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Pope condemns sex abuse by priests: What we know about number of victims, scope of settlements

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Pope Francis has written to the world's Catholics to condemn sex abuse by priests and ask for the faithful's help to stop it; Venezuela braces for economic chaos after a massive restructuring of its currency

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Pope Francis delivers a speech to the faithful on Sunday at the Vatican. He has written a letter to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to condemn sex abuse by priests and asking for help in 'uprooting this culture of death.' (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

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TODAY:

  • Pope Francis has written to all of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to condemn sex abuse by priests.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gave his citizens the day off today to prepare for what many expect will be economic chaos tomorrow, after a massive devaluation and restructuring of the nation's currency.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


'Uprooting' Catholic Church's sex abuse crisis

It is an unprecedented letter in the face of an unprecedented scandal.

Pope Francis has written to all of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to condemn sex abuse by priests and ask for the faithful's help in "uprooting this culture of death."

The letter was spurred by last week's public release of a grand jury investigation that detailed 70 years of abuses against more than 1,000 children in Pennsylvania, and the Church's complicity in covering up the crimes.

"We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them," the Pope writes in the global apology.  

Pope Francis, seen praying in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in July, has written a letter to the world's Catholics condemning sex abuse by priests saying, 'no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening.' (EPA-EFE)
"Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated."

The letter reads like a new commitment to transparency as the Church confronts its deepening sex abuse crisis.

Which would be a significant change from the way Rome and its dioceses have dealt with the hundreds of scandals that have come to light over the past two decades.

No one outside of the Church is even sure of the scope of the problem.

In the United States, it is often reported that Catholic orders and dioceses have paid out more than $3 billion U.S. in settlements since the early 2000s. But the true total is likely well in excess of $4 billion.

A 2015 investigation by the National Catholic Reporter reviewed more than 7,800 newspaper articles stretching back to 1950 and tallied $3,994,797,060.10 in payouts. Or, put another way, about $20 million for each of America's 197 dioceses.

Paint covers the name of Cardinal Wuerl on a sign at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School on Monday in Cranberry Township, Penn. The Roman Catholic Cardinal has come under fire after revelations in a Pennsylvania grand jury report about his actions while bishop of Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)
In the three years since, the pace of settlements has hardly slowed, with new accusers coming forward almost every week.

In May, Church authorities in Minnesota agreed to a $210 million settlement with 450 victims in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

In July, priests in Montana read a letter from the pulpit begging congregants to dig deep and contribute to the cost of a $20 million settlement with 86 people who were sexually abused.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., resigned late last month amid allegations of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, seen in this 2015 file photo, resigned as archbishop emeritus of Washington in late July. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
There are new investigations into sexual misconduct at seminaries in Boston, Philadelphia and Nebraska.

And while sex abuse within the Church was surely an international scandal, information is even harder to come by outside of the United States.

In Canada, for example, there is no estimate of how much has been paid out in settlements.

Court proceedings in London, Ont., provided a glimpse earlier this summer, when a document filed in a civil suit between the diocese and its insurer disclosed that $15 million in mostly secret payments had been made to 50 victims of 12 priests.

In April, a jury awarded a 68-year-old Ontario man $2.5 million, including $500,000 in punitive damages, for abuse he suffered as a student at a Catholic high school in Sudbury more than half a century ago. There have been at least 17 other lawsuits over the behaviour of the same priest.

A 2016 investigation by the Ottawa Citizen uncovered almost $600,000 in payments to seven sexual abuse victims, and five other active suits that were collectively seeking $7.4 million in damages.

Last fall, CBC counted 56 sexual abuse lawsuits before the courts in New Brunswick, targeting the behaviour of 11 priests. The Moncton archdiocese has already paid out $10.6 million to 109 victims, and the diocese of Bathurst has paid $5.5 million to 90 victims.

In 2009, a diocese in Nova Scotia struck a $13-million settlement with victims of sexual abuse by priests dating back to 1950.

Some of the Church's other numbers are more readily available.

The number of Americans who identify as Catholic dropped from 81.6 million in 2015 to 74.3 million in 2017.

In Canada, 47 per cent of the country's citizens described themselves as Catholic in 1981, versus 39 per cent in 2011, mirroring an overall decline in religious affiliation.


Venezuela banking on 'magic formula'

Today is a holiday in Venezuela, but there is no cause for celebration.

President Nicolas Maduro gave his citizens the day off to prepare for what comes tomorrow, further economic chaos.

The country's currency has been massively devalued, with five zeroes lopped off the bolivar overnight. Now renamed the sovereign bolivar — instead of the old, and so-not-apt, strong bolivar — it is pegged to Venezuela's sketchy cryptocurrency, the petro, which is in turn based on the price of a barrel of oil.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has increased the minimum wage by 35 times and devalued the nation's currency by removing five zeros from it overnight. (EPA-EFE)
According to the president, this is a great idea.

"This is a really impressive, magic formula that we discovered while studying with our own, Venezuelan, Latin American-rooted thinking," Maduro told the nation in a televised address last night.

Few share his confidence.

The country has been in the grips of a severe recession for four years. And oil production — which accounts for 96 per cent of Venezuela's revenue — has fallen to its lowest level since 1947.

Venezuela is minting new currency in an attempt to combat massive inflation. (Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE)
Inflation is already running at more than 100,000 per cent, and the International Monetary Fund predicts it will hit 1 million per cent by the end of 2019.

Not surprisingly, salaries aren't keeping pace. So Maduro has also hiked the minimum wage by more than 3,500 per cent, which will in all likelihood make inflation even worse.

Yesterday, there were long lines at supermarkets throughout the nation as people tried to stock up on food and basic goods before the currency switchover. The ATM system is offline until 6 p.m. this evening, and all banks are closed until tomorrow.

Nurses hold a sign with a fake Venezuelan's bills representing how low their salaries have been devalued by inflation, during a protests against the government in Caracas on Aug. 16. The IMF has estimated that inflation could reach 1,000,000 per cent this year. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)
No one is sure how, or even if, the new currency will work.

Venezuela's neighbours are bracing for chaos.

Brazil sent troops and police to its border Sunday, following a riot in the town of Pacaraima, where locals armed themselves with stones and sticks and attacked the encampments of Venezuelans refugees, forcing more than 1,000 people back across the frontier.

In Ecuador, where new rules came into force this weekend requiring that Venezuelans show a valid passport to enter the country, furious migrants stormed border crossings. A similar regulation is set to come into force in Peru next week.

Residents of the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima burned tires and the belongings of Venezuelan immigrants on the weekend after attacking the migrants' two main makeshift camps. (Isac Dantes/AFP/Getty Images)
Over the past 15 months, more than one million Venezuelans have sought refuge in Colombia. In the first eight months of 2018, a further half million entered Ecuador.

All told, the United Nations calculates that 2.3 million people have fled Maduro's regime since 2014.

"The exodus of Venezuelans from the country is one of Latin America's largest mass-population movements in history," a UN spokesperson declared last week.

And it shows no signs of slowing down.


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Today in history

Aug 20, 1961: Berlin's new wall cuts city in half

Six days after East German police began building a physical barrier to divide Berlin, the city is reeling and desperate people are still trying to make it to the West. It's an increasingly dangerous gambit, as CBC News correspondent Stanley Burke reports, since East Berlin hasn't just been sealed off by barbed wire and fencing — the Communists have brought in 100,000 soldiers and hundreds of T-34 tanks.

CBC reporter Stanley Burke reports from Berlin just after barricades go up between East and West. 14:01

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.