The Vatican

Pope’s Private Conversations Aren’t Church Policy

Pope Francis Visits The Church of St. Ignatius
Pope Francis on April 24, 2014 in Rome, Italy. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

The Vatican denies that the pope wants to change the rule on whether divorcees and their new spouses can take the sacrament

The Vatican assured Catholics Thursday that Pope Francis’ private conversations will not become church policy after a phone conversation of his stirred controversy.

Pope Francis reportedly spoke on the phone to an Argentine woman who had written him for guidance. She said that her priest had not allowed her to take communion because her current husband’s previous marriage was never annulled. After the conversation, her husband, Julio Sabetta, claimed that the head of the Catholic Church told the woman she was free of sin.

“He said that she has been freed of all sin, that he blessed the whole family, that she’s free to take communion from here on out, and he asked that we pray for him,” Sabetta said, adding that after they hung up, the whole family hugged and wept together. “It was something amazing,” he said.

The account, which Sabetta posted on Facebook on April 21, led to speculation that the Pope wanted to changeVatican policy that currently prevent those who have remarried after getting divorced from access to the sacraments. This possibility was fueled by the fact that the pope has called a synod in October to discuss family issues, including contraception and divorce. The Vatican even sent out a questionnaire to all the world’s bishops asking for their input before the meeting.

But Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied that there would be a change in policy, according to the Associated Press: “consequences related to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred” from the pope’s private conversations.

“Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships. Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.”

[AP]

TIME 100

Name That Influencer on the TIME 100

How well do you know the most influential people in the world? One slide has a clue, and the next has the answer. Click through and see how many you can identify

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Israel-Palestine Peace Talks Mired in Uncertainty

Analysts say Netanyahu's announcement that Israel was suspending negotiations with the Palestinians could simply be a tactical move

Israel’s decision to suspend peace talks with the Palestinians might appear to signal the end of negotiations between the two sides—but the move has only served to create yet more uncertainty about their future.

The announcement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday arrived as a thunderclap: after a five-hour meeting of the diplomatic-security cabinet, the vote to suspend the negotiations that have been championed by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was unanimous. But analysts said they understood the suspension to be just that—a pause in the negotiations “until the make-up of the new Palestinian government and its policy become clear,” Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz, the respected Israeli daily.

Netanyahu was incensed that Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate who heads both the Palestinian Authority and the secular Fatah party, had agreed to patch over a seven-year rift with Hamas, the militant Islamist group whose charter denies Israel’s right to exist. The reconciliation announced on Wednesday caught the Israeli government by surprise.

But does that mean the talks—which are set to expire on April 29—are over? “No, of course not,” says Efraim Inbar, the conservative head of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, outside Tel Aviv. “We’ll see what happens with Hamas.”

Kerry had to coax both sides into participating in the talks, which began in July, and neither has reported substantial progress. When U.S. efforts to extend them through the end of the year failed three weeks ago, Kerry said the Obama administration would re-assess its investment in the effort.

Still, both Netanyahu and Abbas have indicated they want to continue talking, and as a practical matter, Palestinian unity might even improve the prospects of a deal. The European Union welcomed the pact nominally ending the factional rift, which had divided the Palestinian public both politically and territorially, with Hamas governing the Gaza Strip, where 1.7 million Palestinians reside, while Fatah held sway on the West Bank, home to another 2.5 million.

A senior Fatah official on Thursday said the unity pact with Hamas was made with the understanding that the group would support the peace talks, regardless of what its charter says. “We wouldn’t have been prepared—or able—to sign a reconciliation agreement without it being clear to all the Palestinian factions that we are leading our nation to a two-states-for-two-nations solution,” former PA security chief Jabril Rajoub told Israel’s Army Radio. Rajoub tried to turn the tables on Netanyahu, pointing out that parties in his own governing coalition rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, yet talks proceeded anyway.

Inbar, who supports Netanyahu, says he understood the Israeli cabinet’s decision as a tactical move, calculated to push back at Abbas after the Palestinian leader took the initiative.

“It’s good for domestic politics,” Inbar says, of the Israeli cabinet vote. He adds that it could also stir the Obama administration to intercede on Israel’s behalf. “Maybe the Americans will wake up, I don’t know.”

For the time being, the Israelis have seized on the extremist reputation of Hamas as an opportunity to cast Abbas as the reckless party. After the reconciliation deal was announced, a post on Netanyahu’s Facebook page showed a photo of Osama bin Laden alongside an picture of Abbas shaking hands with a senior Hamas official who had publicly lamented the terror mastermind’s death. Below ran the caption: “This is President Abbas’ new partner.” What analysts call “the blame game” has played out in the background of the negotiations since their start, with each side quietly angling to avoid being seen as responsible for their assumed eventual collapse.

For most of that time, Israel appeared most vulnerable to the blame, largely because, as the talks proceeded nominally toward establishing a Palestinian state, Netanyahu steadily expanded the approximately 200 Jewish settlements on the West Bank territory where that state was expected to stand. Kerry appeared to seal that assumption earlier this month when he told a Senate committee that Israel’s approval of 700 more units in a settlement undermined U.S. efforts to extend the talks.

But as long as the fate of the talks remains unclear, so does the answer to the question of who might bear the blame for their end. For all the drama of Thursday’s cabinet vote, its announcement felt more incremental than final to many observers.

“It could be tactical leverage, or maybe something more substantial,” says Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, a former Israeli peace negotiator, now at the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank at Tel Aviv University. “It could be a way to make sure that Hamas doesn’t gain too much influence inside whatever government emerges.”

Afganistán

Gunman Kills 3 American Doctors at Kabul Children’s Hospital

The motive for the attack remains unknown

+ READ ARTICLE

Three American medical staff workers have dead and two more people were injured after an Afghanistan security officer shot them at a Christian nonprofit hospital in the capital of Kabul. The gunman was also injured in the attack, though conflicting reports describe the events that led up to the injury. The attacker’s identity also has yet to be revealed.

This is yet another in a string of attacks against non-Afghanis in the increasingly unstable capital city.

 

 

 

VICE Journalist Freed After 3 Days of Captivity in Ukraine

UKRAINE-US-RUSSIA-CRISIS-POLITICS-MEDIA-FREE
Simon Ostrovsky, who was abducted and held by pro-Kremlin rebels in east Ukraine this week, speaks on a mobile phone as he arrives in a hotel in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk after being freed, on April 24, 2014. Alexander Khudoteply—AFP/Getty Images

Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter for VICE News, was freed on Thursday evening by the militants who captured him during his reporting trip in eastern Ukraine. The militants in Slavyansk are still holding numerous prisoners, including Ukrainian journalists

On Monday night, a group of five journalists were traveling in a rental car through the center of Slavyansk, the town in eastern Ukraine that has been taken over by pro-Russian militants, when they came to the final checkpoint on their trip back to their hotel. At the wheel was Simon Ostrovsky, an American reporter with VICE News, who had already driven with his passengers through three checkpoints on the way into town, each one manned by separatist fighters who peered into the car at the journalists’ faces. But it was only at the final one, near the militant-controlled police station in the center of Slavyansk, that the gunmen recognized Ostrovsky.

They had a wanted poster with his photograph on it, accusing him of “distorting” the truth in his coverage of the conflict in Ukraine and “spreading the lies of the Kiev junta,” a reference to Ukraine’s central government. With guns drawn, the militants then pulled all five journalists out of the car, including this TIME correspondent, lined them up outside the police station and read out the text of the wanted poster by the light of their headlamps. It demanded Ostrovsky’s capture for the series of video reports that he and his colleague, the photojournalist Frederick Paxton, had produced since early March – “Russian Roulette: The Invasion of Ukraine.

The militants, overjoyed at their catch, then led Ostrovsky away at gunpoint and drove him to their security headquarters in the center of Slavyansk. Paxton, this correspondent and the two other journalists were also detained at gunpoint but released after a brief interrogation. The militants accused some of their detainees of being Western spies and agents of the Kiev authorities.

It would be almost three days before Ostrovsky’s colleagues would learn of his release on Thursday evening. Throughout his time in captivity, the separatist leader of the town where he was captured, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, batted away questions about his prisoner’s fate with a stream of inconsistent claims. At various points, he suggested that Ostrovsky was detained for his journalism, or for having an expired press accreditation, or for working as a spy. On at least two occasions the militant leader said publicly that Ostrovsky was being held as a prisoner of war in order to trade for other separatists who have been arrested by the Ukrainian government. During a bizarre press conference on Tuesday, Ponomaryov, a soap manufacturer who claimed the title of “people’s mayor” after seizing power last week, insisted that Ostrovsky was simply working on an “exclusive” story from inside the separatist’s security building and was not being held against his will. But dozens of requests to speak with Ostrovsky or see him were refused. His normally busy Twitter feed fell silent.

On Tuesday, VICE News confirmed that Ostrovsky was in danger. “We are aware of Simon Ostrovsky’s situation and are working to ensure the safety and security of our friend and colleague,” the statement said. Nearly two days of intensive efforts would pass before VICE News would release another statement about him, on Thursday, saying that the outlet was “delighted to confirm that our colleague and friend Simon Ostrovsky has been safely released and is in good health.”

On Twitter, some of Ostrovsky’s followers in Ukraine were quick to point out on Thursday that the militants in Slavyansk are still holding numerous prisoners, including Ukrainian journalists, highlighting the continuing danger posed by the separatist fighters who have taken over large chunks of the country’s eastern regions. “Ukraine is about to be kidnapped,” one remarked. On Thursday morning, the government forces of Ukraine mounted their first assault on a separatist checkpoint on the road leading to Slavyansk, turning it into a pile of burning tires and leaving between two and five separatists dead. Russia, which has threatened to intervene to protect the separatists, responded with a new set of military exercises at its border with Ukraine. So the fears of Ukraine’s imminent “kidnapping” may not be overblown. But whatever happens, Ostrovsky will now be able to get back to doing what he does best – reporting.

Nigeria

Rights Group Urges U.N. To Help Free Abducted Girls

(LAGOS, Nigeria) — A Nigerian rights group is urging the United Nations to help secure the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by extremists 10 days ago.

More than 40 of the girls and young women kidnapped from a remote northeastern school escaped by themselves but school officials say 230 still are missing.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project called Thursday for several U.N. agencies to “urgently intervene” and provide “international assistance and support to the Nigerian authorities to secure the release of the children and to ensure that they get back to school.”

Nigeria’s military said it mounted a “hot pursuit” operation.

The mass kidnapping and a massive explosion that killed 75 hours earlier in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, strengthened fears the Islamic uprising is spreading and the military unable to stop it.

Malaysia

Malaysian PM: Government May Release MH370 Report Next Week

Malaysia may release a report to the public detailing the plane's unsolved disappearance

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told CNN Thursday that Malaysian officials may release a preliminary report on the disappearance of Flight MH370 next week.

“I have directed an internal investigation team of experts to look at the report, and there is a likelihood that next week we could release the report,” Najib said in an interview.

CNN says Malaysia’s report has already been sent to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations body for global aviation. However, it has not yet been made publicly available.

Malaysian and Australian officials are continuing to plan a long-term strategy to find the missing plane, which could continue for months or years. A U.S.-made Bluefin-21 submarine has been searching the southern Indian Ocean for the plane, but has not discovered a solid lead.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in early March with 227 people on board while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

[CNN]

U.K.

London School Says Students Abused By U.S. Teacher

(LONDON) — A British private school said Thursday that images of between 50 and 60 of its students were found on the computer drive of an American suspected child predator who killed himself last month.

The FBI has asked for international help to find victims of William Vahey, who worked at 10 international schools around the world over four decades.

Graham Lacey, executive principal of the Southbank International School in London, where Vahey taught history and geography between 2009 and 2013, said staff learned of the images Thursday.

“As a staff, we feel upset, angry and betrayed,” Lacey wrote in a letter to parents. “We can only imagine what you as parents must feel.”

Vahey, 64, committed suicide March 21 in Luverne, Minnesota, two days after U.S. agents filed for a warrant to search his computer thumb drive.

The FBI said the device contained pornographic images of at least 90 boys, aged 12 to 14, who appeared to be drugged and unconscious.

In a statement, the FBI said Vahey had confessed to an administrator at his most recent school “that he was molested as a child and had preyed on boys his entire life, giving them sleeping pills prior to the molestation.”

The FBI said the photos dated from 2008 or after, but that Vahey may have abused children for decades.

The agency said Vahey was jailed for child molestation in California in 1969. Lacey said Vahey had undergone a criminal records check before he began working in London, but that it hadn’t found anything of concern.

British police said they had searched a London property in connection with the case and were working to identify and support potential victims.

Vahey had residences in London and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Reports 4 More MERS Deaths

Asian workers wear mouth and nose masks while on duty during a football match at the King Fahad stadium, on April 22, 2014 in Riyadh.
Asian workers wear mouth and nose masks while on duty during a football match at the King Fahad stadium, on April 22, 2014 in Riyadh. The health ministry reported more MERS cases in the city of Jeddah, prompting authorities to close the emergency department at the city's King Fahd Hospital. Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 300 people have been infected so far, including a 65-year-old Turkish pilgrim in Mecca, a city to which millions of Muslims will make the Hajj later this year, worrying health experts about the virus's spread internationally

Saudi Arabia has reported four new deaths and 36 more infections within the last day from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the Associated Press reports.

Among the newly infected is a 65-year-old Turkish pilgrim in Mecca, one of two cities where millions of Muslims from across the world will gather later this year for the Hajj, an annual Islamic ritual. Some health experts are concerned the gatherings will exacerbate MERS’ rapid spread to other countries.

Saudi Arabia has seen a spike in MERS infections in recent weeks, with many health workers among the sick and the dead. The Saudi Health Ministry says there have now been 297 cases and 85 deaths related to the virus since it first appeared in the country two years ago.

MERS is in the same family of viruses as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the common cold. MERS has no vaccine or treatment. It’s unclear how the virus is being transmitted, though some scientists theorize that the virus may have spread from camels. The virus does not spread as quickly as SARS. It’s possible MERS will die out on its own, though some are worried it could mutate into a more easily-spreadable disease.

[AP]

VICE Journalist Released by Separatist Captors in Ukraine

U.S. journalist Simon Ostrovsky, who was abducted and held by pro-Kremlin rebels in east Ukraine this week, arrives in a hotel in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk after being freed, on April 24, 2014.
U.S. journalist Simon Ostrovsky, who was abducted and held by pro-Kremlin rebels in east Ukraine this week, arrives in a hotel in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk after being freed, on April 24, 2014. Alexander Khudoteply—AFP/Getty Images

Simon Ostrovsky was said to be in good health after being released from captivity, three days after he and four other journalists, including TIME's Berlin Correspondent Simon Shuster, were detained Monday evening by Pro-Russia separatist militia

An American journalist for VICE News detained by separatists in eastern Ukraine has been released and is in good health, the outlet confirmed on its website Thursday.

Simon Ostrovsky and four other journalists, including TIME’s Berlin Correspondent Simon Shuster, were detained Monday evening by Pro-Russia separatist militia, in an incident that highlighted the increasing threat to journalists working in the region. The other four were released after about an hour, but New York-based Ostrovsky was held because he was “suspected of bad activities,” said Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the militia in the separatist-held town of Slavyansk.

The journalists—including Ostrovsky, Shuster, a Ukrainian photographer, a British photojournalist, and a Russian photographer—were traveling in a car in Slavyansk when they were stopped at a separatist checkpoint.

The full statement from VICE News:

VICE News is delighted to confirm that our colleague and friend Simon Ostrovsky has been safely released and is in good health. We would like to thank everyone for their support during this difficult time.Out of respect for Simon and his family’s privacy, we have no further statement at this time.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser