation.”
    Turkey has reinforced its military presence in the area, saying the advances by Russian-backed Syrian troops and their allies threaten a fresh humanitarian disaster.
    The crisis risks driving another wave of potential refugees to Turkey’s southern border, and Ankara has threatened to act unless there is a pull back.
    “I renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community and all parties involved to use diplomatic means, dialogue and negotiations, in respect of international humanitarian law, to safeguard the lives and fate of civilians,” Pope Francis said.
    He then led the crowd in a special spontaneous prayer “for this beloved and martyred Syria.”
    Turkey and Russia support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year civil war, but have forged a series of agreements since 2017 aimed at containing the bloodshed.
    Turkey already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and President Tayyip Erdogan threatened this week to repel the Russian-backed Syrian forces unless they withdraw from the region.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/9/2020 Pope trip to Malta in May to spotlight migrants’ plight by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis speaks at a conference hosted by the Vatican on economic
solidarity, at the Vatican, February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis will make the first trip by a pontiff in 10 years to the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta in May, where he is expected to defend the rights of migrants trying to reach Europe.
    The Vatican said on Monday the pope will visit the country, which lies between Sicily and North Africa, on May 31.
    Malta has been at the center of several disputes with Italy and other European nations over which one should take migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by ships from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
    Like Italy, it has sometimes closed its ports to humanitarian ships that have rescued migrants, saying they should be shared among EU nations.
    The pope, who has made defense of migrants a major part of his papacy and has often called the Mediterranean a cemetery, has criticized the closing of ports.
    Politically, the island is still reeling from the killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bombing in 2017. Francis may pay tribute to her, according to a Vatican source.
    Malta is important in the history of Christianity because a ship carrying St. Paul to Rome was shipwrecked there in about the year 60 AD while he was being taken to Rome.
    Francis’s trip to Malta is also seen as a tribute to its archbishop Charles Scicluna, who is the Vatican’s most experienced sexual abuse investigator.
    Scicluna’s investigations have led to the defrocking of some of the Church’s most notorious paedophiles in Mexico, Chile and other countries.
    Scicluna has also been in the front line in the defense of migrants, sometimes criticizing government policies.    In 2017 he visited the Phoenix, one of the NGO-run rescue ships plying the waters of the southern Mediterranean to save migrants from drowning.
    Former pope Benedict XVI visited Malta in 2010 and Pope John Paul II went there in 1990 and 2001.
    The trip will be Francis’s first outside Italy this year.    He is expected to visit Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea in September, according to diplomatic sources.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Ed Osmond)

2/11/2020 Louisville may get 2 Real ID locations by Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials said Monday that they’re working to get “a minimum of two” Real ID offices to Louisville.
    Sarah Jackson, the cabinet’s Real ID project manager, told reporters one location may be in southwest Louisville, around Dixie Highway, and the other may be in central Louisville.
    “Currently, we’re looking at all properties,” Jackson said.    But, they’re considering one government-owned space and one that’s not.
    She also said one centrally located office in Lexington may open in the next few months.
    The Real ID office in Frankfort is open to people of all Kentucky counties.    Jackson said the cabinet hasn’t tracked how many people are coming in from around the state to Frankfort.
    “People have business in Frankfort so they might find themselves here,” she said.    “And then there are people who are happy to travel from Louisville or Lexington just because they wanna get this behind them.”
    She said licenses are coming out quicker than estimated and there have been no issues with ID speeds at the other locations.    The IDs are estimated to arrive 10 to 15 days after application, and Jackson said people are reporting they received theirs within seven days.
    She also said the small and gradual rollout has allowed the cabinet to learn from issues and constantly improve the process.
    Kentucky-issued driver’s licenses will be valid at airports, federal courthouses and military facilities until October, when the state’s extension on complying with the federal Real ID Act expires.    At that time, people will need a passport or a Real ID as identification.
    Kentucky has struggled to roll out its Real ID program since the state legislature passed a bill in 2017 to comply with the federal law, which was passed in 2005 to increase security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
    The law sets standards for stateissued driver’s licenses and identification cards, including Real ID-compliant marking.     In Jefferson County, residents were originally scheduled to be able to get the new IDs starting in March.    But the rollout was pushed back, launching in Franklin and Woodford counties in June.
    Officials have encouraged people to visit and fill out an ID guide quiz to find out which documents they need to get a Real ID.
.     Reach breaking news reporter Sarah Ladd at Follow her on Twitter at @ladd_sarah. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: subscribe.
Kentucky driver’s licenses that meet the security rules will have a star added to the license. MICHAEL CLEVENGER/ COURIER JOURNAL

2/11/2020 Here come the brides in Northern Ireland’s first same-sex marriage by Amanda Ferguson
Sharni Edwards, 27, and Robyn Peoples, 26, a Belfast couple who are the first known same-sex couple to get married in
Northern Ireland, kiss after being married, in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
    CARRICKFERGUS, Northern Ireland (Reuters) – Northern Ireland’s first same-sex wedding took place on Tuesday after the government lifted a ban on gay marriage in the province, marking legalization of the practice throughout the United Kingdom.
    Robyn Peoples, 26, a healthcare worker from the city, and Sharni Edwards, 27, a waitress originally from Brighton, became the province’s first gay couple to wed, according to the Love Equality campaign group.
    The women exchanged their vows in Carrickfergus, County Antrim on their sixth anniversary as a couple.
    “This means everything to us. Just to be married.    This is my wife.    I can finally say this is my wife,” Peoples told reporters after the ceremony attended by around 50 friends and family.
    “For Northern Ireland we need to be the faces… To show everyone it’s ok.    We fought so long and hard for this opportunity to be seen as equal and now we are here and it’s just amazing.”
    The couple had been planning a civil partnership – legal across the UK since 2005 – but decided to get married instead after the landmark change came into law on Monday.
    The pair – who said they will go by the titles Mrs and Mrs Edwards-Peoples – got engaged on a trip to Paris to see pop star Ariana Grande in concert.
    They said their first dance will be to “Over and Over Again”, a song by singer Nathan Sykes that features Grande.
    Northern Ireland’s prohibition on same-sex marriage was eliminated by the central government after a vote by British lawmakers when the province did not have a sitting government.
    The socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party had previously been able to block same-sex civil marriage rights. The provincial assembly began sitting again last month.
    The British parliament also voted to loosen restrictions on abortion in the region at the same time.
    Britain’s Northern Ireland Minister Julian Smith, members of parliament and campaigners will celebrate the legalization of gay marriage at an event in London later on Tuesday.
    Sara Canning, the partner of murdered author Lyra McKee, who was shot dead by a New IRA gunman in Londonderry last year, will also attend the London event.
    “It means the absolute world,” Edwards said, when asked what it meant to be champions for the lesbian, gay, transsexual, bisexual and queer (LGBTQ) community in Northern Ireland, who have long campaigned for equal rights.
    “If it wasn’t for them guys we would not be standing here right now so we just want to say thank you to everyone who’s marched, signed petitions and helped us to get to this stage.”
(Editing by Padraic Halpin, Cynthia Osterman and Alexandra Hudson)

2/12/2020 LGBTQ rights: Here’s what has changed since 2010 - Progress toward equality in country a slow process by Susan Miller, USA TODAY
    In 2010, no states outlawed conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors, forbade health insurers from excluding transgender- related coverage or offered gender neutral options on licenses and birth certificates.
    Ten years later at the dawn of a new decade, roughly 20 states have these protections in place.
    Breakthroughs?    Or evidence of a plodding pace on the road to LGBTQ equality?
    “It’s both,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project, which released a report Tuesday on the status of LGBTQ rights from 2010 to 2020.
    “We have made a tremendous amount of progress understanding what LGBTQ people need to have a full opportunity to be productive workers, have equal access to health care, to go beyond the basics,” she said.    “But at the same time, in half the country, that progress has stalled out.”
    The report by MAP, a think tank that maintains a database on laws affecting LGBTQ people, shows a split in the policy landscape in 2020: Nearly half of the country – 46% – lives in states earning “high” or “medium” grades for equality because of protections.    But the other half – 45% – lives in states with “low” or “negative” rankings.
    Advocates hope rulings in three pivotal Supreme Court cases this year on whether it’s legal to fire workers because of sexual orientation or gender identity will cement a precedent for LGBTQ rights.    They also will continue to press for passage of the Equality Act, which would make nondiscrimination a federal guarantee.
    But for now, LGBTQ people are at the mercy of a patchwork of state protections.    “You could live in one state and move across the border and core pieces of your life could be in jeopardy,” said Naomi Goldberg, MAP policy research director.
    A landmark Supreme Court ruling sanctioning same-sex marriage in 2015 capped an evolution taking place in state legislatures and federal courts on LGTBQ relationships in the first half of the decade. In 2010, only 14 states and the district had some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.    By 2020, marriage was the law of the land and included access to marriagerelated parenting protections.
    Bans on conversion therapy – a discredited practice of trying to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity – began to take root.
    But midway through the decade, backlashes also started to sprout.    Some targeted transgender people’s rights.    Many took the form of religious exemption laws that let people, churches and sometimes businesses cite religious beliefs as a reason not to enforce a law.
    “When we saw progress in marriage a decade ago, LGBTQ opponents realized that fight was over.    All the rights and benefits that came along with marriage were solidified,” Goldberg said.    “But it was a strategic move on (opponents’) part.    Yes, you can go get married, but when you show up to get that license, we can say no – you have to go somewhere else.”
    In 2010, only one state had a religious exemption law. Now 13 states do.
    More harmful bills are percolating.    In 2020, MAP’s database shows at least 121 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation in various states.
    Transgender youths take a hard hit: Fourteen states are weighing bills excluding transgender students from sports; 11 have floated legislation that bans medical care for transgender minors, some even making treatment a crime.
    Nadine Smith lives in Florida, where “Anita Bryant put us on the map in the worst possible way” in the 1970s with her anti-gay crusades.
    But Smith, the CEO and co-founder of civil rights group Equality Florida, has seen a slow transformation in the state, mainly because cities and counties have moved the marker – much more so than the Legislature.
    In 2010, Florida was ranked a “negative” equality state by MAP. Ten years later, it’s a “low” equality state.    “The people of Florida are absolutely moving in the correct direction,” Smith said.    “The majority of people are living in places where localities have passed nondiscrimination ordinances on sexual orientation and gender identity.    Localities are showing leadership where the state has failed.”
    Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, has seen his state rocket up the road on equality in the 10 years since the LGBTQ advocacy group was founded.    In 2010, MAP ranked the state “fair”; now it is “i>high” equality.
    One Colorado focuses on amplifying LGBTQ voices, he said.    “One of the most powerful lessons we learned is the impact of sharing our own experiences by coming out. It’s harder to hate someone you know or you love.”
    The state is home to some high-profile groups that oppose LGBTQ rights, yet Colorado has notched many advancements, such as a conversion therapy ban and accurate ID documentation, notably through bipartisan efforts, Ramos said.    In 2018, Coloradoans elected their first openly transgender legislator and the country’s first openly male gay governor.
    “The challenge has been that issues are hyperpoliticized,” Ramos said.    “But for youths to experience less bullying should be a nonpartisan issue.    For folks to access health care should be a nonpartisan issue.”
Demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court in October as justices hear challenges from workers who
claimed they were fired for being gay or transgender. JACK GRUBER/USA TODAY

2/12/2020 Iowa bill: Parental alert on sex, gender classwork by Ian Richardson, Des Moines Register USA TODAY NETWORK
    DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa school districts would have to notify parents when curriculum or classroom activities include content that relates to sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a Statehouse bill that advanced Monday. Introduced by 13 state Republican House members, the measure would allow parents to opt out of having their children participate in any instruction or programs that pertain to gender identity.
    Supporters said the measure’s optout is much like current law, which allows parents to opt their children out of human growth and development instruction.    Opponents said the definitions in the bill are vague and could discourage LGBTQ-focused instruction or marginalize students.
    State Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the expanded opt-out is needed because parents have a variety of views on sexual orientation and gender identity.
    “Not all students, parents or families agree with the viewpoint held by many schools regarding sexual orientation or gender identity issues,” she said Monday.    “And they should be allowed to opt out of instruction that contains that.”
    Emily Piper, a lobbyist with the Iowa Association of School Boards, said she believes school boards can handle such issues.    If it became law, teachers also could have problems figuring out what instruction would require parental notification, she said.
    The Association of School Boards opposes the bill.
    “What if we’re having a discussion on current events and there’s a presidential candidate – somebody who’s running for the nomination – who’s gay?” she said, a reference to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.    “Can we not have that conversation in a government class, then, without first notifying the parents and allowing them to withdraw their child from the class?
    Salmon acknowledged Monday that the language in the bill needs to be refined.    She told reporters that her intention is not to have a simple mention of a historical figure in history class to necessarily require notification.
    The bill, House File 2201, also would require school districts to provide information about the instruction and its procedures for inspecting and updating it to “any agency or organization” that requests it.

2/12/2020 Upholding celibacy, Pope sidesteps bid to ordain some married men by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis kisses a child during the weekly general audience at the Vatican, February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Wednesday dismissed a proposal to allow some married men to be ordained in remote areas, reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church’s centuries-old commitment to celibacy among priests.
    The decision, one of the most significant of his papacy, appeared a victory for conservative senior clergy, who had feared a slippery slope towards a married priesthood throughout the Church if the recommendation was approved.
    It was put forward by Latin American bishops as a means of easing an acute shortage of priests in the Amazon region, and passed by 128 votes to 41 at a contentious Vatican assembly, or synod, of Roman Catholic bishops.
    Three months after that vote, Francis delivered his response, ignoring the proposal altogether in an Apostolic Exhortation, a mechanism used to instruct and encourage the Catholic faithful but not to define Church doctrine.
    Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican’s former chief doctrinal official and a leading conservative critic of the pope, called it “a document of reconciliation.”
    He and others had branded as heretical synod documents that included the proposal, which sought to allow older married deacons who are proven leaders of remote Catholic communities and have stable families to be ordained as priests.
    The issue of married priests has been a focus of deep divisions within the Church, and Vatican sources say it is now likely to languish for the rest of Francis’s papacy.
    That marks a setback for the progressives who have welcomed his reformist stance on some social issues, such as being more welcoming to divorced Catholics and homosexuals and – with caveats – his willingness to confront a legacy of sexual abuse within the Church.
    In what some viewed as a strategically timed appeal to Francis not to approve the Amazon proposal, a book published last month by Church conservatives defended the tradition of priestly celibacy.
    “From the Depths of Our Hearts” was co-authored by Cardinal Robert Sarah and Former Pope Benedict, though Francis’ predecessor subsequently disassociated himself from the project.
    Vatican officials said the pope completed the Exhortation on Dec. 27, before the book controversy, and handed it in for translations. They said no changes were made after that.
    The 83-year-old Argentine pope wrote that new ways must be found to encourage more priests to work in the remote region, and allow expanded roles for women, lay people and permanent deacons, of whom the Amazon needed “many more.”
    Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers.    They can preach, teach, baptise and run parishes, but they cannot say Mass.    Married men can become deacons.
    Because only priests can say Mass, people in at least 85% of Amazon villages cannot attend the liturgy every week and some cannot do so for years.
    In his document, Francis suggested solutions to solve the shortage of priests that his conservative critics had made, such as praying for more vocations and sending more priests already in the nine Amazon basin countries to remote areas rather than abroad.
    “This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America… to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” he wrote.
    At a news conference presenting the document, Cardinal Michael Czerny, who was the synod’s secretary, acknowledged that the pope had listened to some of the solutions proposed by his critics.
    “Yes this (document) is reconciling, this is challenging, this is stimulating,” he said.
    The issue of celibacy has been discussed in other countries with a shortage of priests, including developed ones such as Germany, and some Eastern Catholic rites already allow married men to be priests.
    Frances used the first three chapters of the document to restate his longstanding defence of the rights and legacies of indigenous people and the environment in the Amazon, which he said had to be protected.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/13/2020 Pope: Married men can’t be priests - Francis sidesteps issue of shortage in Amazon by Nicole Winfield, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis declined Wednesday to approve the ordination of married men to address the priest shortage in the Amazon, sidestepping a fraught issue that has dominated debate in the Catholic Church and even involved retired Pope Benedict XVI.
    In an eagerly awaited document, Francis didn’t even refer to recommendations by Amazonian bishops to consider the ordination of married men and women deacons.
    Rather, he urged bishops to pray for more priestly vocations and send missionaries to the region, where the faithful living in remote communities can go months or even years without Mass.
    Francis’ dodging of the issue disappointed progressives, who had hoped he would at the very least put it to further study.    And it relieved conservatives who have used the debate over priestly celibacy to heighten opposition to the pope, whom some have accused of heresy.
    The document, “Beloved Amazon,” is instead a love letter to the Amazonian rain forest and its indigenous peoples, penned by history’s first     Latin American pope.    Francis has long been concerned about the violent exploitation of the Amazon’s land, its crucial importance to the global ecosystem and the injustices committed against its peoples.
    He addressed the document to all peoples of the world “to help awaken their affection and concern for that land which is also ours and to invite them to value it and acknowledge it as a sacred mystery.”
    “Beloved Amazon” is in many ways a synthesized and focused version of Francis’ 2015 landmark environmental encyclical, “Praised Be,” in which he blasted wealthy countries and multinational corporations for destroying the world’s natural resources and impoverishing the poor for their own profit.
    Francis said he has four dreams for the Amazon: that the rights of the poor are respected, that their cultural riches are celebrated, that the Amazon’s natural beauty and life are preserved, and that its Christian communities show Amazonian features.
    Francis had convened bishops from the Amazon’s nine countries for a three-week meeting in October to debate the ways the church can help preserve the delicate ecosystem from global warming and better minister to the region’s people, many of whom live in isolated communities or in poverty in cities.
    Francis, an Argentine Jesuit, has long been sensitive to the plight of the Amazon, where Protestant and Pentecostal churches are wooing away Catholic souls in the absence of vibrant Catholic communities where the Eucharist can be regularly celebrated.
    In their final document at the end of the October synod, the majority of bishops called for the establishment of criteria so that “respected” married men in their communities who have already served as permanent deacons be ordained as priests.
    In addition, the bishops called for the Vatican to reopen a study commission on ordaining women as deacons.
Pope Francis reads his message during the weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday. AP

2/13/2020 ‘There will be dad and mum’: Putin rules out Russia legalizing gay marriage
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the working group on proposals for amendments to the Russian
Constitution at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia February 13, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia would not legalize gay marriage as long as he was in the Kremlin.
    He made clear he would not allow the traditional notion of mother and father to be subverted by what he called “parent number 1” and “parent number 2.”
    “As far as ‘parent number 1’ and ‘parent number 2’ goes, I’ve already spoken publicly about this and I’ll repeat it again: as long as I’m president this will not happen.    There will be dad and mum,” Putin said.
    During his two decades in power, Putin has closely aligned himself with the Orthodox Church and sought to distance Russia from liberal Western values, including attitudes toward homosexuality and gender fluidity.
    He made the comments as he met a state commission to discuss changes to Russia’s constitution.
    The commission was set up last month after Putin announced sweeping changes to Russia’s political system that are widely seen as being designed to help him extend his grip on power after his scheduled departure from office in 2024.
    Other proposals have since been put forward and Putin was asked to comment on a proposal to add a line in the constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
    “We need only to think in what phrases and where to do this,” he replied.
    In separate comments during the meeting, Putin said he backed an idea to make it unconstitutional for Russia to give away any part of its territory, a move likely to irritate Japan and Ukraine that have land disputes with Moscow.
    Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has been in a decades-long dispute with Tokyo over ownership of a chain of islands in the Pacific that Moscow seized from Japan at the end of World War Two.
    Russia and Japan have been holding talks on the latter dispute which has prevented the countries formally signing a peace treaty after World War Two.
    “We have talks under way with our partners on certain questions, but I like the idea itself,” Putin said.    “So let’s instruct the lawyers, ask them to formulate this in the right way.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
[Putin knows how to deal with that issue so he does not have to see their parades, influence of TV shows, and attempts to change their documents and they can still hide in their closets, which defies the oncoming age of the Scarlet Woman.].

2/14/2020 Open Doors CEO: International Religious Freedom Alliance stepping in the right direction toward ending persecution by OAN Newsroom
File- The cross on the steeple of a church in Henryville, Ind. is seen. (Michael Conroy/AP Photo)
    The CEO of the Christian-aid organization ‘Open Doors‘ has applauded the Trump administration’s efforts to end religious persecution.
    David Curry said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s launch of the International Religious Freedom Alliance is a good first-step in countering spiritual oppression.    He has called religious persecution “the issue of our time” as his charity tracks injustice trends around the world.
    Pompeo announced the coalition earlier this month, which brings 27 nations together over the common goal of advocating for the freedoms of their citizens.
    “Every human being has the right to believe in whatever it is they wish, to change their faith or to hold no faith at all,” stated the U.S. secretary of state.    “Indeed, we must affirm and fight for that truth now more than ever…more than eight in ten people in the world today live where they cannot practice their faith freely.”
    Curry said he is hopeful that the alliance may help encourage nations who have remained neutral or even negative toward religious freedom to shift their priorities.

2/17/2020 All Raphael’s tapestries return to Sistine Chapel after centuries by Philip Pullella
A tapestry designed by Renaissance artist Raphael is installed on a lower wall of the Sistine Chapel at the
Vatican as part of celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of his death in this handout photo released
on February 17, 2020. Governatorato SCV © Direzione dei Musei/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Putting more masterpieces in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to join his ceiling frescoes and Last Judgement wall might seem as superfluous as adding more diamonds to the Crown Jewels.
    But the creator of those masterpieces is Raphael, Michelangelo’s Renaissance contemporary and rival, so the Vatican has made an exception for a brief stay.
    For the first time in centuries, all 12 tapestries designed by Raphael have been hung on the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel as part of celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
    “They were conceived for this space and so we thought it was the best way to celebrate,” Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, told Reuters.
    The tapestries, which were weaved in Brussels by the famed studio of Pieter van Aelst from Raphael’s sketches, depict scenes from the Acts of the Apostles, such as The Stoning of St. Stephen and St. Paul Preaching in Athens.
    For the next week, they are back in the Sistine Chapel, where they were between the time Michelangelo finished painting the ceiling in 1512 and when he began painting the massive Last Judgement wall behind the main altar in 1536.
    All 12, made with silk, wool and gold and silver thread, have been painstakingly restored by Vatican Museum conservationists in the last 10 years.
    “This place is of universal importance, not only for visual arts but for our faith,” Jatta said, standing in the Sistine Chapel.    “So we really want to share this beauty with people, even if only for one week.”
    Seven of the tapestries, commissioned by Pope Leo X, were hung in the chapel on St. Stephen’s day, Dec. 26, 1519.
    Raphael was probably there to see them but he died four months later at the age of 37.    The others were finished after his death.
    “The last record that we have of all of them being hung in the Sistine is from the late 1500s,” Alessandra Rodolfo, the curator of the exhibition, told Reuters.
    Previous exhibitions, some of which lasted only a few hours or a day, included only the 10 larger tapestries, some measuring about six by five meters.    Two of the twelve are narrow and hung vertically as borders.
    A selection are normally on display on rotation behind glass in climate-controlled spaces in the Vatican Museums.
    The Vatican Museums’ conservationists and restorers allowed all 12 of the delicate tapestries to be put on show at the same time for only a week, in part to protect them and in part because some will be on loan to other museums.
    One will be going soon to Rome’s Quirinale Palace’s Scuderie museums and another will be going to the National Gallery in London later this year.
    “It’s exactly what Pope Francis is asking us, which is to share and to be a museum open to everybody and to share our beauty,” Jatta said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

2/18/2020 State to pay $150,000 in license plate battle by Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will be out more than $150,000 after losing a legal battle to a man who wanted to put “IM GOD” on his license plate.
    In November, a federal judge in Frankfort gave Ben Hart the OK to get the controversial license plate after a three-year legal battle against the cabinet.
    Hart applied for the license in 2016 but was denied because it didn’t “meet requirements.”
    Kentucky statute allows for personalized license plates as long as the letters do not discriminate against anyone because of their sex, race, color, religion or nationality.
    In Hart’s case, the court ruled that vanity plates were private speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment.     On Monday, a judge ordered the Transportation Cabinet to pay out $150,715.50 in attorneys’ fees and an additional $491.24 for court costs.
    Lawyers for the cabinet fought the costs, calling them excessive and arguing that Hart didn’t actually succeed in convincing the judge that the vanity plate statute was unconstitutional on its face but merely was allowed to get the license plate he wanted.
    A judge overruled those arguments.    The attorneys’ fees will go to a team of lawyers, including lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which both backed Hart in the suit.
    Reach breaking news reporter Sarah Ladd at    Follow her on Twitter at @ladd_sarah.Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-
Psalm 82:6 (KJV) 'I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High."
John 10:34-35 (KJV) 34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;].

2/18/2020 Vatican police make new raid in investigation of London property deal by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Saint Peter's Square in seen from top of the basilica at the Vatican, March 31, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Vatican police raided the home and office of a senior Catholic Church official on Tuesday, seizing documents and computers in the latest phase of an investigation into the purchase of luxury London real estate.
    The raid targeting Monsignor Alberto Perlasca followed the suspension last year of five Vatican employees, the resignation of the Vatican’s police chief and the departure of the former head of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF). Perlasca, 59, could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Though he is currently a magistrate in a Vatican tribunal, the accusations against Perlasca involve his previous position as head of administration of the Secretariat of State, a Vatican statement said. He held that post until last July.
    The official Vatican News website said separately that Perlasca was suspected of embezzlement, abuse of office and corruption.
    The Vatican statement said the police raid resulted from questioning of the five employees suspended after a similar police raid on Oct. 1 on the offices of the AIF and of the Secretariat of State – the administrative heart of the Church.
    The investigation involves suspected irregularities in the estimated $200 million purchase of a building in London’s Chelsea district several years ago as an investment using Church funds.
    Pope Francis and other Vatican officials have defended using Church money for real estate investments as long as they are ethical.    He said last year Church money should not be “kept in a drawer
    Cardinal Angelo Becciu, also a former top official of the Secretariat of State, said on Monday the value of the London investment had tripled but that unspecified middlemen had behaved improperly.
    In November, the pope acknowledged there had been suspected corruption related to the purchase but said he was glad that its discovery stemmed from whistle blowers inside the Vatican instead of information coming from outside.
    The pope said this showed that new internal financial controls were working in the Vatican, a tiny city-state surrounded by Rome.    Last Saturday he said the real estate affair had “caused disorientation and unease” among Catholic faithful.
    One of the five employees suspended after the Oct. 1 raid was Tommaso di Ruzza, the AIF director, or number two.    The AIF has denied all wrongdoing.
    Following the first raids, the Egmont Group of world financial intelligence units suspended the Vatican from full membership because of concerns about the AIF’s ability to keep confidential documents secure.
    In November, the pope did not renew the five-year mandate of Swiss lawyer and anti-money laundering expert Rene Bruelhart as head of the AIF and appointed Carmelo Barbagallo, a respected senior Bank of Italy official, to succeed.
    The Vatican was fully re-admitted to the Toronto-based group last month following negotiations with Barbagallo.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/19/2020 Mandatory vasectomy at age 50 in Alabama?    New bill proposed to counter abortion ban by Kristin Lam, USA TODAY
    A proposed Alabama law would require that all men get a vasectomy after they turn 50 or after the birth of their third child, whichever comes first.
    The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Rolanda Hollis, said the measure gives perspective to reproductive health laws, including the state’s contested abortion ban.
    “It always takes two to tango,” she told    “We can’t put all the responsibility on women. Men need to be responsible also.”
    Hollis said the proposal is meant to “neutralize” the Human Life Protection Act passed last summer, which would make performing an abortion a Class A felony, punishable by life or 10 to 99 years in prison.    A federal judge blocked the ban in October, and a lawsuit is pending.
    If passed by the Republican-controlled state government, the bill introduced last week would require men to pay for their vasectomy.    The proposal has drawn criticism from outside the state, including from Sen. Ted Cruz, RTexas.
    “Yikes,” Cruz tweeted Sunday.    “A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything … literally!
    While the abortion ban was under consideration, Democratic state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures proposed adding an amendment to make undergoing a vasectomy a felony, but the effort failed.
    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forced sterilization is unconstitutional, but during the 20th century, the federal government funded coerced sterilization of people of color, disabled people and poor people in 32 states, PBS reported.
Contributing: The Associated Press

2/20/2020 Beshear advocates for LGBTQ-rights bill, against ‘conversion therapy’ by Joe Sonka, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    FRANKFORT — Gov. Andy Beshear spoke at an LGBTQ-rights rally in the Capitol on Wednesday, advocating for a statewide fairness law and a bill banning “conversion therapy.”
    “Kentucky cannot reach its full potential if all of our people don’t feel supported to be themselves,” Beshear said.    “Discrimination against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is absolutely unacceptable in this commonwealth.”
    The rally, held by the Louisvillebased Fairness Campaign every legislative session, featured activists and legislators advocating for those bills and against a slew of bills targeting transgender youth.    Addressing the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda, Beshear said: “I’m proud to be the first sitting governor to attend this fairness rally.”
    “I’m here for a simple reason.    As governor, it’s my job to make sure that every single Kentuckian counts, and we’re here to fight to make sure that every Kentuckian counts.”
    Beshear threw his support behind legislation banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, which has failed to pass either chamber in each legislative session over the past decade.
    Noting that 18 municipalities in Kentucky have passed such an LGBTQ fairness ordinance, Beshear said, “That’s a pretty good start, but Kentuckians in every other city or municipality can still be fired, denied housing or kicked out of public spaces just because of who they are.    That is not how we treat our neighbors in the state of Kentucky.”
    A statewide fairness bill and a bill banning “conversion therapy” have been filed in both chambers. While the dozens of sponsors of the House bills are all Democrats, several sponsors of the Senate bills are Republicans, including Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville.     Beshear said Kentucky “must also end the hurtful, dangerous practice of ‘conversion therapy,’” a scientifically discredited practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
    Noting an estimate by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention organization, that 42% of LGBTQ youth who have experienced “conversion therapy
” have attempted suicide, Beshear said, “We ought to have every single vote in both of these chambers to ban ‘conversion therapy’ this session.”
    Beshear told reporters after his speech that he wasn’t afraid of any potential political backlash for attending the rally, saying “it took too long” for a Kentucky governor to finally do so.
    Reach reporter Joe Sonka at jsonka@ or 502-582-447 2 and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear attends a rally held by the Fairness Campaign to advance LGBTQ rights on Wednesday in the Rotunda at the state Capitol. The governor advocated for a statewide fairness law. BRYAN WOOLSTON/AP

2/20/2020 No ‘smoking gun’ in wartime archives of Pius XII on Holocaust, Vatican says by Philip Pullella
Artefacts from wartime archives on Pope Pius XII, who reigned from 1939-1958, are displayed ahead of the
full opening of the secret archives to scholars on March 2, in this still image taken from
video released on February 20, 2020, at the Vatican. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican will on March 2 open up its archives on the wartime pontificate of Pius XII to allow scholars to probe accusations that he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, but they will find he helped Jews behind the scenes, Holy See officials say.
    “I don’t think you will find a smoking gun,” Father Norbert Hofmann, the top Vatican official in charge of religious relations with Jews, told Reuters in an interview in his office.
    Jews have for many years been seeking transparency from the Vatican on its actions during the Holocaust, and the order from Pope Francis to open the archives will allow historians and other scholars to peruse them for the next few years.
    Some Jews have long accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of doing little to help those facing persecution by Nazi Germany and failing to speak out forcefully against the Holocaust, in which around six million Jews were killed.
    The Vatican says Pius worked quietly to save Jews and thereby not worsen the situation for many others at risk, including Catholics in parts of Nazi-occupied Europe.
    When Francis announced the opening of the archives last year, he said the Church was “not afraid of history,” a theme repeated on Thursday at a presentation for reporters by Vatican archivists.
    Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Archives, said documents from the World War Two period contain millions of pages divided into 121 sections divided by topics.
    The consulting area in the archives offices can accommodate 60 scholars at a time and all the space has been booked for the rest of the year, Pagano said.    The scholars include some from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.     “We will not pass judgment for now.    We will leave that to scholars.    The material is there.    It is diversified,” Pagano said.
    “We will leave each person to draw their own conclusions but we have no fear.    The good (that Pius did) was so great that it will dwarf the few shadows,” he said.
    David Kertzer, a Brown University professor who has written several books about the papacy and the Jews, said scholars were indebted to the Vatican for making the archives available but one had to keep an open mind about what might be found in them.
    “It’s true that one should not be thinking in terms of ‘scoops’ and serious scholars need to have a larger picture in mind than looking at a single document,” said Kertzer, who will be one of the first scholars to view the archives.
    “But clearly there’s nervousness in the Vatican and among proponents of Pius XII, and the push to make him a saint, about what might come out of these archives,” he told Reuters.
    “Pius saw his job as protecting the institutional Church and everything else was secondary.”
    Pope Francis has said Pius’ legacy has been treated with “some prejudice and exaggeration.”
    Two weeks ago he recalled in a message to Rome officials that many convents and churches in the Italian capital hid Jews from the Nazis during the German occupation.
    “Pius XII was a diplomat and he was a very shy character and a very, very cautious man,” Hofmann, who is German, said in the interview.    “And under the circumstances of the occupation it would have been difficult to shout out loudly.”
    Asked about the Church’s position that Pius did what he could under the wartime circumstances, Pagano said: “The new documents will further corroborate and reinforce this.”
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/21/2020 Constitution would include no right to abortion under quickly moving bill by Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    FRANKFORT – A bill to add language to the state constitution stating that it provides no right to abortion shot through a House committee Thursday in 10 minutes after Rep. Kevin Bratcher, the chairman, cut off discussion, saying the panel was out of time.
    The move prompted outrage by some committee members who opposed the bill as well as a group that appeared to speak against it and was cut off midway through its members’ testimony.
    “This is a very important issue,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Shively Democrat and House minority leader who voted against the measure, House Bill 67.    “There is no reason to rush this through.”
    Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Louisville Democrat, agreed.
    “It not only is disappointing, it is a disgrace,” he said.
    The decision also left Danielle Stone, from Western Kentucky, who had planned to testify, near tears after Bratcher, R-Louisville, cut off testimony before she could speak.
    Stone, who said she became pregnant and had an abortion after she was raped at age 15, had planned to read a written statement that she opposed the bill because it makes no provisions for women who become pregnant from sexual assault.
    “The prospect of carrying this pregnancy was agonizing,” her statement said.    “I knew the best decision for me was abortion.”
    Also testifying was Kristia Miller, a Somerset native who spoke before Bratcher cut off testimony.    Miller said after she became pregnant while in an abusive relationship with a man who gave her black eyes and a broken nose, and she had abortions to end the pregnancies.
    “I oppose House Bill 67 because the government should never force anyone to stay pregnant against their will,” her statement said.
    Bratcher defended the decision to limit discussion, saying the committee was out of time after a discussion on another measure, Senate Bill 2, a controversial voter ID bill, took nearly two hours of discussion before it was approved.
    And not everyone was disappointed after the bill passed the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on a vote of 11-7.
    Margie Montgomery, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said she was pleased to see the bill advance.
    “It is a very exciting time,” she said.
    HB 67, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, would ask voters to approve the following language to be added to the Kentucky Constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to an abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
    It now goes to the full House for a vote.
    On Wednesday, a separate bill creating a “conscience” exemption for health providers passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, would prohibit discrimination and limit liability against health providers who decline to perform certain services, such as abortion.    They are among half a dozen bills pending in the current legislative session to limit or ban abortion and follow a wave of such legislation enacted after Republicans took control of both chambers of the General Assembly in 2017.
    Last year, lawmakers passed four such bills all signed into law by former Gov. Matt Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican, though two have been temporarily blocked by federal lawsuits, including the “fetal heartbeat” law that bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected in a fetus, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy.
    Opponents have said it would essentially ban abortion in Kentucky because few women realize they are pregnant and are able to schedule abortions before six weeks.
Reach Deborah Yetter at dyetter@ or 502-582-4228.    Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: subscribe.

2/21/2020 Deaf Argentine victims of clergy sexual abuse protest at Vatican by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests at a school for the deaf in Argentina, their advocates
and lawyers, stage a protest at the Vatican, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Philip Pullella/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests at a school for the deaf in Argentina staged a protest at the Vatican on Friday to bring attention to an upcoming trial of more alleged abusers.
    Last November a court in the province of Mendoza convicted two priests and the former gardener at a Catholic Church-run school on 28 counts of sexual abuse and corruption of minors.
    Trials for about 10 others who worked at the Antonio Provolo Institute for the deaf, including teachers and a nun, are expected to start in a few months.    They are accused of abetting the abuse by the priests.
    About 20 people, including several former students, held up signs reading “Zero Tolerance,” “Don’t Forget,” and “We Are Not Going Away” in front of the building housing the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith, which handles abuse cases.    The victims’ lawyers and other victims of abuse were among those who joined the protest.
    “Church officials in Argentina are not cooperating with civil authorities and not cooperating with prosecutors concerning the rape and sexual abuse of dozens of deaf children in Argentina,” Peter Isely, a founder of the advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), told Reuters at the demonstration.
    The case in Argentina and a similar one at a school for the deaf in Italy have prompted outrage because of the particular vulnerability of the children and their difficulty in communicating about the crimes.
    ECA and several other groups of victims traveled to Rome to mark the first anniversary of a Church summit on sexual abuse at the Vatican.
    They say Pope Francis and Vatican officials have not done enough to make bishops and other members of the Catholic Church hierarchy accountable for the cover-up of sexual abuse.
    The two priests convicted in last November’s trial were given sentences of 42 and 45 years in prison respectively while the school employee was given 18 years.    They are appealing the ruling.
    The Catholic Church around the world is still struggling to come to grips with the worldwide crisis, most of which involves cases of abuse that happened decades ago.
    It has devastated the Church’s credibility and dented its coffers.    About two dozen dioceses in the United States alone have filed for bankruptcy because of mounting lawsuits.
    A number of U.S. states have also changed statutes of limitations law enabling victims to file for damages for abuse that occurred decades ago.
(The story refiles to correct spelling of surname in paragraph 5 to Isely, not Isley)
(Additional reporting by Lucila Sigal in Buenos Aires; Editing by Susan Fenton)

2/23/2020 Ky. ponders benefits for LGBTQ vets - Bill would ‘fix some of the damage’ already done by Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Veterans in Kentucky who were dishonorably discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity would be able to have their state benefits restored under a House bill filed this week.
    State Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, introduced House Bill 468 on Thursday and said it aims to 'fix some of the damage done to our courageous veterans who served with valor and courage.'    'This bill rights a historic wrong and ends discrimination against military personnel because of who they love and who they are,' Minter told The Courier Journal.
    Veterans who were removed from the military due to their 'actual or perceived sexual orientiation or gender identity' or were given a 'diagnosis...meant to conceal that the discharge was solely due to' their sexual orientation or gender identity would receive help under the bill.
    LGBTQ veterans who received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury or those who experienced and disclosed 'military sexual trauma' could also have their benefits restored under HB 468.
    State benefits available to Kentucky's veterans can include the use of four long-term care facilities, income and property tax deductions, tuition waivers, recreation-related discounts for things like fishing licenses and state park admission and the right to be buried in state veterans cemeteries.
    At the federal level, Minter said LGBTQ veterans have received more support, especially after the 2011 repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
    However, federal legislation similar to Minter's proposal has been introduced over the years but not passed Congress.    Estimates have found over 100,000 LGBTQ members of the U.S. military from World War II onward received less-than-honorable discharges.
    Today, each VA facility in the country, including Kentucky's facilities in Lexington and Louisville, has a local LGBT Veteran Care Coordinator.
    Though its intent seems straightforward, Minter's bill includes some language that was a bit disappointing to Denny Meyer, public affairs officer for the nonprofit American Veterans for Equal Rights, which is the nation's largest all-volunteer LGBTQ veterans service organization Meyer said the concerning language in HB 468 is how the bill applies to 'a discharged LGBTQ veteran with other than a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge.'
    Meyer pointed out that 'you could get 'bad conduct' for many reasons,' with one example being an LGBTQ soldier fighting back verbally or physically against superiors or fellow soldiers who ridicule them for their sexuality.
    Proving that a discharge was solely due to one's sexuality can be difficult, advocates say.
    Over his 60 years as an activist, Meyer said he has seen similar proposals in other states include such 'legalistic' language that makes the bills 'null and void.'
    'It's just a lot of wind,' Meyer said.
    The Republican supermajority in Kentucky's General Assembly could also result in some difficulties in passing the bill, Meyer said.
    But Minter said her bill has cosponsors so far from both the Republican and Democratic parties.
    Estimates have found that over 1 million LGBTQ veterans currently live in the U.S. While Kentucky is home to roughly 300,000 veterans, Minter said an estimate on the number of LGBTQ vets in the Bluegrass State is unknown.
    But she hopes her bill could help raise more awareness about LGBTQ veterans, bring more of them forward and allow state officials to get a more accurate count of them.
    Minter spoke about her bill Thursday during a LGBTQ-rights rally in the Capitol that Gov. Andy Beshear also attended.    The legislation that Beshear and other attendees are advocating for include a statewide fairness law and a bill banning 'conversion therapy' in Kentucky.
    Reach Billy Kobin at or 502-582-7030. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade voted in 2014 to allow gay veterans to march in the 2015 parade, a turnaround
for the organization. Now, veterans in Kentucky who were dishonorably discharged from the military due to their
sexual orientation or gender identity would be able to have their state benefits restored under a House bill. AP FILE

2/23/2020 Pope appears to give thumbs down to Trump’s Mideast peace plan by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    BARI, Italy (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
    Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
    “The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups,” Francis said.
    “Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises,” he said.
    The participants included Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, whose jurisdiction includes Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
    It was believed to be the first time the pope, who has often defended both Palestinian rights and Israel’s need for security, has spoken in public about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Trump announced the plan on Jan. 28.
    The plan would recognize Israel’s authority over West Bank Jewish settlements and require Palestinians meet a series of conditions for a state, with its capital in a West Bank village east of Jerusalem.
    Although Trump’s stated aim was to end decades of conflict, his plan favored Israel, underlined by the Palestinians’ absence from his White House announcement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side.
    The Palestinians and Arab League foreign ministers have rejected the plan and the Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the United States and Israel.
    Palestinians, with broad international backing, want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, while Israel views the whole city its “united and eternal” capital.
    The pope expressed concern in 2018 when the United States announced the moving of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying the city’s “status quo” should be respected.    Francis has called for all to honor U.N. resolutions on the city.
    “There is no reasonable alternative to peace, because every attempt at exploitation or supremacy demeans both its author and its target.    It shows a myopic grasp of reality, since it can offer no future to either of the two,” Francis said, speaking in general about the Middle East.     Francis again warned against populist politicians who he said used “demagogic terms” such as “invasion” when talking of migration.
    To be sure, acceptance and a dignified integration are stages in a process that is not easy.    Yet it is unthinkable that we can address the problem by putting up walls,” he said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella. Editing by Jane Merriman)
[We can clearly tell now that the Pope is on the side of the Globalist and World Government control as it says in Revelation the Scarlet Woman will ride on the back of the Beast and I have told you who the Beast is.].

2/26/2020 ‘Conscience’ bill could restrict abortion, other care, critics say by Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Any health care worker could refuse to provide treatment that violates his or her conscience under a bill pending in the state Senate.
    It’s a measure critics say could limit patient access to a host of services, such as abortion, contraceptives or care for transgender individuals.
    Insurance companies also could refuse to pay in such cases under Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield.
    Meredith said it is aimed solely at providing protection for health care workers under pressure to provide certain treatments or medication they oppose in a rapidly changing climate of medical advances.
    “This is not intended to deny health care to anyone,” Meredith, a retired hospital CEO, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing last week.
    “We are advancing at warp speed,” he said.    “God only knows what the future looks like for life and death experiences.”
    Opponents, including Planned Parenthood, the state Fairness Campaign, the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition and the Kentucky Association of     Sexual Assault Programs, argued it could curtail care for health services ranging from abortion and psychological counseling to treatment for rape victims.
    “I think it’s a bad bill, and its going to put discrimination into the statutes,” said Sheila Schuster, a psychologist and executive director of the mental health group.
    Several health providers spoke in favor of the bill, including Dr. Steven House, a Glasgow physician who said doctors “should not be forced to participate in treatments that conflict with their morals, religion or their beliefs.”
    Dr. Lewis Hicks, a retired obstetrician and gynecologist, said he’s still troubled by an abortion he assisted in as a young medical resident as part of cancer surgery on a pregnant woman.    Hicks said he believed he had to assist despite “my conscience screaming at me.”
    But critics said the bill is so broadly written that anyone at any health care facility, including the receptionist at the front desk or the janitor cleaning the building, could object to allowing services for someone.
    The bill allows “any person who may be or is asked to participate in a health care service” to refuse without fear of reprisal from the employer or civil liability.    It also allows insurance companies that object to certain services to refuse payment.
    Individuals may base objection on “religious, moral, ethical or philosophical beliefs or principles.”    Health insurance companies may refuse to pay based on “governing documents,” according to the bill.    SB 90 also allows the individual to sue if they have been injured through disciplinary action, such as being fired or demoted over a refusal to provide a health care service.
    And it includes students, such as medical residents or those studying nursing or psychology.
    SB 90 passed the Senate committee over objections of several members, including Sen. Robin Webb, a Grayson Democrat who said the language was so broad, almost anyone could refuse care for any service.
    “I’m a hunter,” she said.    “What if I fall out of my tree stand and get somebody from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that has a conscience objection to treating me?
    While Webb acknowledged some might find that example “laughable,” it would be possible under SB 90.
    Others who spoke against SB 90 raised more immediate concerns.
    Sara Hall, with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the bill would allow a hospital receptionist who objects to ending pregnancies to turn away someone experiencing a miscarriage.
    A pharmacist could refuse to dispense birth control medication, and an insurance company employee could refuse to process payments for vaccinations based on individual beliefs, she said.
    Jeremy McFarland, of Louisville, a transgender man, said he experienced great difficulty finding a therapist as a teenager in Southern Kentucky when he began having suicidal thoughts.    Later, when he began his transition, a local pharmacist stopped filling his prescriptions, he said.
    “I remember feeling so ashamed,” he said.    “When you’re denied health care, you’re being denied your dignity.”
    Laela Kashan, a staff lawyer with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, said her organization sees potential problems in treatment for rape victims.
    Some Kentucky hospitals in the past have turned away such patients, saying they are not equipped to perform examinations for sexual assaults even though they are not supposed to do so under state law “This happens already,” said Kashan, who said her organization is working with hospitals to improve access in such cases.
    Chris Hartman, with the Fairness Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, said Kentucky law already included protections for people based on religious beliefs and for health providers who don’t wish to assist in abortion care.
    The bill now goes to the Senate for further action.
    Reach Deborah Yetter at dyetter@ or 502-582-4228. Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter.    Support strong local journalism:
Sen. Stephen Meredith, the bill’s sponsor, says it “is not intended to deny health care to anyone.”

2/26/2020 McConnell forces vote on abortion measures - Bills fail as GOP focuses on issue before election by Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Although he has been previously against “show votes” on measures that have little chance of passing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made his colleagues vote Tuesday on two bills related to abortion, a divisive issue that Republicans are focusing on ahead of the 2020 elections.
    “Today, every senator will be able to take a clear moral stand,” McConnell said Tuesday morning on the Senate floor.    “We’ll have the chance to proceed to common sense legislation that would move our nation closer to the international mainstream with respect to defending innocent human life.”
    Both bills failed.
    The Kentucky Republican’s move to hold a vote on the two anti-abortion measures, which have failed to pass in previous years, is seen as an effort to force vulnerable Democrats into voting on a hot-button issue with elections looming.
    McConnell is also hoping to build enthusiasm among socially conservative voters who represent a key part of the GOP and President Donald Trump’s base.
    But numerous Democrats and abortion-rights advocates are criticizing McConnell’s decision to allow a vote on two measures while blocking votes on hundreds of other bills related to issues such as gun control and election security.    McConnell in fact, has nicknamed himself the “Grim Reaper” because he has turned the Senate into a graveyard for Democratic proposals.
    The first bill, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” would ban abortion at 20 weeks, which is based on a scientifically disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain at that point.
    McConnell was joined by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in support of the measure, which failed with a vote of 53-44.
    Sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the measure took aim at the 24week threshold established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
    McConnell said Tuesday morning that the United States is one of only seven nations left in the world “where an unborn child can be killed by elective abortion after 20 weeks.”
    “Set aside all the far-left rhetoric that will greet Sen. Graham’s straightforward legislation and consider this simple fact,” McConnell said.    “Do our Democratic colleagues really believe that what our country needs is a radical fringe position on elective abortion that we only share with China, North Korea and four other countries in the world?
    A version of Graham’s bill failed in 2018 to get the needed 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster.
    Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia backed the 2018 measure, while Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska opposed it.
    Republicans needed all 53 members and seven Democrats to support a roll call vote.
    Still, McConnell said he saw “no reason why — at the very, very least — our Democratic colleagues should vote against even proceeding to this legislation and having this debate.”
    “If my Democratic colleagues block the Senate from even proceeding to debate this legislation later today, the message they send will be chilling and clear: The radical demands of the farleft will drown out common sense and the views of most Americans,” McConnell said.
    The Republican leader said the same goes for the second bill that senators struck down Tuesday, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which failed with a vote of 56-41.
    Sponsored by Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, the bill would have required abortion providers to try to “preserve the life and health” of any infant born after a failed abortion or face up to five years in prison.
    After the bill failed to move forward after a 53-44 vote last year in the Senate, Trump falsely conflated the measure with infanticide, which is already illegal under federal law, and tweeted that Democrats “don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth.”
    Critics of Sasse’s bill, versions of which have been introduced in several states, including Kentucky, have argued it is unnecessary and that medical ethics require any health professional to take appropriate steps to save the life of any infant in such circumstances.
    Senate Democrats were critical of McConnell’s move to hold a vote on the abortion measures, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York accusing McConnell of wasting the chamber’s time on “legislation that is purely an attack on women’s health care.”
    McConnell said that even if most “Washington Democrats persist in their resistance to any common sense protections for the unborn, surely we must be able to agree that children who are born deserve protection.    Surely that much cannot be controversial.”
    “The Kentuckians I speak with cannot comprehend why this would be some hotly debated proposition.    It almost defies belief that an entire political party could find cause to object to this basic protection for babies,” McConnell said.    “And yet, today, we will see whether our Democratic colleagues permit the Senate to even proceed to this legislation."
    “We’ll see whether even something this simple and this morally straightforward is a bridge too far for the far left.”
    Reporter Sarah Ladd contributed to this report.    Reach Billy Kobin at bkobin@ or 502-582-7030.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on
Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. SUSAN WALSH/AP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the vote was held so that
every senator will be able to take a clear moral stand.” J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

2/26/2020 Pope leads world’s Catholics into Lent at Ash Wednesday rite by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday in Rome, Italy, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    ROME (Reuters) – Pope Francis led the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics into the penitential season of Lent, reminding them on Ash Wednesday that everyone will be “dust in the universe” regardless of their status on earth.
    The pope presided at a traditional service leading a procession between two churches on the streets of Rome and saying Mass, opening the 40-day season that leads to Easter.
    Cardinal Jozef Tomko, 95, rubbed ashes on the pontiff’s head and then Francis rubbed them on the heads of others, in an age-old ritual to remind people of their mortality.
    “The dust sprinkled on our heads brings us back to earth; it reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.    We are weak, frail and mortal,” he said in his sermon.
    “Centuries and millennia pass and we come and go; before the immensity of galaxies and space, we are nothing.    We are dust in the universe,” he said.
    During Lent, which is marked by repentance, fasting and reflection, the faithful are also called on to practice more good deeds, such as alms giving, and to be particularly close to the needy and the suffering.
    “All around us, we see the dust of death.    Lives reduced to ashes.    Rubble, destruction, war.    The lives of unwelcomed innocents, the lives of the excluded poor, the lives of the abandoned elderly,” he said.
    During Lent, Catholics are called on to give up something, such as sweets.
    Earlier on Wednesday, at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Francis added a modern twist to the list of things to quit during the season and beyond: insulting people on social media.
    Some Ash Wednesday services were canceled or limited in areas of northern Italy hit by the spread of coronavirus.
    Five days after the first case was confirmed in northern Italy, more than 300 new infected people were reported, mostly in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, 12 people have died and accusations are mounting that the emergency has been mishandled.
    A number of people wore masks in St. Peter’s Square at the Wednesday audience but only one person was seen wearing one at the pope’s Ash Wednesday service.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/26/2020 Trip to Iraq this year off, pope says by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis holds the weekly general audience at Vatican, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis indicated on Wednesday he would not be visiting Iraq this year as he had hoped to do.
    His improvised comments to a group of visiting Iraqis during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square were his clearest yet that the potentially dangerous trip had been indefinitely postponed.
    “To you citizens of Iraq, I say I am very close to you.    You are (in) a battleground.    You suffer war, from one side and the other,” he said.    “I pray for you and I pray for your country, where a visit by me had been programmed for this year.”
    The pope first said in June that he wanted to visit Iraq, birthplace of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, in 2020.
    But security concerns meant that the trip was never announced by the Vatican and preparations never reached a formal stage.
    Iraq’s small Christian population of several hundred thousand suffered particular hardships when Islamic State controlled large parts of the country, but have recovered freedoms since the jihadists were pushed out.
    Last month, Francis met Iraqi President Barham Salih and the two agreed that the country’s national sovereignty must be respected, following attacks on its territory by the United States and Iran.
    Iranian forces fired missiles from Iran at two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops on Jan. 8 in retaliation for Washington’s killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike a Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.
    Shortly after the Iranian attack, Francis urged the United States and Iran to avoid escalation and pursue “dialogue and self-restraint” to avert a wider conflict in the Middle East.
    The Christian presence in Iraq, and some other countries in the Middle East, has been depleted over the years by wars and conflicts.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/27/2020 Attorney General William Barr: Leftist media advance ‘tyranny of majority’ in U.S. by OAN Newsroom
Attorney General William Barr speaks at the National Religious Broadcasters
Convention Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
    Attorney General William Barr has criticized the mainstream media over its widespread left-wing bias.    While speaking at a religious broadcaster’s event in Nashville this week, Barr stated that major news outlets have become “massively consolidated” and “remarkably monolithic in viewpoint.”
    He added the mainstream media today is unable to perform its constitutional duty of preventing “the tyranny of the majority.”    This comes amid fierce media attacks on Barr over his handling of Roger Stone’s case.
    The attorney general claimed corporate media has effectively suppressed the diversity of viewpoints.
    “When the entire press advances along the same track, as Tocqueville put it, the relationship between the press and the energized majority becomes mutually reinforcing,” stated Barr.    “The key to restoring the press in that vital role is to cultivate a greater diversity of voices in the media.”
    He also praised Christian outlets for sharing an alternative view and preventing America from a “slide towards despotism.”
Attorney General William Barr, right, waits as he is introduced by National Religious Broadcasters general counsel
Craig Parshall, left, before speaking at the group’s convention Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

2/27/2020 Pope ‘slightly indisposed’, cancels one event, Vatican says by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis waves during the weekly general audience at Vatican, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis is slightly indisposed and has canceled an event at a Rome basilica but is carrying out the rest of his schedule in his residence, the Vatican said on Thursday.
    “Because of a slight indisposition, he preferred to stay inside Santa Marta,” the Vatican said, referring to the Vatican guest house where the 83-year-old pontiff lives.
    “All other commitments will go ahead regularly,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
    The Vatican released a picture of the pope and Cardinal Antonio Tagle, a Filipino who has just started in a new post in the Vatican, meeting on Thursday morning with members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, an international environmental group.    The meeting took place in a building steps from the guest house.
    The pope appeared to have a cold and spoke with a slightly hoarse voice at his general audience on Wednesday and coughed during an afternoon Ash Wednesday service in a Rome church.
    Francis is missing a part of one lung.    It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after he suffered from tuberculosis, according to biographer Austen Ivereigh.
    He also suffers some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he undergoes regular physical therapy and which explains his occasional difficulty climbing>     But he is in generally good health and has been able to endure about four grueling international trips each year since his election in 2013.
    The pope had been due to go to the Basilica of St. John’s in Lateran on Thursday morning for a Lenten service with Roman priests.
    Some Lent Ash Wednesday services were canceled or limited in areas of northern Italy hit by the spread of coronavirus.
    More than 400 people have contracted the disease and 12 have died of it in Italy, in the worst contagion from the coronavirus so far recorded in Europe.
    A number of people wore masks in St. Peter’s Square at the Wednesday audience but only one person was seen wearing one at the pope’s Ash Wednesday service.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, Editing by William Maclean and Alexandra Hudson)

2/28/2020 Dems call for GOP senator to resign after ‘homophobic remarks’ at event by Ben Tobin, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    The Kentucky Democratic Party is calling on a state senator to resign over “homophobic remarks” he made at a campaign event for a special election.
    Over the weekend, Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, passed around a photo to a crowd in Sandy Hook of Gov. Andy Beshear posing with drag queens at the state Capitol last week, saying the Democratic Party is corrupting children. “These are the values that the Democratic Party of today is out there trying to convince our children is the right way to live,” said Wheeler, who was speaking at a campaign event for House District 99 Republican candidate Richard White on Saturday.
    “This is not only a fight for the soul of America,” Wheeler said.    “It’s a fight against evil for just the forces of decency.”
    White defeated Democrat Bill Redwine by about 1,000 votes in a special election on Tuesday to flip the seat of former Democratic leader Rocky Adkins, who held the seat for more than 30 years before he went to work in Beshear’s administration.    Kentucky Democrats pounced on Wheeler for his comments, with party spokeswoman Marisa McNee calling the senator “an embarrassment to the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
    Wheeler’s “hateful, ignorant comments do not have any place in the Statehouse,” McNee said in a statement Thursday.    “If Senator Wheeler does not resign, the Senate must censure him immediately.”
    In a phone call with The Courier Journal on Thursday, Wheeler said he is not resigning and that his comments were not a “gay issue.”
    Rather, he said he was critical of the clothing of drag queens with the Kentucky Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – one person wore a KFC bucket to represent a nun’s habit and another wore horns – and of Beshear for posing with the charitable group at a LGBTQ-rights rally in Frankfort on Feb. 19.
    “The problem I have is that this type of mocking behavior towards religious communities rubber-stamps it as OK, especially to children who are (touring) the Capitol every day,” Wheeler said.
    Wheeler added that he has a gay relative and doesn’t “have any problem with the pride community,” but it’s “right to call attention to the governor when he is posed with people mocking traditional values.”
    At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Beshear slammed Wheeler for his remarks, saying “to spread intolerance is antithetical to your role as a representative of the people.”
    The governor did not call on the state senator to resign.
    The comments were “absolutely homophobic,” Beshear said.    “I don’t think he’s the fashion police for the Capitol. I believe he owes each and every one of (the people in the photo) an apology.    They’re as much Kentuckians as anybody else.”
    Kentucky has two local chapters of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – the Derby City Sisters in Louisville and the Kentucky Fried Sisters in Lexington.
.     The vice president of the Louisville group, who goes by Guard Wolfie, said the organization has reached out to sit down and talk with Wheeler and White, but has not heard back.
    The organization is “not in the business of mocking religion,” Wolfie said, adding that the costumes harken back to the group’s founding when the Catholic Church “turned its back on the LGBTQ community and AIDS victims.”
    Wolfie added that, in Louisville, the Derby City Sisters work closely with several Christian organizations.
    In calling for Wheeler to resign, the Kentucky Democratic Party pointed to the senator’s prior racist Facebook posts in which he referred to Virginia’s governor as “Governor Ralph ‘Coon’ Northam” and then edited the post to read: “Governor Ralph ‘Coon-Man’ Northam.”
    Northam drew public outrage last year when he admitted to wearing blackface in a talent show and to appearing in a 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook photo that featured one person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe.
    Wheeler said he “regrets that he offended people, but I didn’t give the man his nickname.    I think it was in his yearbook. I think Gov. Northam has his own issues to answer for.”
    The Kentucky Democratic Party also called on the Republican Party of Kentucky and the party’s House and Senate caucuses to “not only disavow Wheeler and his remarks, but publicly pledge to stop anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and campaigning.”
    “Kentucky Republicans need to make it clear – verbal attacks against the LGBTQ community will not be tolerated,” McNee said.    “Homophobic campaign messaging will not be tolerated.    This type of campaigning is gross and dangerous.”
    In a statement, Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said that “everyone is welcome” at the state Capitol and that “everyone will be treated with respect and dignity regardless of whether we agree or disagree.
    “Anything else distracts from the strides we have made and the work we are doing to improve the quality of life for all Kentuckians and does not reflect the values of this Caucus or Rep. Elect Richard White as we know him,” Osborne said.
    Meanwhile, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he hadn’t seen the video of Wheeler’s comments or the drag queens’ photo with Beshear.    When reporters explained the context and asked him about Wheeler’s comments, Stivers said that “it’s not my place to make judgment
    “I have been interpreted on many occasions on things that I have said that I believe are totally wrong,” Stivers said.    “And so if (Wheeler) says he has no problem (with the LGBTQ community), I take him at his word.”
    A spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky did not return a phone call and an email requesting comment.
    Contact Ben Tobin at and 502-582-4181 or follow on Twitter @TobinBen.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
[I will stay with what GOD says about it.
You shall not lie with a male, as with a woman; it is an abomination” Leviticus 18:22.
Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God?    Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (transgender man to woman), nor abusers of themselves with mankind (homosexuals)” 1 Corinthians 6:9

2/28/2020 Pope to endorse principles on AI ethics with Microsoft, IBM by Jeffrey Dastin
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis waves during the weekly general audience at Vatican, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    (Reuters) – Vatican officials on Friday planned to release principles promoting the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI), with the backing of Microsoft Corp and International Business Machines Corp as the first two technology industry sponsors.
    The “Rome Call for AI Ethics” asserts that the technology should respect privacy, work reliably and without bias, consider “the needs of all human beings” and operate transparently – an area of ongoing research because AI systems’ decisions are often inscrutable.     The document reflects growing interest among companies and institutions to set guardrails for the fast-evolving technology.    Police have used facial recognition systems to investigate crimes, and Fortune 500 companies have used AI to vet job applicants – both examples of high-stakes tasks where deploying inaccurate or biased software could lead to harm.
    The Vatican’s initiative grew out of concerns that Pope Francis raised about AI and its effect on society more than a year ago, according to John Kelly III, executive vice president of IBM and one of the signatories.
    “His major concerns were, will it be available to everyone, or is it going to further bifurcate the haves and the have-not’s?” Kelly told Reuters in an interview.    Vatican officials also had concerns about AI displacing jobs and met with IBM in the United States at a research center in September, he said.
    Pope Francis was due to receive the document Friday to conclude a conference that the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life hosted this week on AI ethics.    Others participating included the European Parliament’s President David Sassoli and Microsoft’s President Brad Smith.
    It was not immediately clear which other technology companies might sign on to the document going forward, or how signatories would implement the principles.
    IBM for instance wants a doctor to be in the loop when its AI makes healthcare recommendations – something that may increase over time following a deal it announced this week with the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome.    That partnership will focus on developing technology to speed up diagnosis and treatment of brain tumor patients.
    Both IBM and Microsoft have said they turned down business when they felt uncomfortable with how a customer wanted to use their technology.    Still, according to Kelly, about a third of the ethics questions IBM typically faces have no obvious answer.
    “Going forward we’re going to see more falling in that category, only because the technology is advancing so fast,” he said.
(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
[I am surprised that the left has not tried to replace pastors and priests and popes with AI.    They can put all of the Bible in a computer file and saved for search.    So if they ever did this could happen.
    A man entered the church and went to the altar and pushed a button on the keyboard so the AI pastor could respond.    The AI pastor asked what are you here for?    The man said "I have sinned what should I do?    The AI pastor searched the database of the Bible ... and in a few seconds, it responded to the man the answer it found.    "IT SAID 'YOU ARE GOING TO HELL'"

2/28/2020 Vatican says pope ‘slightly unwell’, dismisses speculation by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the daily Santa Marta Mass at the Vatican, February 27, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican moved on Friday to dismiss speculation that Pope Francis was anything more than “slightly unwell” as the 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader canceled official audiences for the second day.
    The Vatican has not specified what the pope is suffering from.
    At his general audience on Wednesday he appeared to have a cold and spoke with a slightly hoarse voice, and he coughed during an afternoon Ash Wednesday service in a Rome church, his last appearance outside the Vatican.
    Spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement on Friday morning the pope had celebrated early morning Mass, as is customary, in the chapel of the Santa Marta guest house where he lives and greeted those who attended.
    “But he thought it was best to postpone today’s official audiences.    The meetings scheduled to take place in Santa Marta will take place regularly,” Bruni said.
    On Friday afternoon, Bruni said: “There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition.    Even this afternoon, the Holy Father’s meetings continued in Santa Marta."
    Bruni added that the pope was still “slightly unwell.”
    On Friday morning, Francis was to have received executives from Microsoft Corp , International Business Machines Corp , and other technology companies.
    His speech to them from the Apostolic Palace was to have been streamed to participants of a conference in Rome on ethics in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
    At the conference, Microsoft, IBM, the Vatican and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), signed a memo of understanding on AI.
    The pope usually spends mornings making speeches to groups and meeting heads of state in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
    But unlike previous popes, he chose not to live in its spacious papal apartments and opted for simple quarters in Santa Marta, where he spends the rest of the day mostly working on Church matters.
    On Thursday he canceled a visit to a Rome basilica.
    Francis is missing a part of one lung.    It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after he suffered from tuberculosis.
    He also suffers some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he undergoes regular physical therapy and which explains his occasional difficulty climbing steps.
    But he is otherwise in generally good health.
    Some Lent Ash Wednesday services were canceled or limited in areas of northern Italy hit by the spread of coronavirus.
    More than 400 people have contracted the disease and 12 have died of it in Italy, in the worst contagion from the coronavirus so far recorded in Europe.
    A number of people wore masks in St. Peter’s Square at his Wednesday general audience.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones)

2/28/2020 Vatican joins IBM, Microsoft to call for facial recognition regulation by Philip Pullella and Jeffrey Dastin
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis waves during the weekly general audience at Vatican, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican joined forces with tech giants Microsoft and IBM on Friday to promote the ethical development of artificial intelligence (AI) and call for regulation of intrusive technologies such as facial recognition.
    The three said AI should respect privacy, work reliably and without bias, consider human rights and operate transparently.
    Pope Francis, who has raised concerns about the uncontrolled spread of AI technologies, gave his backing in a speech read on his behalf at a conference attended by Microsoft president Brad Smith and IBM Executive Vice President John Kelly.    The pope is ill and could not deliver the address himself.
    Calling for the ethical development of algorithms, known as “algor-ethics,” Francis warned about the dangers of AI being used to extract data for commercial or political ends, often without the knowledge of individuals.
    “This asymmetry, by which a select few know everything about us while we know nothing about them, dulls critical thought and the conscious exercise of freedom,” he said in his message.
    “Inequalities expand enormously; knowledge and wealth accumulate in a few hands with grave risks for democratic societies,” he said.
    The joint document made a specific reference to the potential abuse of facial recognition technology.
    “New forms of regulation must be encouraged to promote transparency and compliance with ethical principles, especially for advanced technologies that have a higher risk of impacting human rights, such as facial recognition,” the document said.
    Police have used facial recognition systems to investigate crimes, and Fortune 500 companies have used AI to vet job applicants – both examples of high-stakes tasks where deploying inaccurate or biased software could lead to harm.
    It was not immediately clear whether other technology companies might sign up to the document, or how signatories would implement the principles.
    IBM, for example, wants a doctor to be in the loop when its AI technology makes healthcare recommendations – something that may increase over time following a deal with the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome.
    That partnership will focus on developing technology to speed up diagnosis and treatment of brain tumor patients.
    Both IBM and Microsoft have said they turned down business when they felt uncomfortable with how a customer wanted to use their technology.
    The Rome conference was the latest example of the Vatican trying to stay ahead of the curve on technology and social issues in order to influence the pioneers of the future, regardless of their religion.
    Vatican officials have said they could provide material for a possible papal document on AI, much as meetings with scientists helped shape the pope’s landmark 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si” on the protection of the environment.
(This story was refiled to add dropped word in Kelly’s full title in paragraph three)
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/29/2020 Pope resumes individual official audiences, cancels group meetings by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis puts ashes on a cardinal's head during a penitential procession
on Ash Wednesday in Rome, Italy, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, who has been suffering from what the Vatican says is a “slight indisposition,” resumed official audiences with individuals in his residence on Saturday but three with groups were canceled.
    A statement said the pope, who had canceled most official audiences on Thursday and Friday, celebrated his customary early morning Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta guest house where he lives.
    He was then holding four separate official audiences there on Saturday morning with Church figures, including three with archbishops from outside Italy.    Three larger audiences with groups were canceled.
    All of Saturday’s official audiences were to have taken place in the Apostolic Palace.    Those with individuals were moved to his residence.
    The Vatican has not specified what the 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader is suffering from.
    On Friday afternoon spokesman Matteo Bruni moved to dismiss speculation that the pope was anything more than slightly unwell, saying “There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition.”
    At his general audience on Wednesday he appeared to have a cold and spoke with a slightly hoarse voice, and he coughed during an afternoon Ash Wednesday service in a Rome church, his last appearance outside the Vatican.
    In the past few days since the pope was taken ill, he has continued his afternoon working meetings in the residence.
    Francis is missing a part of one lung.    It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after an illness.
    The pope is due to preside at his regular noontime prayer and message on Sunday.    On Sunday afternoon, he and senior Vatican officials will go by bus to a Church residence south of Rome for their annual week-long Lenten spiritual retreat.
    The Vatican said the retreat will go ahead as planned.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Louise Heavens)

2/29/2020 N.Y. Diocese of Buffalo files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy by OAN Newsroom
CORRECTS YEAR TO 2020- Bishop Edward Scharfenberger addresses the media, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Buffalo N.Y., The Roman Catholic
Diocese of Buffalo filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, taking another major step in its effort to recover from a clergy
misconduct scandal that’s been the basis for hundreds of lawsuits, Vatican intervention and resignation of its bishop. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
    The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has filed for bankruptcy amid child abuse claims.    On Friday, an administrator of the New York diocese announced it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
    Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger has been administrating the diocese since the previous bishop stepped down over claims he mishandled allegations of child abuse by priests.
    “The spiritual welfare of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop, who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed,” Bishop Richard Malone said in his resignation statement.
    Scharfenberger stressed the diocese is not seeking to use bankruptcy as a means to avoid its responsibility to victims, but rather as a way to bring justice to the most possible claimants.
    “We want to do this in a way that is fair, so that all of those who are entitled to some form of rest, restorative justice or restitution, if we want to use that word, will be able to get a fair share of that,” he said.
    The diocese listed $10 to $50 million in assets and $50 to $100 million in liabilities in the bankruptcy filing.    There are reportedly 258 active lawsuits from victims, not counting the 107 suits that have already been settled.
St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, Friday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Buffalo N.Y., The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo filed
for bankruptcy protection Friday, taking another major step in its effort to recover from a clergy misconduct scandal
that’s been the basis for hundreds of lawsuits, Vatican intervention and resignation of its bishop. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)


3/1/2020 Pope, blaming a cold, skips Lent retreat for first time in his papacy by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday
in Rome, Italy, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis announced on Sunday that a cold he is suffering from has forced him to skip a Lenten spiritual retreat with senior Vatican officials near Rome for the first time in his papacy.
    The surprise announcement, which will keep him from attending a gathering he holds dear, marked the first health scare for the 83-year-old pontiff since his election in 2013.
    As of late Saturday night, the Vatican said that the pope would be taking part in the retreat, indicating that the decision to skip it was a last-minute one. The retreat was due to start on Sunday afternoon.
    The pope made the announcement to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square during his first public appearance since last Wednesday, when he was seen coughing and sneezing.
    “Unfortunately a cold will force me not take part this year (in the retreat).    I will follow the meditations from here,” he said, departing from his prepared address.
    Francis coughed several times while making his brief address on Sunday and sounded like he had a stuffy nose.    Francis is missing a part of one lung.    It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after an illness.
    The Vatican had previously said only that Francis was suffering from a “slight indisposition” that forced him to cancel most audiences in the past three days.
    “I will unite myself spiritually with the (participants) and all people who are living moments of prayer.    I will do the spiritual exercises from home,” he said.
    The respected website Il Sismografo, which follows Church affairs, said it was the first time since 1950 that a pope has missed a Lenten retreat.
    Home for the pope is Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house where he lives in simple quarters after opting not to use the spacious papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.
    The pope has been taken ill at a time when Italy is battling a surging outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus.    His spokesman Matteo Bruni dismissed on Friday speculation that Francis was anything more than slightly unwell.
    “There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition,” he said.
    A number of people in St. Peter’s Square to hear the pope wore surgical face masks.
    Italy has registered more than 1,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus since Feb. 20 and at least 29 deaths – the worst such contagion in Europe.
    After his election, Francis broke with the tradition of his predecessors, who held the retreats in the Vatican, and moved them to a Church property in the town of Arricia, south of Rome.
    The cancellation was a personal setback for the pontiff, a member of the Jesuit religious order, which, like other groups in the Church, places great significance in holding retreats and spiritual exercises away from one’s normal workplace.
    Some Lent Ash Wednesday services were cancelled or limited in areas of northern Italy hit by the spread of the virus.
    The pope skipped a few events at the start of his papacy in 2013 and 2014 but the cause was believed to be of an intestinal nature.
    Francis also suffers some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he undergoes regular physical therapy and which explains his occasional difficulty climbing steps.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Susan Fenton)

3/1/2020 Pope makes first public appearance following illness
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the daily Santa Marta Mass at the Vatican, February 27, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance in four days following what the Vatican has called a “slight indisposition” that forced him to cancel some audiences and activities.
    The 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader appeared at the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to address thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Sunday noon message and blessing.
    It was his first public appearance since an Ash Wednesday Mass in Rome, during which he was seen coughing and sneezing.
    The Vatican has not specified what was ailing Francis.    However, amid fears in Italy over an outbreak of coronavirus, spokesman Matteo Bruni dismissed on Friday speculation that the pope was anything more than slightly unwell.
    “There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition,” he said.
    Italy is suffering the worst outbreak of coronavirus in Europe, registering more than 1,100 confirmed cases since Feb. 20.    At least 29 people have died.
    Francis is missing a part of one lung.    It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after an illness.
    On Sunday afternoon, he and senior Vatican officials were due to travel to a Church residence south of Rome for their annual week-long Lenten spiritual retreat.
    Francis will have no official activities during the retreat.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

3/2/2020 Russian constitution must define marriage as heterosexual, Putin says by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Activists of a local LGBT community put tape over their mouths while walking during a protest
against discrimination in Saint Petersburg, Russia April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin has proposed amending the Russian constitution to spell out that marriage means a union between a man and a woman and nothing else, a senior politician was cited as saying on Monday by the RIA news agency.
    Putin, who has aligned himself with the Russian Orthodox Church and sought to distance Russia from liberal Western values, has proposed a shake-up of Russia’s political system that critics say may be designed to extend his grip on power after 2024, when he is due to leave the Kremlin.
    He and his supporters see that overhaul as an opportunity to modify the constitution to enshrine what they see as Russia’s core moral and geopolitical values for future generations.
    Putin on Monday submitted his constitutional proposals to parliament just before the deadline, RIA cited Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy chairman of the lower house, as saying.
    “For me, the most important one is his proposal to enshrine in basic law the concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman,” Tolstoy added.
    Putin said last month Russia would not legalize gay marriage as long as he was in the Kremlin.    He said he would not let the traditional notion of a mother and father be subverted by what he called “parent number 1” and “parent number 2.”
    President Vladimir Putin has proposed amending the Russian constitution to spell out that marriage means a union between a man and a woman and nothing else, a senior politician was cited as saying on Monday by the RIA news agency.
    Putin, who has aligned himself with the Russian Orthodox Church and sought to distance Russia from liberal Western values, has proposed a shake-up of Russia’s political system that critics say may be designed to extend his grip on power after 2024, when he is due to leave the Kremlin.
    He and his supporters see that overhaul as an opportunity to modify the constitution to enshrine what they see as Russia’s core moral and geopolitical values for future generations.
    Putin on Monday submitted his constitutional proposals to parliament just before the deadline, RIA cited Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy chairman of the lower house, as saying.
    “For me, the most important one is his proposal to enshrine in basic law the concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.”
    Putin said last month Russia would not legalize gay marriage as long as he was in the Kremlin.    He said he would not let the traditional notion of a mother and father be subverted by what he called “parent number 1” and “parent number 2.”
    Homosexuality in Russia, where the influence of the socially conservative Orthodox Church has grown in recent years, was a criminal offence until 1993, and classed as a mental illness until 1999.
    Under Russian law, only heterosexual couples can adopt children in Russia.
    Western governments and human rights activists have criticized the Russian authorities for their treatment of LGBT+ people.    Gay British singer Elton John was among those to speak out against a 2013 law that banned the dissemination of “gay propaganda” among young Russians.
    Under the law, any event or act regarded by the authorities as an attempt to promote homosexuality to minors is illegal and punishable by a fine.    The law has been used to stop gay pride marches and to detain gay rights activists.
    Putin has said he is not prejudiced against gay people, but that he finds a Western willingness to embrace homosexuality and gender fluidity out of step with traditional Russian values.
    Homosexuality in Russia, where the influence of the socially conservative Orthodox Church has grown in recent years, was a criminal offence until 1993, and classed as a mental illness until 1999.
    Only heterosexual couples can legally adopt children in Russia.
    Western governments and human rights activists have criticized the Russian authorities for their treatment of LGBT+ people.    Gay British singer Elton John was among those to speak out against a 2013 law that banned the dissemination of “gay propaganda” among young Russians.
    Under that law, any event or act regarded by the authorities as an attempt to promote homosexuality to minors is illegal and punishable by a fine.    The law has been used to stop gay pride marches and to detain gay rights activists.
    Putin has said he is not prejudiced against gay people, but that he finds a Western willingness to embrace homosexuality and gender fluidity out of step with traditional Russian values.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/3/2020 Pope tests negative for coronavirus, Italy report says
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis coughs as he leads the weekly Angelus prayer in
St Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 1, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, who canceled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy because he is suffering from a cold, has tested negative for coronavirus, the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported on Tuesday.
    Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no immediate comment on the report.    The 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader, who had part of one lung removed because of an illness decades ago, also canceled most audiences last week.
    Francis was to have taken part in the week-long retreat with senior Vatican officials that began on Sunday night at a Church residence south of Rome.
    But in a surprise announcement hours earlier, he said he would be following it from his residence in a Vatican guest house.
    He has been taken ill at a time when Italy is battling a surging outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus.
    The death toll in Italy jumped to 52 on Monday from 34 the day before and the total number of confirmed cases in Europe’s worst affected country climbed past the 2,000 mark.
(Reporting Giselda Vagnoni and Philip Pullella)

3/4/2020 Vatican officials investigating sex abuse cases to visit Mexico on ‘zero tolerance’ drive by Carlos Carrillo and Laura Gottesdiener
Monsignor Alfonso Miranda and Archbishop of the Diocese of Monterrey Rogelio Cabrera attend
a news conference on the arrival of a Vatican commission to investigate cases of sexual abuse
by priests of the Catholic Church in Mexico, in Mexico City, Mexico March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Carrillo
    MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Two Vatican officials charged with investigating accusations of sexual abuse by clergy will visit Mexico for a fact-finding mission later this month, the Church said on Tuesday.
    Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu will meet with church leaders and alleged victims during their week-long visit to the world’s second largest Roman Catholic country, the Mexican bishops’ conference said.
    Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, told a news conference in Mexico City that the Church had requested aid from the Vatican in order to help the youngest and most vulnerable in Mexico.
    “We’re confident it will improve the response to these cases, looking for civil and canonical justice under the principles of zero tolerance, so that no case goes unpunished in our Church,” Miranda said of the March 20-27 visit.
    Scicluna and Bertomeu are part of a taskforce created last year by Pope Francis to assist in countries where the Church had no guidance for dealing with sexual abuse cases.
    The two led the Vatican’s 2018 investigation into sexual abuse in Chile, producing a 2,300-page report that sparked the resignation of several of the country’s top bishops.
    Scicluna also conducted the Vatican’s investigation into Father Marcial Maciel, the late founder of Mexico’s Legionaries of Christ Catholic religious order.    Maciel was accused of sexually abusing at least 60 boys, some as young as 12.
    Allegations of pedophilia have long plagued the Church in Mexico.     Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera Lopez, President of the Mexican bishops conference, said 271 Mexican priests have been accused of sexual abuse to date.
    The bishops’ conference said it does not have an estimate of the number of victims.    Advocates say there are many more victims than those who have come forward with accusations.
    Some expressed reservations about the Vatican’s fact-finding mission.
    Alberto Athie, a former Mexican priest who has spent more than two decades campaigning on behalf of victims of Church abuse, criticized previous missions for lacking transparency.
    “They have tried to handle these things internally, in secret, and resolve them according to the institutional logic of the Church,” he told Reuters.
(Editing by Dave Graham and Jane Wardell)

3/4/2020 Witness says no women arrested in case of 47 Nigerian men charged under homosexuality law by Alexis Akwagyiram
Some of the men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex are seen gathered within the premises of
the Federal High Court after the court-hearing of their case in Lagos, Nigeria March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
    LAGOS (Reuters) – No women were arrested in a 2018 police raid that led 47 Nigerian men to be charged with displays of affection with members of the same sex, a witness said on Tuesday, in a case that tests a law criminalising homosexuality in Africa’s most populous country.
    In November the men pleaded not guilty to the offence which carries a 10-year jail term and resulted from legislation introduced by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
    No one has yet been convicted under the law, which targets same-sex unions with prison terms of up to 14 years, prosecution and defense lawyers in the case have told Reuters.
    Police said the men were being “initiated” into a gay club at the Kelly Ann hotel in the southwestern commercial capital of Lagos in August 2018.    However, the accused said they were attending a birthday party.
    Among the contentious points in the case are whether some women were also arrested during the raid but later released, which according to human rights campaigners would suggest that men were unfairly singled out by police.
    Oke Olufunmilayo, a senior policeman called as a witness by the prosecution, told the court on Tuesday he led a team of officers in the raid around four hours after receiving a call from police headquarters that a “gay initiation” would be held at the hotel.
    He said around 100 men fled a hall when police arrived, many of whom climbed over a fence.
    Olufunmilayo told the court women were not among those arrested.
    But the defense lawyer claimed women were present at the event and were arrested, only to be released later.    Asked if any women were arrested in the raid, the witness said: “Not at all.”
    The case was adjourned until April 2.
    Outside the court one of the defendants, Desmond Onuoha, claimed women were in the hall and among those arrested.    “When we were brought outside, they (police) asked them to go,” said the 25-year-old cook.
    In all, 57 men were arrested in the raid. Arrest warrants were issued for 10 men who failed to appear in court.
    Some of the men told Reuters they have been stigmatized as a result of the raid and a televised news conference held by police in which they were identified the day after their arrest.
(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

3/5/2020 Despite ‘handmaids,’ two bills advance to restrict abortion - Proposals among eight abortion measures pending in the legislative session by Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    FRANKFORT – Two bills to restrict or further regulate abortion won quick approval from a House committee Wednesday after opponents showed up dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the dystopian novel and award-winning Hulu show in which women are subservient and serve largely as breeders.
    One measure would expand the authority of the state attorney general to enforce abortion law; the other would require the "treatment” of fetal remains through cremation or burial, under bills passed by the House Judiciary Committee.
    Only a handful of Democrats voted “no” on each and no witnesses spoke against either bill, though opponents in their bright red robes filled several rows of seats in the committee room.
    Tamarra Wieder, with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the group chose to remain silent after members were cut off from speaking at a recent hearing on a different abortion bill, with the chairman saying the committee was out of time.
    “Today was a statement about how we’ve been treated in the past,” said Wieder, Planned Parenthood’s public affairs and policy director.    “It’s a statement on the power grabs that are taking place around Kentucky on reproductive health.”
    Kate Miller, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said afterward her organization also opposes both bills as “a continuing effort to force every Kentuckian to stay pregnant against their will.”
    The two bills are among eight abortion measures pending in the legislative session.
    One of those approved Wednesday, House Bill 370, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Tate, a Republican from Meade County, would require that hospitals or abortion facilities dispose of fetal remains through cremation or burial by a licensed funeral facility. Parents could decide whether to seek disposal on their own through cremation or burial.
    Cathie Humbarger, with Northeast Indiana Right to Life, said her state has enacted a similar law to ensure fetal remains are disposed of with respect rather than being incinerated as medical waste.
    The bill passed 15-6.
    The other measure, House Bill 451, sponsored by Rep. Stan Lee, a Lexington Republican, would expand the power of the attorney general to regulate abortion facilities, including bringing civil or criminal penalties for violations.
    Lee said it is, in part, to ensure the attorney general is free to act against any violations at abortion facilities and “clarify the public policies of the General Assembly.”
    The bill would enhance the power of Attorney General Daniel Cameron, an anti-abortion Republican, to take enforcement action against abortion clinics without approval from the administration of Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat who supports abortion rights.    Current law limits that power without authorization from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which licenses and inspects health facilities.
    Several committee members expressed concern about expanding those powers, with Rep. Maria Solaris, D-Louisville, asking about the potential for a “rogue attorney general.”br>     Lee said the courts could handle such problems.
    The bill passed on a vote of 15-5.
    Committee members made no mention of the costumed opponents in the audience.
    B.J. Jeffries, a Shelby County man among those dressed in a red robe and a white bonnet, said he came to show support for the other women protesting the bills and because he is the father of a daughter.
    “I want her to be able to choose for herself,” he said.
    Kendall Jordan, of Louisville, who also came dressed as a handmaid, said she attended Wednesday’s hearing out of concern about the increasing number of bills being advanced to end or restrict abortion in Kentucky.
    “The restrictions on our bodies is very concerning,” she said.
    The bills now move to the House for further action.
    Reach Deborah Yetter at dyetter@ or 502-582-4228. Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
Spectators dressed as characters from “The Handmaid's Tale” showed up to protest two abortion bills
before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. DEBORAH YETTER/COURIER JOURNAL
Spectators dressed as characters from “The Handmaid's Tale” attend a legislative hearing Wednesday at the state Capitol
to protest two bills that would further regulate abortion in Kentucky. PHOTOS BY DEBORAH YETTER/COURIER JOURNAL
    Kendall Jordan, left, and B.J. Jeffries were among those dressed as handmaids to protest two abortion bills before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.    The bills are among eight abortion measures pending this session.

3/5/2020 Virginia bans conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids by Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY
    Virginia became the first state in the South to ban the discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ children.
    Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed the ban into law Monday, making Virginia the 20th state, plus the District of Columbia, to ban the practice.
    “Conversion therapy sends the harmful message that there is something wrong with who you are,” Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said in a statement Tuesday.
    Conversion therapy is a practice or treatment that aims to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.    The American Psychiatric Association has denounced the practice for years, saying it puts minors at risk.
    “The American Psychiatric Association does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed. ... No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation,” the group said in a position statement in 2013.
    Del. Patrick Hope, who introduced the legislation in the state House, called conversion therapy “a dangerous, destructive practice.” “We should be supporting and celebrating our LGTBQ youth, not putting them in harm’s way,” Hope said in a statement.
    The Virginia law, effective July 1, prohibits licensed health care providers and counselors from providing conversion therapy to minors and state money from being used in the practice.
    In August, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, banned state funding for the practice; however, the measure did not ban the practice altogether, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit group that tracks conversion therapy bans across the country.
    Utah became the 19th state to ban the practice this year, and other states, including Kentucky and Iowa, have considered similar bans.
    In Virginia, Democrats passed a slew of measures to increase protections for LGTBQ Virginians and combat gender discrimination.    Legislators voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, expand discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and undo abortion restrictions.
    Sam Brinton, the head of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, an advocacy group for LGBTQ young people, applauded the conversion therapy legislation being signed into law.
    “As a survivor of this dangerous and fraudulent practice, I can’t fathom just how many young LGBTQ lives may be saved with these critical protections from conversion therapy,” Brinton said in a statement.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday that conversion therapy sends a harmful message. ZACH GIBSON/GETTY IMAGES

3/6/2020 Australian court to hear ex-Vatican treasurer’s final appeal on sex offences by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell walks towards the Melbourne Magistrates Court
with Australian police in Australia, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Dadswell
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s highest court will hear a final bid on March 11 by former Vatican treasurer George Pell to overturn his conviction for sexually assaulting two teenaged choir boys in the 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne.
    Pell, 78, is in jail serving a six-year sentence which began a year ago after he was convicted by a jury on one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16.
    The highest ranked Catholic worldwide to be jailed for child sex offences is appealing to the High Court of Australia after Victoria’s Court of Appeal upheld his conviction last August by a 2-1 majority.
    His conviction has been the most high profile case of sexual abuse by priests to rock the Roman Catholic Church across the globe, from Australia to Argentina, mostly stemming from alleged assaults that took place decades ago.
    Pell was appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 to overhaul the Vatican’s finances.    He lost his role last year after being jailed, however he remains a cardinal despite pressure on the church from victims of sexual abuse and their advocates to dismiss him.
    To be dismissed from the priesthood, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would have to find him guilty following a separate canonical trial or a shortened procedure, known as an “administrative process.”
    The Pope has declined to comment on Pell’s case until he exhausts all avenues of appeal.
    The High Court has set two days for a hearing, starting on March 11, before five or seven judges.    Pell will not be at the court.
    The judges could refuse to take on the case after initial arguments, in which case Pell would have no further avenue of appeal and would remain in jail.
    Or, the court could go ahead and hear all the arguments on whether the Court of Appeal majority was right in ruling that it was not unreasonable that the trial jury found Pell guilty.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

3/6/2020 First Vatican coronavirus patient attended big conference last week by Philip Pullella
People walk on St. Peter's Square after the Vatican reports its first case of coronavirus, at the Vatican, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican said on Friday that a patient in its health services had tested positive for coronavirus, the first in the tiny, walled city-state surrounded by Rome.
    A Vatican source said the patient had participated in an international conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Life last week in a packed theatre several blocks from the Vatican.
    Participants at the three-day conference on Artificial Intelligence included top executives of U.S. tech giants Microsoft and IBM.
    The academy issued a separate statement saying it was informing all other participants of the development by email but did not say it was the same person whose case was announced earlier by Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni.
    The discovery worsened the prospects of the virus having already spread further in the capital of Italy, since most Vatican employees live in Rome and those who live in the Vatican frequently enter and leave the city state.
    The death toll in Italy, the worst-hit European country, stood at 197 on Friday.    The north of the country has been the most heavily hit.
    Bruni said the case was diagnosed on Thursday and that services in its clinics had been suspended to sanitize the areas.
    Most Vatican employees who use its health services live in Italy on the other side of the border with the 108-acre city state.
    Bruni gave no details on whether the person who tested positive was such an employee or among the relatively few clergy or guards who live inside its walls.
    Italian health authorities said that, as of Friday, 49 people had tested positive for coronavirus in Rome province.
    Pope Francis cancelled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy, but the Vatican has said he is suffering only from a cold that is “without symptoms related to other pathologies
    The Vatican has also said it is studying measures to modify the pope’s activities to avoid the spread of coronavirus in coordination with measures by the Italian government, which include encouraging people not to gather in large numbers.
    Tens of thousands of people flock to St. Peter’s Square every Sunday to listen to the pope give his weekly blessing and message from a window of the Vatican Apostolic Palace overlooking the square.
    Thousands of others attend his weekly general audience, which is held either outdoors in the square or in a large audience hall inside the Vatican, depending on the weather.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Writing by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Nick Macfie)

3/6/2020 Pope accepts resignation of cardinal Barbarin amid sex abuse case
FILE PHOTO: Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, arrives at the courthouse to
attend his appeal trial in Lyon, France, November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot
    PARIS (Reuters) – Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of French cardinal Philippe Barbarin who had been caught up in a sex abuse case, the archbishop of Reims said in a statement.
    A French appeals court overturned in January an earlier ruling against Barbarin, in which he was convicted last year of failing to report sexual abuse charges.
(Reporting by Geert de Clercq and Maya Nikolaeva)

3/7/2020 Pope cancels main public appearances to stop crowds gathering amid coronavirus by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis coughs as he leads the weekly Angelus prayer in St Peter's
Square at the Vatican, March 1, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis has canceled his regular appearances in public to stop crowds gathering to see him and will stream them on the internet from inside the Vatican because of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.
    The Vatican said that on Sunday the pontiff will not address crowds from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, and will also not hold his general audience from there this Wednesday. Both attract tens of thousands of people.
    It will be one of the few times in the past 66 years that a pope will not appear at the window, a ritual deeply engrained in Roman tradition, with some families attending every week.
    Both the address and general audience will be held without public participation inside the official papal library in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace and will be viewable on the internet or television, the Vatican said in a statement on Saturday.
    Popes began giving regular Sunday blessing from the window in 1954 and have done so nearly every Sunday since, except for when the pontiff is sick or out of Rome.
    On May 17, 1981, four days after he nearly died in an assassination attempt, Pope John Paul delivered the blessing with a feeble voice from his bed at Rome’s Gemelli hospital.
    The Vatican also said that the participation of the faithful at Francis’ morning Mass in his residence has been suspended until at least March 15.
    The 83-year-old pope canceled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy, but the Vatican has said he is suffering only from a cold that is “without symptoms related to other pathologies.”
    A Vatican employee tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, the first case in the tiny city-state that is surrounded by Rome.
    A Vatican source said the patient had participated in an international conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Life last week in a packed theater several blocks from the Vatican.    Participants at the three-day conference on Artificial Intelligence included top executives of U.S. tech giants Microsoft and IBM.
    The death toll from the new coronavirus in Italy, the worst-hit European country, stood at 197 on Friday with more than 4,600 cases, most of them in the north.    In Rome province, 49 people have tested positive and one has died.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams, Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)

3/8/2020 Feeling ‘caged’ by coronavirus alarm, pope delivers Sunday address over internet by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis greets people after his weekly Angelus prayer was transmitted via video on St. Peter's
Square, following the coronavirus outbreak, at the Vatican March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Saying he felt “caged,” Pope Francis delivered his Sunday blessing over the internet from inside the Vatican on Sunday instead of from a window to stop crowds gathering during Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.
    He did, however, go to the window and wave silently to a mere several hundred people in the huge square, which often draws tens of thousands.    Most kept a safe distance from each other as they watched the pope deliver the address on four mega-screens.
    “It’s a bit strange this Angelus prayer today with the pope caged in the library, but I see you and I am close to you,” he said.
    It was the first time that Francis had skipped giving the blessing and reading an address from the window since his election in 2013, apart from times he was traveling outside Rome.
    Francis appeared to have recovered from a cold that forced him to skip a Lenten retreat with senior Vatican officials near Rome last week.
    “I am close in prayer to people who are suffering because of the current coronavirus epidemic as well as to all those who are taking care of them,” he said, speaking while standing in the frescoed room which is used mostly for private audiences.
    He encouraged the faithful “to live this difficult moment with the strength of faith, the certainty of hope and the fervor of charity.”    The window was then opened and he waved briefly and silently.
    Some pilgrims had come a long way hoping to get the blessing directly.
    “I am bitterly disappointed,” said Pamela Kennedy, 66, of Yukon, Oklahoma, who was in the square with her husband, Bill.
    “We started planning this trip a couple of years ago to mark our 20th wedding anniversary and the 20th anniversary of my becoming Catholic,” she told Reuters.
    Italy has imposed a virtual lockdown across a swathe of its wealthy north, including the financial capital Milan, in its latest attempt to contain a growing outbreak of coronavirus.    The government has also imposed other restrictions throughout the country, such as the closing of museums.
    A Vatican source said the Vatican museums, which get six million visitors a year, would be closed as of Monday.
    During his address, Francis also appealed for an end to the conflict in northwest Syria, where nearly a million people have been displaced in a three-month Russian-backed offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
    “We should not take our eyes off this humanitarian crisis,” Francis said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Potter)

3/9/2020 Outbreak alters Mass for Catholics in US - Hand sanitizer replaces holy water in some spots by Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON – There’s a hesitation after the priest says it.
    “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.”
    Traditionally, worshippers extend a hand to strangers.    Maybe a hug and kiss on the cheek for family and friends.
    Today, it’s just a nod.    A group of school children flash each other two fingers in a V-shape.
    While the threat of the new coronavirus may not be imminent here at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, changes are being made.    And it’s not just in Washington: Across the nation, Catholics have altered their worship practices because of concern over COVID-19.
    At the Basilica, priests have started asking worshippers not to shake hands at the sign of peace, which occurs around midway through the Catholic service.    Most Masses here normally don’t offer wine during communion, but those that do are suspending the use of the shared chalices for now.
    William Bowman isn’t too concerned, though.    He comes to Mass most days and that’s not about to change.
    “Snow didn’t stop us,” the 71-year-old Boston transplant said in the crypt of the Basilica after morning Mass.    “I think basically we put it in God’s hands.”
    He wasn’t surprised as the priest asked parishioners not to shake hands, and he still received communion on his tongue. “The graces that come with communion are enormous,” he said, smiling.
    Communion is central to every Mass.    It’s when Catholics receive bread and wine that have been consecrated into Christ’s body and blood. Some parishioners opt to receive the host on their tongue while others in their hands.
    “As much as you try, you can still get saliva on your fingers,” said Sister Anne O’Donnell, 80, who has been a Eucharistic minister before.    “It’s hard to be sanitary.”
    O’Donnell tries to quell her fear of the virus, telling herself she’s OK now as she lives on the East Coast.    Her great uncle died of the     Spanish flu, and given her age and health, she says she’s glad churches are being cautious.
    However, for others parishioners, the fears seem overblown.
    “It doesn’t make any sense,” said Stacy Robinson, 39.    “You’re more likely to get it on the Metro.”    Asked if the coronavirus would affect whether he comes to Mass or how he worships, Robinson said, “Not at all.”
    Throughout Washington, the diocese has urged churches to take precautionary measures.    Those who are sick are encouraged not to drink from a communal chalice or attend Mass altogether.    “If you need to refrain from Sunday Mass, you are dispensed from the Sunday obligation,” the diocese said in a statement.
    According to Pew Research, roughly 20% of the U.S. population is Catholic.    The new precautions come during Lent, a season in the Church that marks the 40 days and nights Jesus Christ fasted in the desert and was tempted by the Devil.    It ends on Easter, one of the most important holidays in all Christian faiths.
    In Memphis, Bishop David Talley sent a letter to pastors, administrators and chaplains calling it “prudent” to offer only bread and also momentarily suspending the use of communion wine.
    In Peoria, Illinois, the Catholic Diocese announced it would suspend offering communion from the chalice during services.    Bishop Daniel Jenky also strongly suggested recipients take the host in their hands rather than on their tongue.
    Holy water has been replaced by hand sanitizers at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in West Lake Hills, outside of Austin.    Bishop Joe S. Vásquez requested all local parishes around Austin remove holy water from stoups at church doors, among other measures.
    The Archdiocese of Detroit recommended its parishes and Catholic schools take precautions as well.
    Michelle Pierron, president of the Parish Council at St. Mary Catholic Church in Detroit, said these measures make sense.
    “Churches don’t close like schools.    They are going to be open.    It is the same thing with the influenza threat or threat of some other illness,” she said.    “I am maybe not going to shake hands, make sure I’ve got my hand sanitizer, wipe my hands a little more often.”
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 virus appears to be spreading easily and has begun expanding within affected communities in the United States.
    The virus is thought to spread primarily person-to-person, especially between people in close contact with one another and through respiratory droplets.    The CDC says that while it’s possible for the infection to spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects, it does not appear to be the primary way the virus is transmitted.
    As of Sunday evening, more than 500 people have been infected in the U.S., leading to 21 deaths, according to a coronavirus dashboard run by Johns Hopkins University.
    Bowman said he’s glad that Mass intentions have included those affected by the virus in recent weeks.    It’s important to pray for them, he said.
Contributing: Katherine Burgess, Memphis Commercial Appeal; Kristen Jordan Shamus and Meredith Spelbring, Detroit Free Press; Nick Vlahos, Peoria Journal Star; Eileen Flynn and Philip Jankowski, Austin American-Statesman
    “As much as you try, you can still get saliva on your fingers.    It’s hard to be sanitary.”
    Sister Anne O’Donnell, 80, who has been a Eucharistic minister before.
Faithful receive the holy communion into their hands during a Mass celebrated
at Saint Francois Xavier church Sunday in Paris, France. RAFAEL YAGHOBZADEH/AP

3/9/2020 Canada seeks to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy by Denise Paglinawan
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Toronto's LGBTQ community march in one of North America's
largest Pride parades, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
    TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian federal government introduced new legislation on Monday to criminalize LGBTQ conversion therapy, as Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government moves to fulfill one of its 2019 election promises.
    The proposed amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code include offenses such as causing a person to undergo conversion therapy, advertising and profiting from conversion therapy and removing a minor from Canada.
    Conversion therapy is any practice designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, gender identity to one that matches the sex assigned at birth, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual sexual attraction or behaviors, according to the legislation.
    The bill also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order disposing of or deleting advertisements for conversion therapy.
    “Conversion therapy has been discredited and denounced by professionals and health associations in Canada, the United States and around the world.    It has no basis on science or facts,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti.
    The legislation would not criminalize personal views expressed in private conversations by individuals looking to provide support to those struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
    The bill was introduced by Lametti and Bardish Chagger, minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.
    Conversion therapy has been banned in some Canadian cities such as Vancouver and Calgary.    Ontario was the first Canadian province to ban the practice in 2015.
    Several U.S. states, including California, Colorado, New York and Washington, have banned conversion therapy.
(Reporting by Denise Paglinawan; Editing by Dan Grebler)
[Another G-7 nation prefers to ride on the back of the Beast and Scarlet Woman.].

3/10/2020 Catholic Italy adapts to religion in a time of coronavirus by Philip Pullella
St. Mark's Square is virtually deserted after a decree orders for the whole of Italy to be on lockdown in an
unprecedented clampdown aimed at beating the coronavirus, in Venice, Italy, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
    ROME (Reuters) – It’s hard being a Catholic in Italy these days.
    You can walk into a church but you can’t cross yourself with holy water because the font is dry.    You can’t get baptized or married in a church and you can’t even have a funeral.
    Just about the only thing a person can do in a church in Italy is pray – but at least a pew away from someone else.
    Overwhelmingly Catholic Italy is adapting to religion in a time of coronavirus after a clampdown across the entire country was imposed to slow Europe’s worst outbreak.
    Last Saturday, the Italian government issued a decree locking down much of the north, where the virus first broke out, and severely restricted indoor activities in the rest of the country.
    So on Sunday, Father Riccardo Lamba of the parish of San Ponziano, in a modern Rome neighborhood, took matters into his own hands. He moved the Mass outdoors and said it from the steps of his modern church.
    About 70 parishioners sat on plastic chairs with space between them and those who stood did so in formation as if they were about to take a gym class.
    The government later took measures restricting outdoor gatherings.    Lamba said he has not decided what he will do this Sunday.
    “We are praying.    Many people are entering the church to pray during the day but trying to keep apart,” he said on Tuesday.
    His parish is not alone.    Even St. Peter’s Basilica was eerily almost empty on Tuesday after the Vatican said only faithful who wanted to pray would be allowed in.    Tourists and guided groups would not be allowed until at least April 3.
    “We are living day to day to see what happens.    Sometimes the government changes its mind in a matter of hours,” Lamba said.    “Thank God the hard-core faithful can watch a Mass on TV.”
    Church weddings have been blocked until at least April 3.    The trickle down effect has hit the wedding planner industry on the cusp of spring, its high season.
    “We have closed the office for now and have to wait and see how things develop,” said Sabrina Bucci, head of Esclusivevent, which organizes weddings in Rome’s churches and receptions in an ancient villa with a view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
    She said five weddings had been postponed indefinitely.
    The coronavirus crisis has also changed the way Catholics say farewell to their dearly departed.
    Since funerals in churches have been banned, bodies are being taken directly to cemeteries either from hospitals or homes, denying families a traditional rite of passage that brings people together.
    “This morning’s funeral could not be held. A priest came to the home to bless the body and we took it directly to the cemetery,” said Stefano Chiericoni, head of one of Rome’s best-known undertakers.
    “We are doing what the health authorities are telling us to do and, in any case, we are wearing masks and protective gowns,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

3/11/2020 GENERAL ASSEMBLY - House votes to remove right to abortion by Joe Sonka, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    FRANKFORT – The Kentucky House passed a bill Tuesday seeking to amend the state constitution to specifically state that women do not have a legal right to an abortion.
    House Bill 67 passed by a 71-21 vote and now heads to the Senate. If approved by three-fifths of that chamber, the proposed constitutional amendment would be approved or rejected by voters in a state referendum this fall.
    The chamber also passed House Bill 451 by a 70-23 vote on Tuesday, which would expand the power of Kentucky’s attorney general to regulate abortion facilities, including bringing civil or criminal penalties for violations.
    Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, the main sponsor of HB 67, said the constitutional amendment would “end the slaughter of unborn children in Kentucky.”
    Fischer also criticized the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide, hoping that a constitutional restriction in Kentucky would kick in if that decision was ever overturned.
    Several Democratic legislators spoke against the bill, reading aloud the testimony that several HB 67 opponents were prepared to give in committee in February before they were cut off by the chairman after only seven minutes.
    Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, called the bill “another arrogant, patronizing piece of legislation” meant to belittle women.
    Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, while holding her newborn infant, spoke against HB 67 and said women with nonviable pregnancies must maintain their right to have an abortion, which the constitutional amendment would take away.
    Asked about the lack of exceptions in the abortion amendment to protect the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest, Fischer said the legislature could create statutory rules for those situations, as this only takes the issue out of the courts.
    Rep. Terri Branham Clark, D-Catlettsburg, who called herself a “pro-life Democrat,” said it was “irresponsible” to not include any specific exceptions in the amendment.    Noting that her daughter is pregnant, she added that she could not vote for legislation that “could endanger her life as a pregnant woman.”
    House Bill 451 heads to the Senate chamber after its passage Tuesday, which would enhance the power of anti-abortion Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.    Current state law limits the attorney general’s power to take enforcement action against abortion clinics without authorization from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which licenses and inspects such facilities.    Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is a supporter of a woman’s right to an abortion.
    Several female Democratic legislators spoke against the bill, saying it is a way to appoint the attorney general as a “special prosecutor” against a clinic.
    Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, the main sponsor of HB 451, countered that a special prosecutor was needed to protect the “unborn babies that are killed.”
    Reach reporter Joe Sonka at or 502-582-4472 and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka.
    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:
Spectators dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” attend a legislative
hearing in Frankfort this month to protest two abortion bills. DEBORAH YETTER/COURIER JOURNAL
[At least I know that I live in the state of Kentucky where people still believe in GOD and the gift of childbirth and life and liberty of the unborn in our constitution and hopefully that women can start understanding that they have morals to control this if they bother to consider that.].

3/11/2020 Australian court hears final appeal by ex-Vatican treasurer Pell by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO - Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell is surrounded by Australian police as he leaves
the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Dadswell/File Picture
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Lawyers for George Pell began a final bid on Wednesday to overturn the former Vatican treasurer’s conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys, arguing in Australia’s highest court that he could not have committed the offences.
    Cardinal Pell, 78, began serving a six-year prison sentence a year ago, becoming the highest ranking Catholic clergyman worldwide to be jailed for child sex offences.
    The High Court of Australia began a two-day hearing on Wednesday that marks Pell’s last avenue of appeal.    The seven justices could throw out his application.    If they proceed, they have the options of acquitting Pell, rejecting his appeal or sending the case back to a lower court.
    Pell was convicted by a jury in December 2018 and sentenced in March 2019 on one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16.    The offences occurred in the 1990s when Pell was archbishop of Melbourne.
    Pell went to the High Court after losing a previous appeal to the lower Court of Appeal in the state of Victoria where a 2-1 majority upheld his conviction, finding that it was open to the trial jury to find Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
    Pell’s legal team outlined the core of their argument in the High Court on Wednesday.    They contend that the Victorian Court of Appeal majority verdict erred by shifting the onus of proof to the defense, and incorrectly concluded it was open to the trial jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Pell was guilty.
    Pell’s lawyer highlighted testimony from the trial that he said would have made it impossible for Pell to have been alone in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in his robes with two boys shortly after mass, where four of the offences occurred.
    “The evidence was all one way concerning what was an important aspect of protocol – the applicant would never be left alone while robed,” Pell’s lawyer, Bret Walker, told the court.
    Walker said Pell was always on the front steps of the church after mass for at least 10 minutes, which would have made it impossible for him to have been in the priests’ sacristy in the timeframe shortly after mass when the offences occurred.
    “The crown case simply could not eliminate the grounds of reasonable doubt, because there was simply not the available time for it to occur,” he told the court.
    If the court decides against throwing out the appeal and hears the full case, a judgment would likely be handed down in several months.
    Judges questioned Walker about whether the Court of Appeal had erred in watching videos from the trial, rather than relying only on transcripts.
    Walker said videos could have led the judges to focus too much on the credibility of the complainant and other witnesses rather than issues that could have raised doubt for the jury.
    “It gives rise to a real danger that the appellate court would enter into an out and out credibility assessment for itself, whereas the real question is … was the jury in a position where it was open to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
    Judges also asked Walker whether it was right for the appeal court judges to have tried on the archbishop’s robes to see if they could be parted as described by his victim at the trial.
    Walker said he had no issue with that experimentation and conceded that the judges may have wanted to see whether loosening the cincture, or rope belt, around the robe would allow the vestments to be moved.
    The hearing continues on Thursday, when the Crown will argue its side.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Jane Wardell)

3/11/2020 Pope holds his first ever virtual general audience with Italy on lockdown by Philip Pullella
A woman prays on her knees in front of an empty St. Peter's Square as Pope Francis gives his weekly
general audience via transmitted video a day after the Vatican closed the square and Basilica due to
coronavirus concerns, as seen from Rome, Italy March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, holed up in the Vatican by Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, held his first virtual general audience on Wednesday, thanking medical staff but urging the world not to forget the plight of Syrian refugees.
    Most of Francis’ general audiences are held in St. Peter’s Square and attract tens of thousands of people.
    But the square was empty on Wednesday as the Vatican, which is surrounded by Rome, adhered to a national lockdown aimed at stopping the virus by outlawing gatherings in public.
    Francis and ten priests, some of whom translate his words into other languages – all sitting in a horseshoe pattern of chairs with space between them – gathered in the official papal library for an audience that was streamed on the internet and broadcast live on television.
    Francis, who has suspended all similar public appearances, said he felt close to “all the sick people who have contracted the virus and are suffering from sickness and the many who are suffering from uncertainty.”
    The 83-year-old pontiff thanked medical staff and volunteers laboring “in this very difficult moment.”    Italy is the worst-affected country in the world after China, with some 631 deaths and 10,149 confirmed cases.
    But, speaking without prepared remarks, he said that “this pain, this epidemic,” should not make the world forget about Syrian refugees on the Greek-Turkish border.
    “They are a people who have been suffering for years.    They have to escape from war, hunger and illness.    Let’s not forget our brothers and sisters, so many children who are suffering there,” he said.
    Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, a European Union member state, since Turkey said on Feb. 28 it would no longer keep them on its territory as part of a 2016 deal with Brussels in return for EU aid for the refugees.
    He thanked believers of all faiths who were praying for an end to the epidemic.    “All united, regardless of which religion they belong to. Heartfelt thanks for this effort,” he said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/12/2020 Utah female senators walk out before abortion bill passes
    SALT LAKE CITY – All six women in the Utah Senate walked out in protest and refused to vote before the chamber passed a bill mandating that a woman be shown an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.
    Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson said the walkout late Tuesday was a spontaneous decision to underscore concerns about the “invasive nature” of the bill.    The six female lawmakers – two Republicans and four Democrats – would not have changed the outcome.    Five Republican men voted against the measure that passed 16-7.

3/12/2020 Australian court defers sex offence appeal by ex-Vatican treasurer Pell by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: Cardinal George Pell attends a news conference at the Vatican, June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s highest court on Thursday deferred ruling on an appeal to overturn the conviction of former Vatican treasurer George Pell for sexually assaulting two teenaged choirboys in the 1990s.
    After two days of legal arguments, the High Court of Australia said it was still considering whether to allow the appeal, the last avenue for the 78-year-old cardinal to clear his name.
    If the court does agree to consider the appeal, the seven-member panel of justices will then move straight into deciding whether to acquit Pell or uphold his conviction, a process that will not require another public hearing.    A third option – sending the case back to a lower court – is also possible.
    “The court reserves its decision on this matter,” High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said, after hearing arguments from Pell’s lawyer and the Crown prosecutor.
    Kiefel did not give a timeframe for the court’s decisions.
    Pell became the highest ranked Catholic worldwide to be jailed for child sex offences when he was sentenced to a six-year term.    He has been in prison for a year and will remain there while the High Court considers its judgments.
    Pell was convicted by a jury in December 2018 on one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16 when Pell was archbishop of Melbourne.
    His legal team took the case to the High Court after the Court of Appeal in Victoria upheld his conviction with a 2-1 majority.    His lawyers argued that the lower court verdict erred in shifting the onus of proof to the defense and in finding that it was open to the jury to find Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
    Crown prosecutor Kerri Judd faced heavy questioning on Friday about the facts of the case, which highlighted potential doubts about whether Pell could have committed the offences.
    Pell’s lawyers argued that he would have been on the front steps of St Patrick’s Cathedral greeting parishioners at the time that his accuser said he was in the priests’ sacristy alone with two boys.
    Pell’s lawyer, Bret Walker, said it would be wrong for the High Court to send the case back to the Court of Appeal.
    “We win this argument, we wish the matter to be over,” he told the justices.    “The best way for it to be over is by an order of this court entering acquittal.”
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Jane Wardell)

3/13/2020 Rome churches remain open after Catholics rail against ‘Christ in quarantine’ by Philip Pullella
A homeless man sleeps near a closed church at Piazza Navona, on the fourth day of an unprecedented lockdown across of
all Italy imposed to slow the outbreak of coronavirus, in Rome, Italy, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A cardinal on Friday modified his order to close Rome’s churches to help contain the spread of coronavirus after Pope Francis cautioned against “drastic measures” and Catholics took to social media to complain.
    Cardinal Angelo De Donatis issued a new decree less than a day after his initial order.    Many churches in the Italian capital will now remain open.
    Some Catholics accused the cardinal of caving in to the government after his initial decree on Thursday night.    Andrea Fauro said on social media the move had put “Christ in quarantine
    Catholic bishops around the world were deciding how to deal with the pandemic in their own dioceses and what guidance they should give to the 1.3 billion-member Church in places from Little Rock to Lyon.
    “Drastic measures are not always good,” the pope said on Friday in improvised remarks at the start of his morning Mass, streamed on the internet and televised live without outside participants in order to limit gatherings of people.
    Francis prayed that God give pastors “the strength and even the capacity to choose the best means to help” those suffering from the pandemic “so that they can provide measures that do not leave the holy faithful people of God alone.”
    Hours after the pope spoke, De Donatis modified the decree. Whereas most of Rome’s more than 750 churches were to have been closed until April 3, the new decree says all parish churches and those run by religious communities will remain open.
    Those that will close number fewer than 300 and do not have a parish community or are visited mostly by tourists.
    Previously, only Masses had been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.    Individual bishops can decide whether to keep their churches open, and many are open in parts of Italy.
    The pope is bishop of Rome and the cardinal is his administrative vicar.
    The Italian government on Wednesday closed virtually every commercial activity in the country apart from pharmacies, food shops and other stores selling essential goods and services.
    Customers must enter a few at a time, keep a safe distance from each other and wear surgical masks in some cases.
    Critics said being allowed to pray in a church, albeit with precautions similar to those imposed on stores, should be seen as an essential service.
    “My heart is in pieces,” Father Maurizio Mirilli, a pastor of a Rome parish said in an anguished tweet on Thursday.    “I have to close everything, even the church … I feel like a father whose children have been snatched from him.”br> (Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

3/14/2020 Mega churches cancel services, move online amid coronavirus fears by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 file photo, contrails from jets glow pink as they are
illuminated by the setting sun in the skies beyond a church in Kansas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
    Mega churches are shutting down during one of Christianity’s most sacred holidays amid coronavirus fears.    According to reports, some of the most populated places of worship are moving services online as many states cancelled events, which involved anywhere from 100 to 1,000 attendees.
    The effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus came as many churches celebrated the weeks leading up to Easter, a time known as Lent.
    One church in San Diego has said it typically sees over 100,000 attendees for its Easter service.
    “Our plan is: We’ll have church on Sunday, and we’ll put it online.    We won’t have any crowds over 250, so we are going to adjust all our services.    Some of our venues are smaller than that, and so we will abide by that, 100 percent.    We’re making extremes measures to prevent it from spreading, but for the most part, I challenge people to stay calm.    God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and sound mind.” – Pastor Miles McPherson, Rock Church, San Diego
    Other smaller churches have taken preventative measures by opting for elbow bumps instead of handshakes, as well as changing up the way communion is administered.
A volunteer at Grace Bible Church places pre-packaged communion wafers and juice into a basket for
distribution by servers only at the church Friday, March 13, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

3/14/2020 President Trump declares March 15th ‘National Day of Prayer’ by OAN Newsroom
Faith leaders pray with President Donald Trump during a rally for evangelical supporters at the
King Jesus International Ministry church, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
    President Trump has announced a new day of faith and reflection for the United States.    On Friday, the president declared Sunday, March 15th as the ‘National Day of Prayer.”
    He emphasized the country has often turned to God for protection and strength during trying times.
    This news came hours after he declared a national emergency over the fast spreading coronavirus.
In this Feb. 10, 2020, photo, a Catholic woman wearing a face mask prays during a mass at the
Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Manila’s Chinatown, Philippines. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
    President Trump has encouraged Americans to turn to prayer for reassurance.
    “The spirit and the will of our nation is unbreakable,” he said.    “We will defeat this threat.”
    On Saturday, he added he will be tuning in to Free Chapel’s online Sunday services.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in the
Rose Garden at the White House, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

3/15/2020 Papal Easter events to be held without faithful attending, Vatican says
FILE PHOTO: Pope holds his first ever virtual general audience, amid Italy's coronavirus
epidemic, at the Vatican, March 11, 2020. Vatican Media/¬Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – All of Pope Francis’ Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending due to the coronavirus outbreak, Vatican said on Sunday, in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.
    The services, four days of major events from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, usually draw tens of thousands of people to sites in Rome and in the Vatican.
    A note on the website of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household also said that until Easter Sunday on April 12, the pope’s general audiences and Sunday blessings will continue to be seen over the internet and television without public participation.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

3/15/2020 Pope in dramatic visit to empty Rome to pray for end of virus by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis sends a virtual hug after delivering his weekly Angelus prayer
via video at the Vatican, March 15, 2020. Vatican Media/¬Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis ventured into a deserted Rome on Sunday to pray at two shrines for the end of the coronavirus pandemic, as the Vatican said his Easter services will be held without the public for the first time.
    Francis left the Vatican unannounced to pray at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and then walked along one of Rome’s main streets to visit St. Marcello church to pray before a crucifix that was used in a procession when the plague hit Rome in 1522.
    A Vatican statement said he prayed for an end to the pandemic and also for the sick, their families and health providers and workers keeping pharmacies and food stories open amid a national lockdown.
    A Vatican picture showed the pope and a small security detail walking on an empty Via del Corso, which is usually packed with shoppers and people taking strolls on Sunday.
    The Vatican said earlier that his Holy Weeks and Easter services next month will be held without public participation, a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.
    It was not clear how the massive events will be scaled down but sources said officials were studying ways to hold them in indoor locations, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, with small representative groups attending.
    The Holy Week services, which begin on Palm Sunday, lead up to Easter, the most important day of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the world’s 1.3 billion members.
    Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, usually takes place in St. Peter’s Square, which traditionally is decorated with olive trees while those in the crowd hold up palm branches.
    Another Holy Week event, the Way of the Cross procession on Good Friday, takes place around Rome’s ancient Colosseum.
    The main event is the Easter Sunday Mass and the pope’s twice yearly “Urbi et Orbi” blessing and message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Square.
    The Netherlands usually fly in tens of thousands of flowers to decorate the papal altar and the entire square, but the Dutch ambassador to the Vatican, Caroline Weijers, said last week that there would be no flowers this year.
    Italy has been hit harder than any other European nation.    The country’s death toll rose to 1,809 on Sunday and the total number of cases rose to 24,747.
    The pope, the Vatican – a tiny city-state surrounded by Rome – and the church in predominantly Catholic Italy have all been forced to modify centuries of tradition because of the outbreak.
    In Italy, as elsewhere, Masses have been canceled to avoid people gathering. Bishops have urged the faithful to participate via television and the internet.
    In staunchly Catholic Poland, which has reported just over a 100 coronavirus cases and three deaths, church authorities recommended the faithful watch mass on TV or online after the government banned public gatherings larger than 50 people.
    Many priests preached to nearly empty pews on Sunday.
    “It is such a depressing feeling for a priest,” said Wieslaw Niemyjski, who conducts services in a cathedral in Drohiczyn, a town of roughly 2,000 people in eastern Poland.
    The noon children’s Mass usually attracts about 200 people, he said.    “Today there were maybe 17 people, plus five acolytes, three priests.    I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Edmund Blair, William Maclean)

3/16/2020 Jewish worshippers urged not to kiss Western Wall due to coronavirus fears
FILE PHOTO: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man kisses the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer
site, in Jerusalem's Old City November 28, 2012. REUTERS/Marko Djurica/ File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Jewish faithful should refrain from kissing the stones of the Western Wall, the chief rabbi of the Jerusalem site said on Monday, adding to measures that religious authorities have taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
    Jews pray en masse at the Western Wall and often stuff written prayers into the cracks between its stones.    Kissing the wall is not a ritual requirement, but some devout Jews do so, believing it shows reverence to God.
    The Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray in Jerusalem, is revered as a remnant of the compound of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great more than 2,000 years ago and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
    Last week, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate urged Jewish worshippers to stay away from the Western Wall due to coronavirus fears, but some Jews have continued to visit the site to pray.
    “Do not kiss the Western Wall stones,” the site’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, instructed Jews in a statement on Monday.
    Worshippers should maintain “proper distance” between one another and “abide by required hygiene practices,” he said.     The Western Wall abuts the sacred compound known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary.
    Muslim authorities on Sunday ordered the compound’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shut until further notice and asked worshippers to pray instead in its outdoor spaces.
    Israel has reported 255 confirmed cases of coronavirus to date, and there have been 39 cases in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.    There have been no reported cases in the Gaza Strip.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/16/2020 Court jails former French priest for sexually abusing boy scouts
FILE PHOTO: Father Bernard Preynat arrives to attend his trial, on charges of sex abuse of
minors, at the courthouse in Lyon, France, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – A French court on Monday convicted a former Roman Catholic priest of sexually abusing children and sentenced him to five years in jail, his lawyer said.
    Bernard Preynat was found guilty of abusing dozens of boy scouts in the 1980s and early 1990s.    Prosecutors had portrayed the 74-year-old as a serial pedophile and said he preyed on children entrusted to his care by their parents.
    Preynat told the court he had not understood how grave his acts were nor how traumatic the consequences would be for his victims.
    “These were non-violent acts, acts of tenderness from which I derived a certain pleasure.    It took me time to learn it was wrong and condemned given the age of the children,” he testified.
    Prosecutors had sought an eight-year jail term.
(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange; Editing by Richard Lough, Dominique Vidalon)

3/17/2020 Under coronavirus lockdown, Armageddon is like the end of the world by Rami Ayyub
A general view shows an empty plaza outside the Greek Orthodox Church of the
Annunciation, in Nazareth, northern Israel March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Rami Ayyub
    ARMAGEDDON, Israel (Reuters) – Not a soul could be seen on Armageddon, where a near-complete coronavirus lockdown is keeping Christian pilgrims away from the Biblical site in northern Israel, half an hour’s drive from Nazareth.
    In normal times, tourists would be arriving daily to work their way up to the ruins on Armageddon’s hazy summit, by tradition the End of Days battleground between good and evil in the final book of the New Testament.
    There is no sign of tourist or pilgrim coaches now at the ancient mound.
    “A few brave people have come up here for a walk.    I wouldn’t recommend it,” said a security guard, warning of infection. He was one of just a handful of workers at the site.
    Near the modern Israeli town and prison of Megiddo, the earliest written reference to Armageddon seems to have been during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III, who defeated Syrian and Canaanite states there in 1468 BC.
    It is one of many tourist sites which now lie deserted after Israel imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all people entering the country, effectively shutting down the tourism industry.
    Looking east across the Galilee, Nazareth’s imposing Basilica of the Annunciation – built on a site that many Christians believe was the childhood home of Jesus’s mother, Mary – is also bereft of all but the hardiest faithful.
    Priests filling plastic bags with white candles and holy water on Sunday were asking worshippers to pray from home.    The church itself was locked between services, and attendance was capped at 10 congregants.
    “We were preparing for what should have been the heaviest Easter tourism season on record,” said Sister Beatrice Bourrat, who works with Catholic pilgrims visiting Nazareth and other holy cities across Israel and the occupied West Bank.
    “Guest houses and hotels had hired seasonal workers.    Now everybody is sitting at home.    It’s sad,” she said.
    Israel has reported more than 300 confirmed cases of coronavirus.    The Palestinian Authority has reported over 40 in the West Bank, and religious authorities have closed down the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Jesus’s birthplace, which is also empty of visitors.
    The steel doors of Nazareth’s Old City market were mostly shut over the weekend on advice from Israel’s health ministry, apart from one shop: a coffee roastery which specializes in grinding beans for an ultra-strong Arabic-style brew.
    “The government said essential services should remain open.    Coffee is an essential service,” said Raghed Fahoum, who manages Fahoum Coffee and Spices.
    But with no tourists to serve, he’s bracing for hardship.
    “Something tells me we haven’t hit the bottom yet,” he said.
    Even a brief drop in tourism ripples through the economy in tourism-dependent cities like Nazareth and Bethlehem, said Basseem Asfour, president of the Nazareth City Council.
    “Usually, the church is overflowing with people on Sundays, locals and pilgrims.    This is the fewest people I’ve ever seen here,” said Asfour, outside the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.    That church has also capped worshippers at 10.
    The sandstone Orthodox shrine’s underground spring, according to tradition, is where Mary was drawing water during the Annunciation – when the angel Gabriel told her she would give birth to Jesus.
    One worshipper at the church, Rawan Jarjoura, said she was coming to pray “because we need God in times like this.”I’ll keep my distance from my neighbor, and try to stay close to God,” she said.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, editing by Ed Osmond)

3/18/2020 Coronavirus: in Poland, priests celebrate Mass in empty churches | AFP
    On 3/15/2020 the call of the Polish episcopate to fight the epidemic of coronavirus, Catholic worshippers remain at home to pray on Sunday, leaving priests who wish to celebrate Mass in empty churches.

3/22/2020 Pope calls for world prayer to stop coronavirus, will deliver special blessing by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis speaks during his general audience as it is streamed via video over the internet from a library inside the
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Sunday he will this week deliver an extraordinary “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing – normally given only at Christmas and Easter – and called for worldwide prayer to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
    Francis made the surprise announcement in his weekly Angelus message, which he has been delivering from inside the Vatican over the internet and television instead of before crowds in St. Peter’s Square.
    His decision to make an exception and give a special “Urbi et Orbi” blessing underscored the gravity of the situation worldwide but particularly in Italy, which has overtaken China as the country hardest hit by the virus outbreak.
    The pope said that on Friday evening he would deliver the extraordinary blessing from an empty St. Peter’s Square.    The square, which is part of the Vatican, has been closed as part of a lockdown in Italy to try to contain the spread of the virus.
    Catholics who receive the blessing, either in person or via the media, can, under certain conditions, receive a special indulgence. An indulgence is remission of punishment for sins.
    On Saturday Italy recorded a jump in deaths from coronavirus of almost 800, taking the death toll in the country to nearly 5,000.
    Francis also called on all Christians around the world to stop at noon Italian time on Wednesday to pray the “Our Father” together.
    “We want to respond to the pandemic of the virus with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness,” he said from the papal library.    “Let’s remain united.”
    In its latest desperate effort to halt the epidemic, the Italian government ordered that all businesses must close until April 3, with the exception of those essential to maintaining the country’s supply chain.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Susan Fenton)

3/22/2020 African churches swap holy water for hand sanitizer, crowds for videos by Thomas Mukoya, Cooper Inveen and Angela Ukomadu
A view of a closed church, as all religious gatherings are suspended over concerns of the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hama, Syria, March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
    NAIROBI/FREETOWN/LAGOS (Reuters) – Hand sanitizer replaced holy water at Nairobi’s Holy Family Basilica Catholic Church, and attendance was far lower than usual, but Sunday Mass went ahead.
    “God’s intention is that we worship him in the church,” preached Father David Kamumue to about 300 people, instead of his usual congregation of some 5,000.
    “Let us pray.    May God keep us safe.”
    In Kenya, where there have been seven confirmed cases of coronavirus, the government has imposed restrictions including closing schools and has urged people to practice social distancing as it tries to prevent the disease from spreading.
    For religious gatherings, authorities have asked churches to limit crowds as much as possible and encouraged people to pray from home. [nL8N2BE0O1]
    Globally, measures by authorities have included closing or limiting worship, disrupting Sunday services just before Easter.
    So far the confirmed incidence of the disease in Africa has been relatively small – almost 1,200 cases and more than 30 deaths, compared with a worldwide total that has reached more than 305,000 cases, with more than 13,000 deaths.
    But part of Africa’s battle to stop the virus from taking hold could be fought in its churches.    It has the highest number of Christians of any continent, 631 million people as of 2018, or 45% of the continent’s population, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
    As worshippers trickled into services across the continent on Sunday morning, temperatures were taken, hands were sanitized and people sat apart.
    In some places, measures were more extreme.
    In Sierra Leone, which has included religious services in a list of banned gatherings, churches in the capital Freetown stood empty on Sunday.    Some parishes found ways to broadcast their services so people could worship from home.
    Behind the locked doors of Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Freetown, the country’s oldest Catholic church, a priest and his deputy delivered a sermon to an empty room.
    A camera broadcast the sermon live over Facebook, while a microphone relayed the audio to Radio Maria — a church sponsored station broadcasting across the city.
    “People need to hear the word of God now more than ever,” said Father John Peter Bebeley who manages the radio station.     “If we can play our part in keeping this virus at bay while also providing consolation to people in these trying times, we have every responsibility to do that.”
    Similar scenes have played out across the continent.
    Churches in Ghana, South Africa, Liberia and other countries are moving to radio, television and the internet.
    “If I go out there and I am infected, I won’t have the opportunity to worship God next,” said Chika Paul-Oboh, a finance manager in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos.
    “If I can stay alive to worship God, any medium is fine.”
    Some worshippers disagreed with that stance.
    “Nothing can stop me from not being in church,” said Anna Ohere, a salon manager, who attends and works at another church in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
    “I must be in church to serve my God, I can’t be at home because of any one disease.”
    On Sunday, thousands of people in Abuja flocked to the 100,000-capacity Dunamis Glory Dome, a squat, sprawling monolith.
    The service, which was live-streamed on YouTube, was in open defiance of a government ban on gatherings of 50 people or more.
    People stood side by side for hours, singing hymns and listening to the pastor, Paul Enenche, sermonise on the dangers of plagues.    He acknowledged the ban on gatherings and the effects of coronavirus on Christianity everywhere.
    “In most parts of the world churches are closed completely, but that devil is a liar,” Enenche said.    “Church is our only hope. God is our only hope.”
    However, the church will move towards home services for small groups and online worship, he said.     He also announced a possible solution to skirt the ban on large gatherings: erecting canopies that would each hold 50 people.
(Reporting by Thomas Mukoya in Nairobi, Cooper Inveen in Freetown, Christian Akorlie in Accra, Lucinda Rouse in Monrovia, Abraham Achirga in Abuja, Seun Sanni in Lagos and Tanisha Heiberg in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Frances Kerry)

3/23/2020 Pope Francis’ May 31 trip to Malta postponed due to coronavirus
Pope Francis is seen delivering his weekly Angelus prayer at Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican City as Italians stay home as part
of a lockdown against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Rome, Italy March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis’s trip to Malta, which had been scheduled to take place on May 31, has been postponed indefinitely, the Vatican said on Monday.
    It was to have been the first trip by a pontiff in 10 years to the tiny Mediterranean island, where he was expected to speak about the rights of migrants.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/24/2020 Ky. church provides drive-in service by Chris Kenning, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Pastor J.D. Crockrel was stewing.
    He’d seen Gov. Andy Beshear call for churches to shut down services because of the coronavirus, and the Ashland, Kentucky, Pentecostal preacher, working his day job at a funeral home last week, couldn’t stop thinking about it.
    “Man, this isn’t sitting right with me,” the 29-year-old pastor recalled thinking.    “If there was ever a time we needed church, it’s now.”
    The answer came from God, or more accurately, Texas Roadhouse.
    Watching people order the restaurant’s food for pickup in cars, he wondered, “Why can’t we do that?
    On Sunday, the pastor of Christ Temple Church, nestled in the northeast Kentucky city of Ashland along the Ohio River, held its first drive-in service.
    Outside the church that once housed the local high school, Crockrel set up speakers, and, backed by a church piano and a drum set, he preached before about 100 cars parked in lots, streets and yards.
    During a rousing sermon, attendees honked their horns in place of “amens” and waved arms outside of their windows to his message about trusting God.
    “It looked like a drive-in theater.    People were honking their horns.    It was amazing,” said Sandy Radford, a church member.    “I just kept shouting and waving.    And there were people I’d never seen before.    They just stopped on and pulled off along the street.”
    It’s just one reflection of how churches across the United States — struggling between the demands for social distancing and the needs of an anxiety-riddled population — have been forced to adapt.
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended avoiding large gatherings of 50 or more for eight weeks.
While most U.S. churches have agreed to shut down, some reluctantly, a smaller number have refused.    A Harris Poll for Axios last week found that 48% of Americans are not willing to attend church, up from 38% within just three days.
    In Kentucky, Beshear has called out churches for failing to curtail services.
    And in at least two Kentucky counties, as many as 200 church members have gone into quarantine for possible exposure and at least one churchgoer was reportedly infected.
    Still, some were upset about the order, Crockrel said.
    “Nobody wants to be told you can’t go to church,” he said Monday, citing the constitutional right to freedom of religion as well as needs both spiritual and practical.    He realized the need to not hold services, but it made him worry.
    “I’m not gonna lie.    It made me nervous.    As a pastor, my job is to give people hope and reassurance.    And a church is like a business.    If you don’t have any finances coming in, well, we’ve got to pay our bills, too.”
    But his drive-in service turned out so well he plans to repeat it this Sunday.
    Covered by a local TV station, the drive-in service has been copied in cities in West Virginia and Ohio since being announced.
    “I don’t care if the malls close down!    I don’t care if the restaurants close down!    I don’t care if the business has got to shut their doors!    The savior of the world still lives!” Crockrel preached outside his church on Sunday.
    Reporter Chris Kenning can be reached at or on Twitter: @chris_kenning.
People pull up in their vehicles to listen to an outdoor service at Christ Temple Church in Ashland on Sunday

3/25/2020 British vicar catches fire waiting for God’s answer
Vicar Stephen Beach of St Budeaux parish church reacts as his sweater catches fire while delivering
a video sermon, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Plymouth, Britain, March 19, 2020, in this
still image from video obtained via social media. Video taken March 19, 2020. ST BUDEAUX PARISH CHURCH via REUTERS.
    (Reuters) – A British vicar got more than he expected from his first attempt at an online sermon when he leaned too close to a candle on a cross and his sweater caught fire.
    Stephen Beach of St Budeaux Parish Church in Plymouth, southwest England, was getting his congregation to reflect on the experience of waiting in the final section of a sermon delivered from his home last week.
    “It’s a great thing to pause in the presence of God and to ask the question: Lord God, what are you saying to us?,” Beach said, warming to the theme.
    “And then, of course, to wait for an answer.    I’ve just been pausing between these…” he continues before realising his left shoulder has moved too close to the flame.
    “Oh dear, I just caught on fire,” he exclaimed, batting and blowing out the flame.    “Oh my word.”
    Video sermons are part of the Plymouth church’s response to the coronavirus crisis, trying to encourage people to keep faith and sustain their normal outlook on life, the vicar told Reuters in a message.
    “My family love it, and the youngest grandchildren want to know when Granddad is going to set himself on fire again,” Beach added.
    Several places of worship around the world have adopted online prayers and services in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
    In a television message watched by more than 27 million people on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Britons to stay at home, told nearly all shops to close and banned social gatherings including weddings and baptisms.
(This story is refiled to remove extraneous “the” from fourth paragraph)
(Reporting by Nur-Azna Sanusi; Writing by Karishma Singh)

3/25/2020 Locked-down French Catholics mark holy mass via YouTube
French priest Guillaume Le Floc'h conducts a mass streamed online on the feast of the Annunciation at the church in Carquefou near Nantes
as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread in France, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
    CARQUEFOU, France (Reuters) – Coronavirus restrictions meant Catholic priest Guillaume Le Floc’h officiated at Wednesday evening’s mass in front of empty pews, so to make sure his flock could celebrate the holy feast of Annunciation, he had the service livestreamed on YouTube.
    The virus outbreak and government restrictions on all gatherings, intended to curb the spread of the virus, have forced many people in France and around the world to innovate, including the Catholic church in Carquefou, in northwest France.
    For Wednesday’s mass, the only people taking part in the service in person were Le Floc’h, an IT support person whose job was to make sure the live feed did not go down, and three Catholic nuns from a nearby religious community.
    “They appreciate being able to connect with their priest and their usual church,” the 43-year-old priest said of his parishioners viewing online, speaking to Reuters before the mass.
    The Annunciation, one of the holiest dates in the Catholic calendar, marks the moment that, according to Catholic tradition, the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was expecting a child.
    Le Floc’h, in a prayer at the start of Wednesday’s mass, made reference to the coronavirus outbreak that has killed some 1,100 people in France to date, with 22,300 people infected.
    “We think of all the sick, the carers, and the people who are in isolation,” said the priest.    “Amen.”
    The livestream of the service featured a fixed shot of the church altar, with its 15th century Notre Dame de la Blanche, a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary.    The livestream peaked at 175 views, according to YouTube data.
    The live feed was advertised in advance on the parish’s Facebook page.    Parishioners were given the option of downloading the order of service and the hymn sheet for the mass.
    Believers across France, now 9 days into a nationwide lockdown, marked the Annunciation in unfamiliar ways this year.
    The Catholic church hierarchy encouraged believers to place candles in their windows at 19:30 (1830 GMT), the same time church bells rang to mark the holy day.
    “This common gesture will mark our coming together in thought and prayer for those who have died, for those who are sick and the people close to them, for the carers and all those who make life in our country possible,” the church said in a statement.
(Reporting by Stephane Mahe and Guillaume Frouin; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/25/2020 German cathedral dusts off relics of St Corona, patron of epidemics
Restorer Luke Jonathan Koeppe and the director of the cathedral treasury Birgitta Falk present shrine with
the relics of Saint Corona, the patron of epidemics, at the cathedral in Aachen, Germany,
March 25, 2020 as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
    AACHEN, Germany (Reuters) – Germany’s Aachen Cathedral has dug out the relics of little-known Saint Corona, patron saint of resisting epidemics, from its treasure chamber and is polishing up her elaborate shrine to go on show once the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
    The pandemic, confirmed to have infected nearly half a million people worldwide, including more than 30,000 in Germany, has boosted public interest in the Christian martyr, believed to have been killed by the Romans around 1,800 years ago.
    The cathedral had planned even before the coronavirus outbreak to display St Corona’s shrine this summer as part of an exhibition on gold craftsmanship.    It is not clear when people will now be able to view the shrine due to tough restrictions on gatherings imposed to help combat the spread of the virus.
    But experts are painstakingly cleaning the gold, bronze and ivory shrine, which has been hidden from public view for the last 25 years, in preparation for when it can go on display.
    “We have brought the shrine out a bit earlier than planned and now we expect more interest due to the virus,” said Aachen Cathedral spokeswoman Daniela Loevenich.
    Corona is believed to have been only about 16 years old when the Romans killed her, probably in Syria, for professing the Christian faith.
    The girl suffered a particularly excruciating death, according to legend.    She was tied to two bent palm trees and then torn apart as the trunks were released.
    “That is a very gruesome story and led to her becoming the patron of lumberjacks,” said Brigitte Falk, head of Aachen Cathedral Treasure Chamber, adding that it was pure chance that she also became a patron saint for resisting epidemics.
    Corona’s relics, brought to Aachen by King Otto III in 997, were kept in a tomb underneath a slab in the cathedral – which can still be seen – until 1911-12 when they were placed in the shrine, which is 93 centimetres tall and weighs 98 kilograms.
    The Roman Catholic cathedral at Aachen, built by Emperor Charlemagne in the ninth century, is one of Europe’s oldest.    Charlemagne was buried there in 814 and it was used for the coronation of German kings and queens.
    While the cathedral stresses that Corona is patron saint of resisting all epidemics, not just this specific virus, the virus is so called because under a microscope, it looks like a globe with little globules, resembling a crown, said Falk.    In Latin corona means crown or garland.
    “Like many other saints, Saint Corona may be a source of hope in these difficult times,” said Falk.
(Reporting by Reuters Television and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/25/2020 Pope, world’s Christians join in prayer to end coronavirus by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis speaks ahead of reciting the "Our Father" from a library inside the Vatican as a response
to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, after calling for Christians all over the world
to recite the prayer together at noon, at the Vatican, March 25, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis and Christians worldwide recited “The Lord’s Prayer” on Wednesday to ask God to stop the coronavirus pandemic which has infected nearly half a million people, disrupted countless lives and shut down churches and other public venues.
    Francis invited all other Christian leaders and individual Christians on Sunday to recite the ‘Our Father’ prayer simultaneously at noon Italian time (1100 GMT) on Wednesday.
    “In this moment, we want to implore (God’s) mercy for a humanity so sorely tried by the coronavirus pandemic.    We do it together, Christians of every Church and Community, of every tradition, of every age, language and nation,” he said.
    In an introduction to the “Our Father,” which is also known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” he said it was also for “the sick and their families, health workers and those who assist them, for authorities, police forces and volunteers, for the (religious) ministers of our communities.”
    There are about 2.3 billion Christians in the world, of whom some 1.3 billion are Roman Catholics.
    The 83-year-old Francis prayed from inside the Vatican, where he has been holed up for the past few weeks as a precaution as Italy has imposed stringent measures to tackle what has become the world’s worst outbreak of the disease.
    The pope has been holding his general audiences and Sunday blessings over the internet and television from the official papal library instead of before crowds numbering tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
    There are over 420,000 cases of coronavirus reported across 196 countries, according to a Reuters tally at 0200 GMT on Tuesday. About 19,000 deaths are linked to the virus.
    Italy has reported more than 5,000 infections in the past day alone and total infections are now almost 70,000.    Italy will overtake China’s case load of 81,000 within days if the rate of infection continues at this pace.
    Italy had reported 6,820 coronavirus-linked deaths as of 1700 GMT on Tuesday, the highest toll in the world.
    Francis’ Easter activities next month also will be held without the direct participation of the faithful, the Vatican has said.
    Masses in Italy and many other countries around the world have been suspended so that people do not gather in large numbers but most churches are still open for individual prayer.
    The pope’s trip to Malta on May 31 has been indefinitely postponed and a trip to Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea that had been expected for September will most likely not take place.
    This Friday, Francis will deliver an extraordinary “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing – normally given only at Christmas and Easter.
    Catholics who receive the blessing, either in person or via the media, can, under certain conditions, receive a special indulgence.    An indulgence is remission of punishment for sins.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/26/2020 Vatican readies contingency plan against coronavirus in busy papal residence by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: The Sanctae Marthae building which will be the residence for the Cardinals during
the conclave is seen from inside Vatican state February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican is conducting tests for coronavirus on the dozens of priests who live in the same residence as Pope Francis and making contingency plans to move those diagnosed with the disease elsewhere, a source in the Holy See said on Thursday.
    The moves come several days after a priest who lives in the Santa Marta residence and works in the Secretariat of State tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized in Italy.
    The Vatican source was one of several officials who expressed concern about a possible flare-up in the residence where the pope has lived since his election in 2013.
    The modern residence, which has 130 rooms and suites and a staff of about 30 people, is also home to dozens of priests who continue to work in key Vatican departments.
    While the Vatican has enacted procedures to stem the spread of coronavirus inside the city-state, some officials say they may not be sufficient and think a total shutdown may be needed.
    “Santa Marta may be a bomb waiting to explode,” said one of the officials, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter.
    Francis has tested negative for coronavirus two times in recent weeks, according to Italian media reports.    The Vatican has not commented on those reports.
    There are currently about 50 permanent residents in Santa Marta, which is run like a hotel and stopped accepting bookings for temporary visitors earlier this month.
    About half of the residents were tested on Wednesday and the other half were being tested on Thursday, a source said, adding that the plan is to move those who test positive to a Church-run hotel for pilgrims in Rome.    Senior Vatican officials who live elsewhere inside the city-state are also being tested, another said.
    The concern is that priests go between Santa Marta, their jobs in Vatican departments, and sometimes go into Rome.
    “I consider it a potentially serious public health issue,” said one official.
    Until recently, Francis took his meals in the common dining room but he has recently been eating in his suite, one official said.
    Francis is 83 and part of one of his lungs was removed following an illness when he was a young man.
    One source who enters the residence regularly said precautions have been taken such as encouraging social distancing and making hand sanitizers available.
    Since March 6, the Vatican has issued at least five notices or decrees that mirror steps taken in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, with more than 8,000 deaths as of Thursday.
    They include recommendations to communicate by phone even with people in the same office, alternating shifts and encouraging as much work from home as possible.
    But most Vatican offices are still open, albeit with a skeleton staff, and some say they should be closed.
    “The Church will continue without the Roman Curia working for a few weeks,” one official said, using the name for the Vatican’s central administration.
    “This policy to keep all the offices open is worrying.    My department can be closed for months without any damage,” another said.
    Francis has canceled public appearances and is conducting his general audiences via television and the internet.    But he still receives about five Vatican officials a day, according to his official calendar.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/27/2020 Praying outside Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but unable to enter by Stephen Farrell
Roman Catholic monks pray in front of the locked door of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre
amid coronavirus restrictions in the walled Old City March 27, 2020 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Two weeks before Easter, a group of Roman Catholic priests gathered before the locked doors of the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Friday chanting in prayer.
    Any other year the clerics would be inside the church, preparing it and themselves for the most important festival in the Christian calendar, which Catholics this year celebrate on April 12.
    Greek Orthodox celebrations are held a week later, culminating in the colorful ceremony of the Holy Fire, symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus.
    But with restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic authorities who share custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are mulling how to balance tradition and safety at the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
    Acknowledging circumstances “that we have never experienced before,” Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, this week issued pastroal guidelines for Holy Week.
    He cautioned congregations around the Holy Land that celebrations would be “very limited.”    But he insisted that while they would be “reduced accordingly” at the Holy Sepulchre, “in our most sacred place (they) will not be eliminated in any way.”
    He signed off: “I wish everyone a peaceful Easter as much as possible.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/27/2020 Idaho sets minimum age to get married at 16 by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BOISE, Idaho – Gov. Brad Little has signed into law legislation setting 16 as the minimum age for a person to get married.
    The Republican governor signed the bill Tuesday.    It limits the marriages of 16- and 17-year-olds to someone not more than three years older.
    Backers said the legislation was needed to prevent forced or coerced marriages of young girls to much older men.
    A similar bill failed in the House last year.    It would have required a judge to sign off on someone marrying at 16 or 17. The new legislation requires only parental consent, as does current law.
    Before the new law, which goes into effect July 1, minors even younger than 16 could get married with consent of a parent and a judge.
    In most states, the minimum age to marry without parental consent is 18.

3/27/2020 Pope holds dramatic solitary service for relief from coronavirus by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis is pictured at St. Peter's Basilica during an extraordinary "Urbi et Orbi"
(to the city and the world) blessing - normally given only at Christmas and Easter -, as a response
to the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Vatican, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/Pool
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis said the coronavirus had put everyone “in the same boat” as he held a dramatic, solitary prayer service in St. Peter’s Square on Friday, urging the world to see the crisis as a test of solidarity and a reminder of basic values.
    “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities,” he said, speaking from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica into an eerily empty and rainy square before delivering an extraordinary “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing – something he normally does only twice a year.
    “It has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air…We find ourselves afraid and lost,” he said.
    The Vatican called the service “An Extraordinary Prayer in the Time of Pandemic,” a sombre echo of an announcement by Italian officials minutes earlier that the coronavirus death toll in the country had surged past 9,000.
    In the United States, the total number of infections has topped 85,000, making it the world leader in confirmed cases.
    Francis walked alone in the rain to a white canopy on the steps of the basilica and spoke sitting alone before a square where he normally draws tens of thousands of people but is now closed because of the pandemic.
    “We have realized that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other,” he said.
    Francis said the virus had exposed people’s vulnerability “to those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules.”
    He praised doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, care givers, transport workers, police, and volunteers, saying they, and not the world’s rich and famous, were “writing the decisive events of our time.”
    The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics said God was asking everyone to “reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering.”
    He prayed before a wooden crucifix which is normally kept in a Rome church and brought to the Vatican for the special service.
    According to tradition, a plague that hit Rome in 1522 began subsiding after the crucifix was taken around the streets of the Italian capital for 16 days in 1522.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/28/2020 Pope and closest aides do not have coronavirus: Vatican by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis sits at St. Peter's Basilica during an extraordinary "Urbi et Orbi"
(to the city and the world) blessing - normally given only at Christmas and Easter -, as a response to the
global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Vatican, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/Pool
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican said on Saturday that tests carried out in the building where Pope Francis lives after one resident tested positive for coronavirus showed that the pontiff and his closest aides do not have the disease.
    It was the first pronouncement about the 83-year-old pope and his coronavirus status since the current crisis began in Italy, where more than 10,000 people have>     Tests were done on 170 people in the Vatican and six showed positive, including one of the several dozen permanent residents of the Santa Marta guesthouse on the Vatican grounds, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.
    “I can confirm that neither the Holy Father nor his closest aides are among these,” he said.
    The person who tested positive works in the Secretariat of State and is in a Rome hospital.
    Tests showed one other person who had been in contact with the priest also came up positive but that person did not live in the papal residence.
    The modern residence, which has 130 rooms and suites and a staff of about 30 people, is home to dozens of priests who work in key Vatican departments.
    Bruni said the entire residence, which is run like a hotel but has not been accepting temporary guests for the past few weeks, was sanitized.
    Francis appears to be in generally good health but part of one of his lungs was removed following an illness when he was a young man.
    One source who enters the residence regularly said precautions have been taken such as encouraging social distancing and making hand sanitizers available.
    Since March 6, the Vatican has issued at least five notices or decrees that mirror steps taken in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, with more than 10,000 deaths as of Saturday.
    They include recommendations to communicate by phone even with people in the same office, alternating shifts and encouraging as much work from home as possible.
    Francis has canceled public appearances and is conducting his general audiences via television and the internet.    But he still receives about five Vatican officials a day, according to his official calendar.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Giles Elgood)

3/28/2020 Italy small town priest deals with death on industrial scale by Flavio Lo Scalzo
A local priest blesses coffins that have been piling up in a church due to a high number of deaths,
before they are taken away by military trucks, as Italy struggles to contain the spread of
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Seriate, Italy March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo
    SERIATE, Italy (Reuters) – When he became a priest 40 years ago, Father Mario Carminati knew he would be dealing with death – but not on an industrial scale.
    Coffins bearing deceased parishioners no longer leave one at a time in a shiny hearse after a funeral every week or so.
    Now, because of the coronavirus outbreak, clusters of coffins arrive every day and are laid on the cold marble floor of St. Joseph’s Church.
    “Authorities didn’t know where to put the coffins,” said Carminati, 64, the senior priest in Seriate, a tranquil, middle-class riverside town of 25,000 people in northern Italy.
    When enough have accumulated, he and others priests give them a hasty blessing and then a forklift loads them on to army trucks to cemeteries and crematoria.
    Gatherings have been banned throughout Italy because of a national lockdown so church funerals cannot be held.
    Seriate is in Bergamo province, the hardest hit in Italy’s northern Lombardy region and the epicenter of the outbreak.
    With the national death toll topping 9,000 on Friday, Italy has suffered almost twice as many deaths as any other nation.
    The priest said the saddest thing for him was that many of his parishioners died alone, without loved ones, because restrictions in place to stem the spread of the virus do not allow family members into hospitals.
    “We often talk about the most needy and these are truly the most needy now,” he said outside the church after blessing about 40 coffins along with a younger priest, Father Marcello Crotti.
    “They are the most needy even though they are no longer alive.    No one has the time or opportunity to take care of them anymore so I decided to open the house of the Lord to them,” Carminati said.
    It is a short stay.    After Carminati and Crotti blessed the latest batch of coffins on Saturday, army troops in protective gear loaded them onto five trucks covered by camouflaged tarps.
    Bells tolled as the trucks left the church and residents looking down from windows and balconies made the sign of the cross.
    As the caravan crossed an intersection, a town policeman wearing a medical mask and white gloves stood at attention and saluted.
(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

3/29/2020 Pope backs UN chief’s call for global ceasefire to focus on coronavirus by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis is pictured at St. Peter's Square during an extraordinary "Urbi et Orbi"
(to the city and the world) blessing - normally given only at Christmas and Easter - as a response to the
global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Vatican, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/Pool/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday backed a call by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire so the world can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
    Speaking at his weekly blessing, delivered from the official papal library instead of St. Peter’s Square because of the lockdown in Italy, Francis specifically mentioned the appeal Guterres made in a virtual news conference on Monday.
    Saying the disease knows no borders, Francis appealed to everyone to “stop every form of bellicose hostility and to favor the creation of corridors for humanitarian help, diplomatic efforts and attention to those who find themselves in situations of great vulnerability
    More than 662,700 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 30,751 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
    About a third of the deaths have been in Italy, where the toll passed 10,000 on Saturday, a figure that made an extension of a national lockdown almost certain.
    Confirmed cases in Italy stood at 92,472, the second-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States
    The Vatican, a 108-acre city-state surrounded by Rome, has had six confirmed cases and on Saturday spokesman Matteo Bruni said tests were carried out after a priest who lives in the papal residence tested positive.
    Bruni said the pope and his closest aides did not have the disease.
    The social effects of the pandemic have drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
    The United Nations has been trying to mediate an end to conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya, while also providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.
    Guterres warned that in war-torn countries health systems have collapsed and the small number of health professionals left were often targeted in the fighting.
    In his Sunday address, Francis also appealed to authorities to be sensitive to the particular problem coronavirus poses in prisons around the world, many of them overcrowded.
    He said the prison situation “could become a tragedy
    Prisoners have rioted in a number of countries, including Italy, where at least six inmates died earlier this month.    Prisoners rioted at a jail in northeastern Thailand on Sunday.
    Several countries, including Germany, Sudan and Iran, have released inmates in order to reduce the strain on their prison systems.
(Additional reporting by Giulia Segreti, Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/30/2020 Special Report: Five days of worship that set a virus time bomb in France by Tangi Salaün
A closed terrace is pictured during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
in Mulhouse, France March 12, 2020. Picture taken March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    PARIS (Reuters) – From the stage of an evangelical superchurch, the leader of the gospel choir kicked off an evening of prayer and preaching: “We’re going to celebrate the Lord! Are you feeling the joy tonight?
    “Yes!” shouted the hundreds gathered at the Christian Open Door church on Feb. 18.    Some of them had traveled thousands of miles to take part in the week-long gathering in Mulhouse, a city of 100,000 on France’s borders with Germany and Switzerland.
    For many members of this globe-spanning flock, the annual celebration is the high point of the church calendar.
    This time, someone in the congregation was carrying the coronavirus.
    The prayer meeting kicked off the biggest cluster of COVID-19 in France – one of northern Europe’s hardest-hit countries – to date, local government said. Around 2,500 confirmed cases have been linked to it.    Worshippers at the church have unwittingly taken the disease caused by the virus home to the West African state of Burkina Faso, to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, to Guyana in Latin America, to Switzerland, to a French nuclear power plant, and into the workshops of one of Europe’s biggest automakers.
    Weeks later, Germany partially closed its border with France, suspending a free-movement pact that has been in place for the past 25 years.    The church cluster was a key factor, two people familiar with the German decision told Reuters.
    Church officials told Reuters that 17 members of the congregation have since died of complications linked to the disease.
    Other religious gatherings have been linked to the spread of the virus: A large church in South Korea has triggered more than 5,000 cases there.    This story, told to Reuters by members of the Christian Open Door congregation and officials involved in coping with the outbreak, is testament to the speed and ferocity of the coronavirus infection. As public health administrators were still gearing up for coronavirus, the disease was operating to its own, remorseless timetable – one that has quickly outpaced anything they could put in place.
    As the faithful gathered on a clear Tuesday evening in the church, an old shopping center converted into a 2,500 seat auditorium, the disease seemed remote.    France had 12 confirmed cases, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.    There were none in the Mulhouse area.
    France, like other governments in northern Europe, had imposed no restrictions on big meetings.    There was no alcohol gel for the congregations to clean their hands, no elbow bumps instead of handshakes.
    “At the time, we viewed COVID as something that was far off,” said Jonathan Peterschmitt, son of the lead pastor and grandson of the church’s founder.    His father, Samuel, was unavailable for an interview because he had been sickened by the virus, his son and a church spokeswoman said.
    The day after the first case linked to the church was identified on Feb. 29, public health officials followed the usual protocol and traced the people whom the carriers had been in contact with, to stem the spread.    Using a list supplied by the church – which public health officials said cooperated fully – they first contacted those who had staffed the children’s crèche during the gathering.
    At this point, the health inspectors realized they were too late.    Some crèche staff were already sick, according to Michel Vernay, an epidemiologist with France’s national public health agency in eastern France.
    “We were overwhelmed,” said Vernay.    “We realized that we had a time bomb in front of us.”
    Among the congregation was local man Elie Widmer, a 37-year-old manager of a house-building company.    His parents were members of the church, which was founded in 1966 by Jean Peterschmitt, a French shopkeeper who embraced evangelism after his wife was unexpectedly cured of an illness.
    Widmer said he had drifted away from the church as a teenager, but returned.    The Mulhouse gathering was something he looked forward to the whole year, he said: “You feel a special energy during that week.    For a week, you stop everything to spiritually recharge.”    As a drummer in the church orchestra, he attended the whole week.
    Coming from further afield was Antoinette, a 70-year-old grandmother who lives on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. For her, the gathering was part of a 25-year tradition.
    Antoinette made the trip with five other women who worship at the Bethel evangelical church in the capital Ajaccio.    She spoke on the condition that she not be fully identified, saying believers had been stigmatized by people outside the church for spreading the virus.
    Antoinette has chronic lung problems, for which she has regular treatment.    As the women flew out of Corsica on Feb. 16, they looked forward to combining evangelical workshops with excursions to the shops.
    “We knew nothing,” she said from her home in Ajaccio.    “We weren’t thinking about the epidemic.”
    Neither was Mamadou Karambiri, who flew into Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport on Feb. 14 aboard an Air France flight from Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso.
    He is pastor of his own church in Africa and co-founder of an organization called the International Evangelism Center – Africa Interior Mission.    A charismatic speaker with a shock of white hair, Karambiri was to be the meeting’s star preacher.
    His church, a warehouse-like building that takes up a city block in Ouagadougou, can accommodate 12,000 people, according to a worshipper there.    A giant white cross towers above the red dirt street outside.    Across the road is the studio that televises the sermons the pastor delivers to worshippers assembled on rows of blue plastic chairs.
    Karambiri traveled to the Mulhouse gathering with his wife and a bodyguard, said his spokesman, Aristide A. Ouedrago. The pastor, through his secretary, declined to be interviewed for this story.
    Ouedrago said that he believed that when Karambiri traveled, the virus was not in France, although in fact there were 12 cases.
    In Mulhouse, the Christian Open Door church stands across the road from a kebab cafe.    A four-storey-high white metal cross rises over the car park.
    Also gathering in the church building were two children whose mother had taken sick before the event started, health officials said.    The mother stayed at home, but their grandfather brought the children along – the elder child was five, the younger just one year old.
    The children and their mother would later test positive for coronavirus, making the mother a potential source of the cluster, said Vernay, the French public health official.    It was not clear to public health officials where the mother, whom Vernay declined to identify, picked up the infection.
    The week’s schedule included gospel choir performances, collective prayer, singing, sermons from preachers, workshops, and testimony from people who said God had cured their illnesses.
    The best-attended sessions had up to 2,500 people and there were never fewer than 1,000, said Jonathan Peterschmitt, the founder’s son, from his home.    Many people came day after day, and spent hours there.    “So we were in the same petri dish for a week,” he said.
    By the end of the gathering on Feb. 21, no one had reported any flu-like symptoms, according to Nathalie Schnoebelen, a church spokeswoman.    At the time, France’s tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases was steady at 12.
    In late February, Widmer, the drummer, started feeling unwell. His wife, his three children, and his mother-in-law also took ill.
    On March 3, the WHO recorded 91 new COVID-19 cases in France, bringing the country’s total to 191.    The church, prompted by the discovery of the infected woman and her two children, posted on its Facebook page that people who had come to the gathering should contact a doctor.
    Widmer dialed 15, the number in France for emergency medical care.    There were not enough testing kits for him to be tested. But doctors diagnosed coronavirus and ordered him and his family to quarantine themselves.
    For three days he had a strong fever and headache, and lost his sense of taste and smell.    He said he was not especially worried: His family had milder symptoms. He has since recovered, but remains in self-isolation.
    The virus spread through the church founder’s family.    Around a dozen members are now recovering.
    A few miles away across the border, German officials were watching with growing alarm.
    They had received a report from the Robert Koch Institute, a German state public health institution, that added eastern France to its list of four coronavirus risk areas around the world – along with China’s Hubei province, Iran, Italy and North Gyeongsang province, adjoining the city of Daegu, the site of the South Korean church outbreak. By March 11, France’s COVID-19 tally at the WHO had leapt to 1,774, of whom 33 had died.
    Roughly 45,000 French workers commute to Germany daily, according to official data – around a fifth of them from the Mulhouse area.    Most work in Germany’s wealthy industrial region of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where automakers Porsche and Mercedes-Benz have their headquarters.    Europa-Park, a theme park just over the Rhine in Germany, is a big employer, also of French workers.
    After attending the gathering, a worker from the French nuclear power plant at Fessenheim near Mulhouse tested positive.    The plant’s operator, Electricite de France SA (EdF), ordered 20 others to self-isolate at home but operations were not disrupted, a representative of the power company said.    Another person who had been at the gathering worked in the Peugeot Citroen factory on the edge of Mulhouse; that individual too was infected, according to a person familiar with the case.
    German officials in Baden-Wuerttemberg decided to act, imposing restrictions on movements across the border.     The French government asked Berlin for an explanation.    On March 16, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron.    They talked about the cluster in eastern France and the risk from commuters, said a German government official briefed on the call.    Then they agreed to close the border to traffic other than cargo vehicles and people making essential trips.    A French official confirmed the contents of the discussion.
    Police appeared at previously unmanned border posts, asking car drivers for a document from their employer proving travel is essential.    Cargo trucks are backed up.
    But the disease was already out.    A resident of Switzerland who went to the meeting brought the virus back to their evangelical community near Lausanne, the Swiss federation of evangelical churches said on its website.    Public health authorities in French Guyana said they found five people who had traveled to the gathering also tested positive.
    Back home in Corsica after her trip to the church gathering, Antoinette felt under the weather.
    She put it down to the exertion of the trip, and carried on meeting up with other church-goers in Ajaccio.    On March 2, nine days after she returned, she received a call from Mulhouse describing the outbreak there.
    She was hospitalized overnight, tested, and on March 4, became one of the first cases of COVID-19 on the French island of Corsica.    She has since been in self-isolation, and her church has suspended services.    As of March 27, 263 people were infected with coronavirus on Corsica, 21 of whom died.
    “People have pointed their finger at me,” said Antoinette on March 16.    “They need a scapegoat.”    She said some people outside her circle were suspicious of evangelical Christians and blamed her for bringing the virus to Corsica.    Jonathan Peterschmitt, the son of the Mulhouse pastor, said others in the congregation had been subject to verbal attacks by strangers for spreading the infection, and were now fearful of revealing their identities.
    By March 20, France had more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19.    Around a quarter were in Grand-Est, the region that includes Mulhouse.    “The very great majority” of these could be traced to the church, said Vernay, the local public health official.     Because there are more critical cases than intensive care beds in the region, some patients have been flown by helicopter to Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg.    The French military have set up a field hospital inside green metal-framed tents.
    At home in Ouagadougou, Pastor Karambiri and his wife, after falling ill on March 1, went to a local clinic, tested positive, and quarantined themselves until March 20.
    At the end of his self-imposed period of isolation, he broadcast a message to his followers in a video posted on his organization’s Facebook page.    Sitting on a sofa, his bible on his lap and his wife alongside him, he told them about the infection.
    The coronavirus, he said, is “a satanic plan conceived a long time ago to destroy the world.    But God is watching over us and he will lead the people out.”
(Tangi Salaun reported from Paris; Additional reporting by Gilles Gillaume, John Irish, Richard Lough, Michel Rose and Bate Felix in Paris, Paul Ortoli in Corsica, Denis Balibouse in Mulhouse, Henry Wilkins in Ouagadougou and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; writing by Christian Lowe; Edited by Sara Ledwith)

3/30/2020 Senior Italian cardinal, papal vicar for Rome, has coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: New cardinal Angelo De Donatis of Italy is seen during a consistory ceremony to install
14 new cardinals in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, June 28 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo
    ROME (Reuters) – Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Pope Francis’ vicar for the diocese of Rome, on Monday became the highest-ranking Catholic official known to test positive for coronavirus.
    De Donatis’ office said he was tested for the virus after feeling unwell and was admitted to a Rome hospital.    His closest aides had gone into voluntary quarantine as a precaution, a statement said.
    A pope is also the bishop of Rome but appoints someone to act as his vicar to administrate the vast diocese.
    De Donatis, 66, is not believed to have had personal contact with Pope Francis recently.
    The Vatican said on Saturday that the pope and his closest aides did not have the virus.    Coronavirus has killed 11,591 people in Italy, about a third of the deaths around the world.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Ken Ferris)

3/31/2020 Italy, Vatican lower flags, observe silence to honor coronavirus dead by Emily Roe
The flags of Italy, the European Union and Bari flutter to half mast to honour the country's dead
due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bari, Italy, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
    ROME (Reuters) – Italians marked a minute of silence and flags at government buildings were lowered to half mast on Tuesday to honor the thousands of victims of the coronavirus outbreak.
    The Vatican, a tiny city-state surrounded by Rome, lowered its own yellow-and-white flags.    Italians on the other side of the border lowered their green, white and red national tri-color as well as the flags of their cities and of the European Union.
.     The initiative was promoted by a group of mayors to show solidarity with the towns suffering the most in the north, the epicenter of the crisis.
    Italy is the world’s hardest hit country in terms of deaths and accounts for more than a third of all global fatalities.
    “This moment of silence of mayors, in which even the presidential palace and the Vatican participated, is an important moment for our country, showing unity from north to south,” said Antonio Decaro, mayor of the southern city of Bari, which so far has been spared the worst of the outbreak.
    Mayors wearing their official tri-color sashes and some donning surgical masks looked on somberly as buglers played on empty streets that before the lockdown to try to contain the virus would have been packed with residents and tourists.
    Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro stood by the unusually still waters of a canal, free of boat traffic because of the national lockdown.
    “All the mayors have gathered together in a kind of ideal embrace, most importantly to be close to the places that are suffering the most, where the virus has been the most ferocious, to be close to the mourning for those who have died,” Decaro said.
    The lockdown was due to end on Friday, but has been extended until sometime after Easter, which falls on April 12 this year.
    As the total number of dead on Tuesday rose by another 837 to well over 12,000, Decaro said the mayors’ initiative was a sign of respect for all suffering families.
    “We are trying to send a message of hope,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters television staff; writing by Philip Pullella; editing by Barbara Lewis)

3/31/2020 Florida pastor arrested for violating coronavirus rules
    TAMPA, Fla. – Florida officials arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives say he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.    According to jail records, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities Monday afternoon.    He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.    Bail was set at $500, according to the jail’s website, and he was released after posting bond.
[Hopefully God paid his bail.].

4/1/2020 Florida pastor arrested for conducting services by Tamara Lush and Chris O’Meara, Associated Press
    TAMPA, Fla. – Officials arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives said he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
According to jail records, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities Monday afternoon in Hernando County, where he lives.    He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.    Bail was set at $500, according to the jail’s website, and he was released after posting bond.
    Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a news conference Monday that he negotiated with the attorney of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne to get the church leader to turn himself in to authorities in Hernando County. His church is in Tampa.
    “Not only did the church comply with the administrative order regarding six-foot distancing, it went above and beyond any other business to ensure the health and safety of the people,” said a statement from Liberty Counsel, Howard-Browne’s law firm.    “Contrary to Sheriff Chronister’s allegation that Pastor Howard-Browne was ‘reckless,’ the actions of Hillsborough Country and the Hernando County Sheriff are discriminatory against religion and church gatherings.”
    Churches in Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana have continued to invite worshippers as at least a half-dozen states offer some degree of exemption for faith in their orders to shutter nonessential activity during the pandemic.
    The Tampa church said it sanitized the building, and the pastor said on Twitter that the church is an essential business.    He attacked the news media for “>i>religious bigotry and hate.”    In the statement released late Monday afternoon, Liberty Counsel said the church enforced the 6-foot distance rule between family groups, made sure the staff wore gloves and gave every person who entered hand sanitizer, among other things.
[What happened to the first amendment.].

    This page created on 1/1/2020, and updated each month by 1/31/2020, 2/29/2020, 3/31/2020.

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