Roman Catholic Bishop Suspended For Adopting a 26-year-old woman

The Vatican has suspended a Roman Catholic bishop in southern India after he adopted a 26-year-old woman, a senior church official said Saturday.

Bishop John Thattungal, 58, will be barred from performing any religious or administrative duties until a formal inquiry into his conduct is completed, said the Rev. Stephen Alathara, a spokesman for the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, in a telephone interview from the southern Indian city of Kochi.

Alathara said the bishop's adoption of the woman earlier this year had upset other priests in the Kochi diocese.

"The majority of the priests were unhappy and asked for his resignation," he said, adding that the Vatican ordered the suspension on Thursday.

He said there are questions surrounding the legality of the adoption because the woman is not a minor.

Thattungal could not be reached for comment, but news reports in Kerala have quoted him as saying, "I have only fatherly love toward the woman who has spiritual powers. This relation is giving me spiritual refreshment."

A three-member committee of bishops will investigate Thattungal's conduct and submit a report to Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil, the president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, who will then forward it to the Vatican, Alathara said.

The investigating committee does not have a set deadline, but the Vatican has asked for a report "as early as possible," he said.

Christians make up 2.5 percent of India's 1.1 billion people, the majority of whom are Hindus.

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IVORY COAST, Where Rape is a Sex Thing and NOT A CRIME

Rapes of women and girls are common in western Côte d’Ivoire and generally go unpunished, said residents of the region.

“These days nearly every time we hear of armed robberies in homes, on the roads or on plantations, we hear of rape,” said a resident of the western town of Duékoué some 500km from the commercial capital Abidjan, who wanted to remain anonymous.

“We hear of two, three, four rapes every day.”

With the proliferation of arms since conflict broke in 2002, unprecedented violent crime continues to plague many areas of Côte d’Ivoire where a March 2007 peace deal marked a formal end to fighting.

In some parts of the north, attacks by Kalashnikov-wielding men – nearly unheard of before the conflict – are frequent, residents say.

Monika Bakayoko-Topolska, gender-based violence coordinator with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Côte d’Ivoire, said: “We certainly are seeing increased reports of rape over the past year and a half or so.” She called rape “one of the biggest problems in the west,” adding that sexual violence is a problem throughout the country.

Bakayoko-Topolska said it is not clear whether rape cases have risen sharply in the west or whether more people are reporting the crime after an expansion of education campaigns in the region.

She and some residents of western Côte d’Ivoire said that perpetrators of rape are rarely prosecuted.


“Rapes are encouraged,” the woman in Duékoué said. “Because there is no punishment.” Residents of Duékoué and the nearby city of Man said that in some cases authorities harassed or ignored women who reported rape, and that even if pursued, alleged attackers are generally released after a brief detention.

Bakayoko-Topolska said pressure from families of both the victim and perpetrator to settle a case outside the formal justice system is one of many factors commonly discouraging women from filing legal complaints.

“It’s still very rare here that someone gets put in jail for rape,” she said. “Community leaders should accept that because rape and physical violence are prohibited by national law, these crimes should be reported to the police rather than informally dealt with in the village.”

The Duékoué woman told IRIN many women are afraid to go after their attackers because they do not feel supported by law enforcement authorities. “It is not safe here [in Duékoué],” she said. “People are constantly victims of violent crime and assailants operate with utter impunity.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his latest report on Côte d’Ivoire, dated 13 October, expressed concern about authorities’ failure to go after criminals. “The low level of prosecution [for violent crimes] has heightened the pervading sense of impunity in the country.”

Residents of Duékoué and Man said one response has been the creation of neighbourhood vigilante groups. But one resident said a recent rape was perpetrated by a youth who belonged to a self-defence group.


Many western towns hit by violent crime are in the former buffer zone between the government security forces in the south and rebels in the north, which has been vacated by international forces over the past year after the 2007 peace deal.

UN Secretary-General Ban said in the 13 October report: “The insecurity in the western and northern parts of the country, as well as in parts of the former [buffer] zone of confidence, remains of great concern and has impacted negatively on the full enjoyment of human rights.”

He added: “Increasing indiscriminate attacks by unidentified highway robbers, coupled with violence and rape of women, pose a daily threat to the right to life, to physical integrity and to the safety and security of persons and goods.”

The report said the situation is most serious along the 35-km Duékoué-Bangolo road in the west.

"A sex thing"

The Duékoué woman said that the closest court women there can turn to in rape cases is about 100km away in Daloa and this puts many families off. She said local social workers have told the UN and international NGOs the town needs a local tribunal.

IRC has recommended the Ivorian government establish family support units within national police forces similar to those in Sierra Leone, which is emerging from an 11-year civil war. The units comprise police officers and social workers trained to handle sexual violence cases.

“What is needed most in Côte d’Ivoire is a change in attitudes and practices related to all types of violence against women and girls,” Said Bakayoko-Topolska, “men and women alike can begin this by condemning violence and by showing solidarity with survivors in demanding justice.”

The Duékoué resident said ramping up the legal means to go after perpetrators might deter some people, but rape will continue. “I think many people here do not see rape as a crime; they see it just as a sex thing.”

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Evangelist Tony Alamo Alleged To Have a 9-year-old Bride

Alamo charged with transporting minors across state lines to engage in sex

A federal magistrate called Tony Alamo a flight risk Wednesday as he ordered the evangelist held without bail until his trial on charges that he took a minor across state lines for sex.

The ruling came after Alamo's former followers testified at a hearing that they were often beaten at his instructions and one said Alamo practiced polygamy with several females, including a 9-year-old girl.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant noted that Alamo is charged with a violent crime. He said he also considered that Alamo fled a California child-abuse charge in 1989 and was arrested two years later in Tampa, Florida, living under an assumed name.

Alamo has access to various vehicles, he added.

Witnesses said Alamo controls businesses and ministry locations in several states. They said none of the properties are Alamo's name, which Bryant also considered as a point against letting Alamo free.

"There is serious risk (Alamo) will flee or fail to appear," Bryant said.

Alamo, 74, said nothing after the ruling. His trial is scheduled for November 19.

He was arrested in Flagstaff, Arizona, five days after a September 20 police raid on the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in the southwest Arkansas town of Fouke. Six girls were taken into state custody for their protection.

During Wednesday's hearing, Arkansas state troopers searched the compound anew, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed, not elaborating. Fouke Mayor Terry Purvis said residents told him the investigators did not stay long.

One witness called to the stand by prosecutors Wednesday, Jael Sprinkle, 32, testified that she was taken as Alamo's wife at age 17 and was considered his wife for two years. She said that Alamo had five other wives at the time and that she knew of him taking a 9-year-old girl as one.

Alamo is an advocate of allowing girls to marry when they reach puberty but has denied such unions took place within his organization.

Sprinkle said she, her parents and others were beaten. She said a 12-year-old boy was paddled to the point of bleeding through his clothes and could walk only with assistance.

Sprinkle also described Alamo's control over people in his organization, saying he even had to approve inconsequential expenses such as toilet paper and toothpaste.

Spencer Ondirsek, 18, testified that he left the compound last year after spending seven years there.

Ondirsek said he was beaten by a man working under Alamo's direction. He said he was hit about 15 times on the face and smacked about 30 times with a three-foot paddle in three separate instances while being disciplined for minor misbehavior, such as playing with a spray bottle.

The first beating happened when he was 12 or 13, Ondirsek testified.

Defense lawyers called Ronald and Joan Decker, a couple that has belonged to Alamo's church. They said they would move from Fort Smith to Texarkana to watch over Alamo if he was granted release.

Ronald Decker said he drives a truck for Advantage Food, which he described as a partnership, but he couldn't come up with a figure when federal prosecutor Kyra Jenner asked him how much he earned. He later said Alamo paid for all the couple's living expenses.

"Pastor Alamo controls the church," Ronald Decker said.

Ronald Decker initially denied seeing any beatings. But when asked by Jenner whether he was aware Alamo orders paddlings, Decker paused before saying yes.

The federal charging document accuses Alamo of taking a 13-year-old girl across state lines for sex in 2004 and of aiding and abetting her transport across state lines for sex in 2005.

Alamo, who is listed in court documents by his real name of Bernie Lazar Hoffman, has pleaded not guilty to the two charges, each of which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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Hate Crime? - Violent Attacks against Homeless People

Alison Stateman

The chapel at Immanuel Presbyterian Church was filled to capacity last Saturday afternoon, with mourners moving up to the balcony. Much to the surprise of his family, hundreds — from infants to senior citizens — came to honor John Robert McGraham, a homeless man who was brutally murdered on Oct. 9. McGraham, 55, was doused with gasoline and set ablaze. Despite efforts of residents and shopkeepers to extinguish the flames, he died at the scene, on a sidewalk in front of a boarded up dental office on the corner of West 3rd and Berendo Street in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles. "They targeted him in my mind and that's the worst kind of person," says his sister Susanne McGraham-Paisley of the suspects, who remain at large. "I hope they give them the full scope of the law because that person went to a gas station, filled up the gas can, drove to the site, poured gasoline on him and then set him on fire. That person had so many opportunities to change [his] mind and ... didn't."

California has the dubious distinction of ranking second, just behind Florida, in the number of lethal and non-lethal attacks against homeless people last year. It recorded 22 but, says Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the actual number of attacks is likely even higher because many are never reported. After a huge increase in 2006 — 65% some of which is attributed to the video Bumfights where people who live on the street are pitted against each other — last year still saw an increase of 13%. Street people, says Foscarinis, live "outside so they can be attacked by anyone for any reason. There are a couple of more subtle factors that are leading to this as well and one of them is that there are increasingly punitive actions taken by cities against homeless people. So that also sends a message that these people are less than human and that attacking them is ok."

The attacks on homeless street people are particularly vicious. "They are the most vulnerable people in the country," says Tony Taylor, a research associate at the National Coalition for the Homeless. "Over one in 4 attacks that are reported against the homeless end in murder. That's huge compared to one-tenth of a percent of other protected classes," he said, referring to categories of individuals currently protected under federal Hate Crime legislation. These typically include bias-motivated violence and intimidation against individuals based on their sexual orientation, race or religion. Being homeless on the street is not one of the existing categories. In 2006, the last year that FBI figures are available for hate crime fatalities, three individuals in the protected classes were killed versus 20 homeless individuals.

Hence, there is a movement to get them covered by existing hate crime legislation. The Coalition and Law Center are lobbying members of Congress to pass two bills, sponsored by Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, which would amend two Hate Crime acts. The first bill, H.R. 2216, introduced in Congress on May 8, 2007 seeks to amend the Hate Crime Statistics Act to include crimes against the homeless. This would require the FBI to collect data on crimes against the homeless — data sorely needed by homeless advocates — in order to determine if they are hate-motivated attacks. The second bill, H.R. 2217, introduced on the same date, seeks to include the homeless in the list of classes protected under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Both bills have been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Foscarinis says the legislation proposed seeks to increase the punishment for hate crimes against the homeless by three offense levels. "At the same time we are lobbying for real solutions, which are housing and social services for homeless people, we have to make sure their lives and dignity are respected," says Foscarinis. "The point of hate crime legislation to act as a deterrent. It becomes a more serious crime when it's considered a hate crime and there is a harsher sentence that's imposed. We want to send a message that homeless people's lives are just as valuable as anyone else's life."
That has certainly been the unintended consequence of McGraham's murder. It has stirred outrage in the wider Los Angeles community. The Los Angeles City Council is offering a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for the crime. But it is the people who actually saw him on the streets through 20 years who have been most affected by his violent end. Poignant notes have been left at a shrine erected at the site of his murder. "You didn't know me but I saw you on my frequent drives... you touched me so deeply...I am so sorry such cruelty took your life," read one letter. Another simply stated, "The neighborhood will not be the same without you." His sister Susanne was touched. "So many times when my family would go to see John, our hearts would be filled with so much sadness. My children would feel sad that we were leaving him all alone. I'm very grateful to hear that he was not alone, that his life had an effect on so many people in the neighborhood."

McGraham's death will be prosecuted as first-degree murder, a capital offense, according to Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Charlie Beck. Even as she mourned, Susanne McGraham-Paisley said, "the people who did this to him did the cause of understanding homelessness a great service. Because the way in which they killed him and the way in which he died and the community's response has clearly shown that people do have an interest in someone like our brother."

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Did Pope Benedict XVI Fall Prey to The Fear of the Italian Mob?

Jeff Israely
John Paul II set a powerful precedent for how a Roman Pontiff can take on the Italian Mob. In May 1993, after a high-profile spate of Mafia killings, the Pope denounced the Mob's "culture of death" in an emotionally charged sermon in Agrigento, Sicily, the home turf of Cosa Nostra. "I say to those responsible: Convert!" he intoned, shaking his clenched fist and index finger. "One day, the judgment of God will arrive!" Two months after the dramatic papal appeal, the Mafia bombed two historic churches in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI was certainly aware of that confrontation as he prepared this past weekend to visit Pompeii. The southern Italian city, near the ruins of an ancient site buried by a Mount Vesuvius volcanic eruption, lies in the heart of the region controlled by the Camorra. The Naples-based organized crime syndicate has lately tightened its grip on the impoverished region, with more killing sprees and a high-profile death threat against a young writer. But unlike John Paul, Benedict said nothing at all about the Mob in his Sunday homily. Did the Pope back down in the face of one of Italy's most entrenched and destructive evils?

Many were counting on another papal mention about the Mob as violence in the region reaches new heights. Last month, a Camorra death squad unleashed a fury of submachine-gun fire, killing seven immigrants in a single attack. A week ago, reports surfaced of a pointed death threat against Naples writer Roberto Saviano, 28, whose best-selling book Gomorrah, and the movie based on it, reveal the extent of the Camorra's influence and dirty dealings. While the Pope remained silent, more than 100,000 people signed a petition this week in support of Saviano, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass, Jose Saramago and Jonathan Franzen. "It is intolerable that all this can happen in Europe, and in 2008," reads the petition. "The state must make every effort possible to protect (Saviano) and defeat the Camorra." The movie version of Saviano's book, directed by Matteo Garrone, won second prize at the Cannes film festival this year and is Italy's entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

When reporters asked why the Pope had said nothing on such a burning topic in Pompeii, Vatican spokesman Reverand Ciro Benedettini said Benedict had intentionally avoided referring to the Camorra as a "show of respect for decent people" of the region, who "are the vast majority." The Pope, the spokesman added, had also talked about organized crime in a visit last year to Naples, though admittedly not with the same confrontational tone as John Paul did in Sicily.

Benedict's silence has generated a small rumbling of dissent from both inside and outside the church. "It could seem that there is fear now to confront the Mob, and call it by its name," Don Vitaliano Della Sala, a leftist priest from nearby Avellino, said in a Monday radio interview. He drew a parallel between Benedict's decision not to speak out Sunday and the controversy stirring over Pope Pius XII's alleged silence about the Holocaust during World War II.

That analogy seems a stretch: the Italian authorities' decades-long battle to uproot the Mob bears little comparison to the Nazis' state-run policy of genocide. But the comparison between Benedict and his immediate predecessor is illuminating. John Paul not only possessed a pastoral charisma that made him beloved among his flock, but also he could call on a reserve of public passion in order to confront a problem facing his church or the world at large. That kind of fire is simply not in this Pontiff's arsenal.

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