WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (December 28, 2010-January 2, 2011)

INTERNATIONAL

CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

Activist Belgian priest admits abusing boy; Francois Houtart faced abuse accusations after a campaign began to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.” Francois Houtart faced abuse accusations after a campaign began to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.” By Gabriele Steinhauser. Boston Globe/ Associated Press. December 30, 2010. A Belgian priest confessed to a child sex-abuse accusation that came to light during a campaign to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. The confession was published in a Belgian newspaper yesterday and confirmed by the organization the priest founded, deepening a sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in the country. After a spate of accusations this year, the church published in September the harrowing accounts of more than 100 victims of clerical sex abuse, some as young as 2. In October — after supporters of Francois Houtart, 85, began working to nominate him for the Nobel for his work fighting globalization’s impact on developing countries — a woman contacted the organization he founded and said the priest abused her brother 40 years ago, said its director, Bernard Duterme. Houtart resigned the next month from the board of Cetri, which publishes reports critical of developed nations’ actions in the Third World, Duterme said. Houtart told the newspaper Le Soir that he twice touched “the intimate parts’’ of his cousin, an incident he called “inconsiderate and irresponsible.’’

INDIA

2 ex-babus refuse to quit, say not part of Adarsh scam.” By Prafulla Marpakwar. Times of India. December 29, 2010. A day after chief secretary J P Dange conveyed chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s stern message to information commissioner Ramanand Tiwari and human rights commission member Subhash Lalla — to either resign or face action — both refused to quit, saying they were not involved in the Adarsh Housing Society scam. The duo met the CM in the morning but later conveyed to Dange that they would not tender their resignations. Chavan, who confirmed his meeting with Tiwari and Lalla, however, still believes that the two ex-bureaucrats will fall in line. “We have requested them to quit in the larger public interest and on moral grounds,” he told TOI. “I am sure they will submit their resignations. If they don’t oblige, we will start the legal process for their removal.” This process, however, will not be a cakewalk. To remove Tiwari, the state government will have to knock on the doors of Raj Bhavan, while for Lalla, it will have to approach the President of India. “It’s not going to be an easy task since it involves a lengthy procedure,” said a senior official. “And by the time the government takes a final decision, their term will be over.” Sources said the government was keen to have the two ex-bureaucrats out because a CBI interrogation of the two could prove embarrassing to it. Tiwari’s son, Omkar, and Lalla’s daughter Sumeela Sethi and wife Sushila Shaligram are members of Adarsh.
Related stories:
2 babus to be questioned for missing Adarsh papers.Times of India. January 1, 2011.
Evidence of forgery by Armymen, bureaucrats in Adarsh scam: CBI PTI.” Times of India. January 2, 2011.

India’s Poor Reel Under Microfinance Debt Burden.” By Corey Flintoff. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. December 31, 2010. Microcredit, the practice of making small loans to very poor people, grew into a multibillion-dollar business. But microfinance companies have been accused of predatory lending and collection practices so harsh that they drove some borrowers to suicide. One state government in India has enacted legislation that will, in effect, put the microlenders out of business. The idea behind microcredit is to give a small loan to a very poor person to buy some asset that will help her work her way out of poverty. A typical client is a poor woman who lives in a slum or a rural village. She might earn money as a farm laborer or in small trade, such as selling vegetables by the side of the road. As little as $200 — the theory goes — could allow a woman like that to buy more goods to sell, or a couple of goats to milk, or a sewing machine to make clothing. A working asset could increase her ability to earn a living and make enough extra to repay the loan with interest. The “up-by-your-bootstraps” capitalism of this idea was so appealing to thinkers in the developed world that one of the pioneers of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. But microcredit in India doesn’t come cheap. The cost may be shocking to anyone in the United States who’s ever borrowed for a car or a house. “Just so your audience can brace themselves, the typical interest rates are in a range of 24 to 30 percent per annum,” says Vijay Mahajan, president of the Microfinance Institutions Network, a trade group. “Most people find it very hard that this interest rate does any good to poor people who are the recipients.”
Related story:
Suicides in India Revealing How Men Made a Mess of Microcredit.” Bloomberg News. December 28, 2010.

ISRAEL

Some Israelis Question Benefits for Ultra-Religious.” By Isabel Kershner. New York Times. December 28, 2010. Chaim Amsellem was certainly not the first Parliament member to suggest that most ultra-Orthodox men should work rather than receive welfare subsidies for full-time Torah study. But when he did so last month, the nation took notice: He is a rabbi, ultra-Orthodox himself, whose outspokenness ignited a fresh, and fierce, debate about the rapid growth of the ultra-religious in Israel. “Torah is the most important thing in the world,” Rabbi Amsellem said in an interview. But now more than 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men in Israel do not work, compared with 15 percent in the general population, and he argued that full-time, state-financed study should be reserved for great scholars destined to become rabbis or religious judges. “Those who are not that way inclined,” he said, “should go out and earn a living.” In reaction, he was ousted from his own ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, whose leaders vilified him with such venom that he was assigned a bodyguard. The party newspaper printed a special supplement describing Rabbi Amsellem as “Amalek,” the biblical embodiment of all evil. The intensity of the attacks from his own ranks appeared to underscore their own fears about a growing backlash to the privileges and subsidies long granted to the ultra-religious. The issue is not just the hundreds of millions of dollars doled out annually for seminaries and child allowances. Worry — and anger — is deepening about whether Israel can survive economically if it continues to encourage a culture of not working.

ITALY

New Rome museum celebrates Catholicism’s global mission; Museo Missionario di Propaganda Fide displays some of the paintings, brought back by priests, from around the world.” By John Hooper. Guardian (UK). January 2, 2011. In a dimly lit space, black and white images slowly materialise and fade. On one wall, a priest nails a cross to a tree deep in the Colombian jungle. On another, there are photos of old Japan, including an intriguing one that shows Christian monks bowing to a figure in a mask. The photographs, from the archives of the Roman Catholic missionary news agency Fides, are among the attractions at Rome’s newest museum. The Museo Missionario di Propaganda Fide is located in a narrow street near the Spanish Steps on the first floor of the stately palazzo which, since 1627, has been the headquarters of Catholicism’s global missionary operations. The department, known as the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, was for centuries referred to as Propaganda Fide (propagation of the faith). When it was set up in 1622, pope Gregory XV told the priests who were to travel to distant lands that they were “not to reject anything good, pure or holy in the cultures and religions of the peoples they encountered”. The museum is, in part, a tribute to those who followed his instruction.

JAPAN

Japanese band drums up support for victims of tragedy; Students in the Green Band Assn., this year performing Michael Jackson music in the Rose Parade, get affirmation during their trip to the United States.” By Corina Knoll. Los Angeles Times. December 30, 2010. On the blacktop of an empty parking lot, brass instruments and moonwalking merge. It is the day before Christmas and nearly 200 Japanese high school and college students sporting white fedoras strut outside Angel Stadium as they practice one of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits. “Bad,” coupled with slick dance moves, is likely to be a crowd-pleaser at Saturday’s Rose Parade, but the nonprofit Green Band Assn. has a higher cause. Established in 1998, its mission is to instill confidence in Japanese youth as well as raise money for victims of natural disasters, even those as far from home as Southern California. After the 2008 Freeway Complex fire that destroyed hundreds of homes in the Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda area, the band held benefit concerts in both Japan and Orange County for victims. In January, the group handed checks to the widows of two firefighters killed in the Station fire. Now, their repertoire includes a song written for the newborn daughter of one of the widows. Yuzuru Kumagai, 41, created the band with Americans in mind. Growing up in Japan, he played the piano, trumpet and trombone at a time when most boys his age were into baseball or soccer. Back then, Japanese school bands were primarily female. “Why do you play that music?” his classmates would scoff. “What, are you a girl?” As an adult he hoped to encourage those who took the music route, and he was inspired by American school bands in which performers appeared to have as much fun as the crowd. In Japan, ensembles were about precision and winning competitions, with approval shown by way of restrained clapping. Kumagai wanted to form an elite group that could entertain to whoops and hollers. An environmentalist, he sought nonprofit status so the group would also benefit causes close to his heart. Beginning with six students at one school, the band slowly expanded and received invitations to Disneyland in Paris and Anaheim.

UK

Bishops furious at Clegg’s proposal to exclude them from a reformed Lords
Anglican bishops have lodged an official protest at Nick Clegg’s plans
.” By
Roland Watson. Times of London. December 28, 2010. After being praised as a political messiah only nine months ago, Nick Clegg has since caused many of his Liberal Democrat followers to doubt him. Now he is in trouble with even higher powers. Anglican bishops have lodged an official protest at the Deputy Prime Minister’s plans to reform the House of Lords. They have urged Mr Clegg to allow them to retain their seats in the Upper House, even as he draws up proposals to cut its size by half and make its members stand for election. Refusing the 26 bishops any seat in a new, Senate-style chamber would risk a constitutional row involving the Queen because it would, in effect, disestablish the Church of England. Mr Clegg, who is aiming to publish his delayed plans for a reformed House of Lords in February or March, has yet to make up his mind about whether to push for a 100 per cent elected chamber. The decision boils down to tactics, as both he and his close aides concede privately that a totally elected Upper House is unlikely to win approval and retaining an appointed 20 per cent — seats that could be offered to crossbenchers, academics and other experts in their field — is more realistic.

Giving money away will be easier than ever under Government plan for charities Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, wants to encourage mobile phone companies to make it easier to give to charities using phone apps.” By Sam Coates. Times of London. December 28, 2010. People could be able to give donations to charities chosen by the Government using cash machines, as part of a drive by the Government to boost fundraising. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, wants to encourage mobile phone companies to make it easier to give to charities using phone apps, and make it possible to give small sums when making card payments. The Government wants to develop low-cost ideas for large organisations to support charities, showing the way with Whitehall departments giving publicity to “partner charities” on their websites. The moves will be outlined in a Giving Green Paper published today by Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office. Other key parts of the plan include:A £50 million Community First Fund to invest in local savings schemes that pay out small grants well into the future in the most deprived areas. It will match contributions from local donors to encourage more giving; A £10 million Volunteer Match Fund to double the benefit of private donations to voluntary projects; Encouraging a new focus reciprocal giving with ideas like setting up an ebay style online community where people can trade time; A government review of the relationship between financial incentives and giving. Mr Maude said: “Big Society is about creating a country in which people are in control. People giving time, money, assets, skills and knowledge all drive social action and help make life better for all.
Related stories:
Donate to charity when you use cash machine, suggests Government.” Independent (UK). December 29, 2010.
Coalition to propose automatic charity donations at cash machines; Cabinet Office green paper to put forward series of ideas to define the elusive ‘big society’ in Britain.” Guardian (UK). December 28, 2010.

Pupils ‘may quit private schools as parents save for tuition fees’.” By Joanna Sugden. Times of London. December 27 2010. Independent schools are bracing themselves for the impact of increased tuition fees which they say will force middle-income parents to think twice about private education in order to save for university. Leading heads said that competition from top state and grammar schools was also a concern after universities were granted the power to charge up to £9,000 a year, the same as many private schools. Parents keen to avoid their children graduating in tens of thousands of pounds of debt will be tempted to withdraw their children from private school for sixth form to cut costs before a degree, heads said. David Levin, chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, said: “In some parts of the country things are [already] very difficult [for independent schools] because of the economic situation.” “[Parents] don’t have a limitless pot. They go for quality but they do want to be reassured that fee increases aren’t going to run away in the years ahead,” said Mr Levin, who is also head of City of London School. It has frozen its fees in order to keep faith with parents, he said. “Independent education does deliver the grades that parents want to get their children into the most prestigious universities,” he added. “But I do think we need to keep an eye out on state sixth-form colleges and good grammar schools.” The Education Secretary’s plans to allow high-achieving comprehensive and grammar schools to expand will create more places for those who might otherwise have gone private.

Charity chief says cuts could destroy David Cameron’s ‘big society’; Key supporter of PM’s social policy initiative says spending cuts could become Hurricane Katrina moment for government.” By Patrick Butler and Nicholas Watt. Guardian (UK). December 30, 2010. A leading charity figure and key supporter of David Cameron’s “big society” project warns that massive public spending cuts could doom the prime minister’s main social policy initiative to failure and become a Hurricane Katrina moment for the government. As Ed Miliband accuses the government of adopting a “forbidding and unheeding” approach to reducing Britain’s fiscal deficit, David Robinson declares that a barrage of unsustainable cuts will damage Britain’s poorest neighbourhoods. In an open letter to Cameron, the co-founder of the Community Links charity warns that vital local voluntary organisations will be wiped out. Robinson, whose charity has been described by Cameron as “one of Britain’s most inspiring community organisations”, writes: “Forcing an unsustainable pace on a barrage of uncoordinated cuts that hit the poorest hardest is not an act of God. Why let it be your Katrina?”
Related story:
A dire ‘big society’ warning David Cameron would do well to heed; When a champion of the prime minister’s pet project warns that it will be torpedoed by spending cuts, it is time to sit up and listen.” Guardian (UK). December 30, 2010.

Faith groups will not fill gaps left by spending cuts, warns Anglican bishop; Bishop of Leicester says it would be ‘completely irresponsible’ for government to roll back on its responsibilities to the needy.” By Riazat Butt. Guardian (UK). December 30, 2010. A senior Church of England bishop has warned that faith groups will not step in to fill the gap left by state spending cuts, saying it would be “completely irresponsible” to leave the care of the vulnerable in the hands of “amateurs”. The bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, who has spoken forcefully about David Cameron’s proposals for a “big society”, said that although faith groups were ready and willing to play a greater part in community life, their enthusiasm and engagement should not mean the government rolled back on its responsibilities to the needy. The warning follows fears expressed by a leading charity figure this week, David Robinson of Community Links, who said massive public spending cuts threatened to undermine the big society project. Government ministers have stressed that faith groups are vital to the success of the big society, the flagship policy of the Conservative party’s election manifesto, aiming to empower local people and communities to play a greater role in public life. But Stevens said faith groups should not be a fig leaf for dismantling vital services. “We stand ready to co-operate and play our part but we will not collude in government neglect. We can’t simply take the weight of all those areas of responsibility. If there is the assumption that the church will carry that load, we will have to speak out.

Charities seek bank bonus tax to ease cuts ‘tsunami’; Sir Stephen Bubb warned that cuts could force thousands of charities to close or cut services.” By Jill Sherman. Times of London. January 1, 2011. Bank bonuses should be taxed and the money given directly to local charities to help to prevent a “tsunami” of cuts in services for the vulnerable and sick, charity chiefs say today. Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, who represents 2,000 charity leaders in Britain, warns that cuts to local government grants this year could force thousands of charities to close or cut services. He is now calling for a meeting with the Chancellor to urge him to levy an extra tax on bankers’ bonuses, which are likely to total more than £7 billion this month. In an interview with The Times, Sir Stephen, knighted yesterday, argued that the tax, which would raise billions of pounds, should be paid directly into the Big Society Bank which the Government has set up to help social enterprise. This has funds of £60 million from dormant bank accounts. Charities under threat would then be able to bid for the funds to help to fill the gap left by cuts in local government grants that are expected to total £1 billion this year, Sir Stephen argued. Last year Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor, raised more than £3 billion for the Treasury by imposing a one-off, 50 per cent tax on bonuses over £25,000. A new levy would be expected to raise a similar amount. George Osborne has so far resisted taxing bonuses for fear of pushing financial institutions overseas. The Chancellor has introduced a separate permanent levy on banks’ balance sheets, expected to raise £2.5 billion. Sir Stephen said: “The £500 million in cash reductions we’ve seen so far in the voluntary sector are merely the first signs of a gathering tsunami of ill-considered cuts which threatens to decimate the third sector, wreaking havoc on our communities.”
Related story:
Charities call for tax on bank bonuses; Bosses aim to protect services after government grant cuts.” Guardian (UK). January 1, 2011.

If charities are hit today, the old and disabled will pay tomorrow’; Sir Stephen, said that services for the mentally ill, the elderly and those with learning difficulties would be the first to be hit.” By Jill Sherman and Billy Kenber. Times of London. January 1, 2011. Thousands of voluntary groups providing services for children, the homeless and the mentally ill will have to close or face stringent cutbacks as councils withdraw funding this year, charity chiefs are warning. Acevo, representing 2,000 chief executives of voluntary organisations, has estimated that the sector will lose more than £1 billion in the 2011-12 financial year and more than £3 billion a year by 2014-15 as councils terminate grants or buy fewer services. As the Government tries to push its Big Society programme, the organisation warns that if the scale of the spending cuts to councils were passed on to charities the voluntary sector would be “decimated”. Charities are already facing pressure from VAT rises and the loss of Gift Aid relief. In an interview with The Times, Sir Stephen Bubb, the Acevo chief executive, said that the sector had already been cut back by £500 million in this financial year and would not be able to cope with reductions of up to double that amount in 2011-12. “The Government relies on charities as the vehicle to deliver a Bigger Society, yet seem not to have noticed the growing number of punctures,” he said. “This will be fatal for the project unless cuts in charity funding are stopped.” Sir Stephen, said that services for the mentally ill, the elderly and those with learning difficulties would be the first to be hit. “If the third sector pays today, it will be the homeless, the disabled and the elderly tomorrow — and the day after it will be taxpayers paying billions to pick up the pieces,” said Sir Stephen, who was awarded a knighthood for his work with the voluntary sector in yesterday’s New Year Honours.

Social services will be swamped.” By Billy Kenber. Times of London. January 1, 2011. Children North East was founded almost 120 years ago, has already had to cut one of its projects dealing with children affected by substance misuse and domestic violence after the local council terminated its contract without warning. It now fears it could face cuts of almost £1 million in contracts and grants from four local authorities — almost half of its annual turnover of £2.3 million. With cuts of this scale, the charity would have to end the support it offers to families in a Newcastle homeless shelter and severely reduce other services, as well as making up to 50 per cent of its staff redundant. Jeremy Cripps, the charity’s chief executive, said the charity was trying to adapt its business model to compensate for the impending cuts. But he said the closure of the project for children involved in domestic violence was particularly distressing because it was keeping children out of care.

Grant cut forces YMCA to close homes ‘that turned my life around’.” By Billy Kenber. Times of London. January 1, 2011. Hannah O’Connell, 20, has spent the past year living in YMCA accommodation in Northamptonshire. She said that the charity had helped her to turn her life around: “I can’t even start to imagine where I’d be now if it wasn’t for them. I had a few family problems and I had to get out as quickly as possible, but I had nowhere to live. I went along in December 2009 and within a week and a half they were able to offer me a room.” “They’ve done so much for me. When I came here I just wanted to sit at home all day and live off my jobseekers’ allowance. Now I’ve got a job and I’m about to move into my own flat in the New Year.” “It’s probably been the best of year of my life considering what I’ve been through in the past.” Ms O’Connell said that she was devastated that the YMCA will have to close three homes it runs which can take up to 66 young people. Northamptonshire County Council has said that its £900,000 grant will stop at the end of March, forcing the charity to shut the homes and make 50 employees redundant.

Anglican defectors set out on road to Rome; Father John Broadhurst, former Bishop of Fulham, has resigned from the Church of England to join the Ordinariate.” By Ruth Gledhill. Times of London. January 1, 2011. Priests and worshippers from up to 20 Church of England parishes are to convert to Catholicism under a new scheme that allows Anglican opponents of women bishops to defect to Rome. The founding members of the new Anglican Ordinariate, who include three former Church of England bishops, two of their wives and three Anglican nuns, will today be received into the Catholic church in a low-key ceremony at midday Mass at Westminster Cathedral. The bishops are due to be ordained as Catholic priests in two weeks time. Another three former bishops are to be received within the next few weeks. They will be followed by up to 20 parish groups, some with two or three priests attached to them. In all, up to 50 Church of England clergy are understood to be among the first wave of defections. The new scheme was set up by Pope Benedict XVI in response to requests from Anglican bishops who oppose women priests and bishops. The precise timetable for the launch of the Ordinariate is expected to be announced by the Catholic Church in the next few days. Although at first the Ordinariate will take only groups, it is planning to launch a website within days and could then start to recruit more actively from among disaffected Church of England members.

Charity’s struggle to meet demand for essentials of cookers, carpets and coats; Every week, Family Action volunteers scrutinise increasingly urgent and bleak applications for emergency welfare grants.” By Rachel Williams. Guardian (UK). January 2, 2011. In a windowless meeting room in Family Action’s east London headquarters, a stack of carefully prepared papers reveals the requirements of Britain’s neediest. Here, in applications for emergency welfare grants, are the stories of the people who fall through the gaps: the mothers, the elderly, the abused and the sick who, far from being “scroungers”, find that state help is not always enough. Every Tuesday morning a group of volunteers – most of them retired professionals, many long-serving – meet here to scrutinise the forms and approve awards from the trust funds administered by Family Action. At their last gathering before Christmas, the urgency is poignant. A string of applications – submitted by social workers, NHS staff, charities and other support groups – are for cookers. They are for people who have had to move fast and have had no chance to transport possessions or save for new ones: time and time again the paperwork reveals victims of domestic abuse struggling to set up a home after fleeing violent partners, worrying about the effect on their children’s health of a diet of microwave meals. Many are suffering from depression, and some physical ill health as a result of sustained abuse. The grants the board make will be delivered swiftly and efficiently – these families will have got cookers by Christmas, carpets in their living rooms and hats and gloves for their children – but all agree they have already seen applications increase. With the price of white goods rising with the VAT rise, charitable giving falling and interest rates leaving funds low, they fear Tuesday mornings will be bleaker.

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