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Belgian bishop declines cardinal honor over abuse record

ROME — One of Pope Francis’ proposed new cardinals, the retired bishop of Ghent, Belgium, has bowed out of accepting the honor over his own insufficient response to cases of clergy sexual abuse, the Belgian bishops’ conference said.Ghent Bishop Luc Van Looy’s decision highlights the Belgian church’s wretched record in protecting children from predator priests. He asked Francis for permission to decline the honor of becoming a cardinal in order “to not harm victims again,” and Francis accepted the request, the bishops said in a statement.In May, Francis named Van Looy as one of 21 prelates who would become a new “prince of the church” during an Aug. 27 ceremony. At age 80, Van Looy is too old to participate in a future conclave to elect the next pope, but he was one of five men selected as cardinals in recognition of their lifetime of service to the church.Van Looy, a priest of the Salesian religious order who served as a missionary in South Korea, had been bishop of the northwest Belgian diocese from 2004-2020. During the final five years of his term, he also served as the president of Caritas Europe, which is part of the Vatican’s Caritas Internationalis network of charities.The Belgian bishops’ conference said the announcement that he would be made a cardinal had “generated a lot of positive reaction but also criticism of the fact that he didn’t always react with sufficient energy as bishop of Ghent against abuse in his pastoral work.” The Belgian group Human Rights in the Church had complained in particular about the nomination. Cardinals are the prime advisers to the pope and, for those under age 80, their main job involves coming to Rome in the event of a papal death or resignation to participate in the secret balloting to elect a new pope.The online resource BishopAccountability.org cited at least three cases in which Van Looy reportedly mishandled cases. They included returning a priest convicted of sexually assaulting an altar boy to ministry, failing to turn over to judicial authorities files on six predator priests, and paying a victim of a pedophile $25,000 while knowing the priest was running an orphanage in Rwanda.Van Looy also was bishop of Ghent when a local criminal court convicted a fellow Salesian priest who worked in the diocese of abuse in 2012. The priest, , Luk Delft, was later moved by the Salesians to the Central African Republic, where he reportedly abused two more young boys while he was head of the Caritas operation there, CNN reported in 2019.“The real news here isn’t that this complicit bishop declined an honor, but that Pope Francis offered it to him in the first place,” said Bishop Accountability’s Anne Barrett Doyle.The Belgian conference said it appreciated Van Looy’s decision to decline the honor and reiterated its commitment to fighting abuse in the church and placing the interests of victims first.The Belgian Catholic Church has had a problematic record with abuse and cover-up: In 2010, the church acknowledged more than 500 cases of abuse dating from the 1950s after it commissioned a report that found at least 13 of the victims committed suicide. That same year, the archbishop of Bruges resigned after admitting he had sexually abused his nephew for years while serving as a priest and bishop. The Bruges scandal also tarnished the then-head of the Belgian church, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who was recorded urging the bishop’s’ victim to stay quiet.The Salesian of Don Bosco religious order, which specializes in running schools, also has a poor abuse record, with at least 45 of its priests in the United States alone named on a list of credibly accused priests.It is highly unusual for a proposed cardinal to decline the nomination, especially one over age 80, since the red hat then is a purely ceremonial honor. There have been a few cases in which popes have named cardinals “in pectore,” meaning the nomination is not made public, usually to protect the man if he lives in a place where Catholics are persecuted.Only a few cardinals have had their rights and privileges rescinded or restricted after they were named. Among them are the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was accused of sexual misconduct with seminarians and priests; and Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who is currently on trial in the Vatican on alleged financial improprieties that he denies.An American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, was defrocked entirely after the Vatican determined he sexually abused minors and seminarians.Other cardinals have continued in the role despite evidence indicating they had covered-up for pedophiles under their authority.

Denmark says Russian warship violated its waters, twice

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s military says a Russian warship has violated its territorial waters.The Defense Command of the Danish armed forces says a Russian corvette entered Danish waters twice in the early hours of Friday near the island of Christiansoe in the Baltic Sea. In a statement, the Defense Command said the Russian vessel left after it was contacted on marine two-way radio by the Danish navy.Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Denmark summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the incident.“It has been communicated in very clear terms to the Russian ambassador that this type of action is completely inadmissible,” Kofod said in a statement. “We will not accept this type of Russian provocations.”Both Sweden and Denmark have reported airspace violations by Russian aircraft following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Former hotel housekeeper aims to give French workers a voice

FRESNES, France — A former hotel housekeeper who fought for the rights of her co-workers has become a symbol of the recent revival of France’s left, which is expected to emerge as the main opposition force in the French Parliament to President Emmanuel Macron’s government.Rachel Kéké, 48, is poised to win election as a lawmaker when France holds the decisive second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday. She placed first in her district with more than 37% of the vote in the election’s first round. Her nearest rival, Macron’s former sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu, received less than 24%.Macron’s centrist alliance is projected to win the most number of seats in the National Assembly, but it could fall short of securing an absolute majority. In that case, a new coalition composed of the hard left, the Socialists and the Greens could make Macron’s political life harder since the National Assembly is key to voting in laws.Kéké, a Black mother of five who is from the Ivory Coast and settled in France 20 years ago, appeared confident this week while visiting Fresnes, a suburb southeast of Paris, to hand out flyers near a primary school and encourage people to vote for her Sunday. Kéké, who acquired French citizenship in 2015, knows she represents more than the face of her own campaign. If she wins a place in a Parliament dominated by white men, many of them holding jobs in senior management, it could represent a turning point in the National Assembly reflecting a more diverse cross-section of the French population.“I am proud to tell Black women that anything is possible,” she told the Associated Press.Kéké worked as a hotel chambermaid for more than 15 years and eventually climbed the ladder to next job grade, becoming a governess who managed teams of cleaners. But after she started working for a hotel in northwest Paris, she noticed how the demands of cleaning hotel rooms threatened the physical and mental health of the people she supervised. She thinks “it’s time” for essential workers to have a voice in Parliament. “Most of the deputies don’t know the worth of essential workers who are suffering,” said the candidate, who has repetitive motion tendonitis in her arm because of her cleaning work and still manages hotel housekeepers. In 2019, along with around 20 chambermaids who were mostly migrant women from sub-Saharan Africa, Kéké fought French hotel giant Accor to obtain better work and pay conditions. She led a 22-month, crowdfunded strike that ended with a salary increase. The hotel workers’ grueling but successful battle inspired many. Drafted by hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, Kéké agreed to run in the parliamentary race “to be the voice of the voiceless.” “People who take public transportation at 4 a.m. are mostly migrants. I stand for them, too,” she said.She joined Melechon’s party, France Unbowed, during the presidential campaign that resulted in Macron’s reelection in May and then became part of the New Popular Ecological and Social Union, the left-wing coalition trying to curb the president’s power in Parliament.If elected, Kéké would be in position to support one of the key items on the coalition’s platform: increasing France’s monthly minimum wage from about 1,300 ($1,361) to 1,500 euros ($1,570).She claimed her rival “doesn’t stand a chance.” That’s not what Maracineanu, 47, the former swimming world champion who served in Macron’s government, thinks. Campaigning Thursday in Thiais, a farmer’s market town in the Paris suburbs, she energetically tried to convince often skeptical residents of the importance of Sunday’s vote. According to opinion polls, voters from the traditional right are expected to widely support Macron’s candidates in places where their own party didn’t qualify for the second round.“There are some (voters) who are interested in the election from a national point of view. They want Emmanuel Macron and the majority to be able to govern,” Maracineanu said. “Some others are against Jean-Luc Mélenchon, clearly.” Born in Romania, Maracineanu arrived in France with her family in 1984 and was naturalized French seven years later at the age of 16. She became the first world champion in French swimming history and silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.“I won’t be heading to the National Assembly as a world champion, and Mrs. Kéké won’t go as a cleaning lady,” she said. “You go to the National Assembly to be an MP. Personal trajectories are of course interesting and they’re worth talking about but … the election is about an agenda.” Only one of them will be elected Sunday.The first round of the election gave a big boost to the left-wing coalition, which finished neck-in-neck with Macron’s alliance at the national level. The French president needs a clear, if not absolute majority to enact his agenda, which includes tax cuts and raising the retirement age. One unpredictable factor for both camps: the expected low turnout. In the first round, less than half of voters went to the polls, echoing disillusion with Macron, the establishment and everyday politics expressed by many. “I come from a country where you couldn’t vote or when you did, it was useless, and it was always the same candidate who was elected under Romania’s dictatorship before 1989. I know how important a democratic ritual it is and that’s what I try and remind people,” Maracineanu said.———AP journalist Alexander Turnbull contributed to the story.

Boris Johnson makes second surprise visit to Ukraine

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a second surprise visit to Kyiv Friday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.The visit was first announced on the prime minister’s Twitter page and Fox News confirmed the information with Ukrainian authorities.”Mr. President, Volodymyr, It is good to be in Kyiv again,” the post to the prime minister’s account said along with a photo of him and Zelenskyy. 
In this image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pose for a photo during their meeting in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 17, 2022. 
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)BRITISH PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON SURVIVES A NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE, CALLS WIN ‘DECISIVE’Johnson’s office confirmed that the prime minister and Zelenskyy discussed “Ukraine’s valiant fight against Russia” and proposed a training program headed by the U.K. to help thousands of Ukrainian soldiers continue “their heroic defense.”Johnson said Russian forces are “taking heavy casualties” and promised “the strategic endurance that you will need.”The training operation would instruct up to 10,000 Ukrainian servicemen for three weeks every 120 days “using battle-proven British Army expertise.”The program is intended to help Kyiv “accelerate their deployment, rebuild their forces, and scale-up their resistance as they continue to defend their nation’s sovereignty against Russian invaders.”International partners would also be invited to take part in the training program.”My visit today, in the depths of this war, is to send a clear and simple message to the Ukrainian people: the UK is with you, and we will be with you until you ultimately prevail,” he said in a statement Friday. “As Ukrainian soldiers fire UK missiles in defense of your nation’s sovereignty, they do so also in defense of the very freedoms we take for granted.”
In this image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, second left, meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, third right, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 17, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
((Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)PSAKI: ‘NOT SENDING’ BIDEN TO UKRAINE, ‘WE SHOULD ALL BE MAYBE RELIEVED ABOUT THAT’Johnson’s visit comes just one day after French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis also traveled to Kyiv.Ukraine has received widespread support from Western nations following Russia’s illegal invasion in February which has prompted the greatest security threat to Europe since World War II.Johnson’s first visit in April marked the first of the G7 nations to meet with Zelenskyy in person.President Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are the only two G7 leaders who have yet to travel to Kyiv.Fox News could not immediately reach the White House for comment on whether President Biden plans to travel to Ukraine in the future. 
In this image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, walk after their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 17, 2022. 
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPFollowing Boris’ first trip to Ukraine in April, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki firmly stated that the administration had no plans to send Biden to the war-torn country.”That is not in the plans for the President of the United States,” Psaki said. “We should all be maybe relieved about that.”

Spain: Villages evacuated as wildfire burns 9,000 hectares

MADRID — Officials say some 9,000 hectares of wooded hill land in northwestern Spain have been burnt by a wildfire that forced the evacuation of more than 650 people from eight villages on Friday as much of Europe suffered an early heatwave.Officials said the blaze in the Sierra de Culebra mountain range in the province of Zamora started Wednesday during a dry electric storm. Elsewhere in Spain, smaller wildfires were also raging in central Toledo province and in the northeastern provinces of Zaragoza and Lleida. Daniel Rovira, mayor of Lladurs town, described the Lleida fire that has burned some 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) as “brutal.” He warned that it could spread over 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) if it was not brought under control soon.Most of Spain was at high risk of forest fire Friday as the country endured a sixth day of a unusually early heatwave. Temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) have been recorded in many cities and other areas throughout the week. Officials expect the torrid heat to begin to ease on Sunday.

Court in army-ruled Myanmar gives Suu Kyi colleague 21 years

BANGKOK — A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced a close colleague of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 21 years in prison on Friday after finding him guilty of corruption, a legal official said.Zaw Myint Maung is a second vice president and spokesperson of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which won a landslide victory in the 2020 general election but was prevented from returning to office for a second five-year term when the army seized power in February last year.Widespread protests met the military’s takeover and Myanmar has been mired in violence and civil unrest since then.The military sought to justify its takeover by saying there was massive voting fraud in the election, an allegation that independent poll watchers disputed. The ruling military council has said it may hold a new election by August 2023.However, the Union Election Commission, with members appointed by the army after it seized power, could dissolve the National League for Democracy if it rules it committed election fraud.Suu Kyi was arrested and is being tried on multiple charges, including corruption, that her supporters say are politically motivated to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power. She has already been convicted of several less important offenses.The military government has also arrested many other leaders of her party, which could cripple its attempts to challenge the military in new polls. Charges against them include treason, corruption, incitement and flouting coronavirus regulations.A statement from the National League for Democracy released last month said 917 party officials and members have been arrested and 701 are still being detained by the military.Zaw Myint Maung has been a core member of the party since its inception and won a seat in a 1990 election that was voided by the army. He has been jailed at least twice before last year for his political activitiesHe won election to the lower house in 2012 and state parliament in 2015, after which he was appointed chief minister of Mandalay, a central region considered the country’s heartland.Like many colleagues, he was arrested by the military on Feb. 1, 2021. He has been held at Mandalay’s Obo Prison, where his trial was held in closed chambers.The court found him guilty on five corruption counts, said a legal official familiar with his cases who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information.He said Zaw Myint Maung pleaded not guilty to three charges of accepting bribes that went for medical treatment — he suffers from leukemia — and two that he abused his position as chief minister in acquiring land for party offices. Each charge carries a maximum punishment of 15 years’ imprisonment.The legal official said his lawyers are likely to appeal the court’s ruling.Zaw Myint Maung has already been sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted on charges of violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition and election fraud, and is to be tried on another election fraud charge.

AP PHOTOS: A week of ruins and ruined lives in Ukraine

There is life amid the ruins in Ukraine, but there are so many ruins, and life is so fraught.In the course of the last week, Associated Press photographers captured images of a man peering upward through the hole in a roof of a hospital damaged during shelling in Donetsk; of another, his arms opened wide as he looks up at the wreckage of his Bakhmut home, damaged in Russian night shelling.; of boys playing in the shadow of a wrecked apartment building in Irpan.But there also are lives in ruins. An elderly woman, evacuated from the Lysychansk area, cries out just before departing by train for western Ukraine. Even as smiling young women wrap themselves in the Ukrainian flag or brandish bundles of cotton candy, even as Kyivans seek relief in comedy clubs, their country’s soldiers deploy anti-tank mines to ward off Russian advances. And Russian soldiers sweep through Mariupol, the city in eastern Ukraine they conquered after reducing it to ruble.A war that began in winter has extended through spring. A vast field of wheat unfolds behind two Russian soldiers, standing guard as foreign journalists participate in a tour of southeastern Ukraine organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. And wildflowers on the outskirts of Kyiv blossom behind the skull and crossbones, displayed on a sign that warns of landmines.Death is never too distant — a puddle of blood amid the debris after a Russian air raid in Lysychansk; a body pulled from a mass grave near Bucha.But defiance is ever present, as well. In Kyiv, a woman stands astride a Russian tank. With one hand, she waves the Ukrainian flag. With the other, she wields a rifle.