Watching the World
CHURCH SEX SCANDAL
“For years, Roman Catholic priests and other church workers in Newfoundland parishes had repeatedly abused dozens of children, most of them young boys, many of them orphans in the care of their attackers,” reports Canada’s newsmagazine Maclean’s. “Nor is the scandal limited to Newfoundland: at least six more cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic churchmen have turned up elsewhere in Canada, and more than 20 in the United States.” With reports of sexual abuse mounting each month—a total of 17 priests and others affiliated with the church have already been charged—faith and trust of many Catholics in their priests have been shaken. Most disturbing is the accusation that sexual abuse in the church not only has been long-standing but has usually been covered up and the offending priest simply moved to another parish where new offenses were sometimes committed. Parents have reacted by refusing to allow their sons to become altar boys or even to permit their children to enter a confessional. “The Roman collar, once worn with pride, has become a source of embarrassment and suspicion,” says Paul Stapleton, vice-chairman of the St. John’s Catholic school board. “The recent events put all priests under a cloud of spoken or silent suspicion. The message seems to be: You cannot trust anyone but yourself and God.”
“HURTLING TOWARDS EXTINCTION”
“The African elephant is hurtling towards extinction, victim of a voracious global trade in ivory,” states Science magazine. The number of African elephants has declined about 40 percent in the last ten years—dropping to 750,000 from 1.3 million. At the current rate of slaughter, the complete extinction of elephants will come within 50 years. But more is involved. “The quest for ivory has distorted the species’ demographics and social structure,” says Science. In some areas less than 5 percent of the elephants are bulls, so that females in estrus may not be mated, thus further reducing the population rate. And with more of the big males gone, more elephants have to be killed to produce the same amount of ivory. Over one quarter of the elephants that die are orphaned infants who starve to death after their mother is killed. While a complete ban on the commercial ivory trade is proposed, it is feared that news of an impending ban will lead to a frantic last-minute slaughter of the remaining elephants by poachers.
HUNGER AMID PLENTY
At least half a billion people are hungry, participants at the 15th annual conference of the World Food Council, a UN agency, were told. Although the world produces about 10 percent more food than it needs, millions are left hungry because of complacency, neglect, and incompetence. According to the council chairman, Eduardo Pesqueira of Mexico, “peace is a basic prerequisite” to bringing an end to worldwide starvation; many nations at war “make their scarce resources go to arms rather than food programs.” Most of the malnourished live in Asia and Africa. About 14 million children under five years of age die each year because of malnutrition combined with diarrhea and infectious diseases, the council said.
UNDERGROUND “SEA” DISCOVERED
One of the major problems of Australia’s outback has always been the securing of fresh water. So it was good news when a large underground “sea” of fresh water was recently discovered below this southern region of Western Australia. The water is contained in a huge layer of porous sandstone, said to be a minimum of 820 feet [250 m] thick with an area of at least 1,200 square miles [3,000 sq km]. This sandstone aquifer is estimated to hold at least ten times as much water as any similar reservoir yet discovered. It is a natural reservoir for the “sea” and lies from 650 feet [200 m] to 5,000 feet [1,500 m] below the surface.
POPE’S LEADERSHIP CHALLENGED
“As divisions inside the Roman Catholic Church appear to deepen, dissident theologians across Western Europe have begun openly challenging the conservative teachings and highly centralized leadership of Pope John Paul II,” reports The New York Times. In January, 163 theologians from Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and West Germany issued a statement that the pope should expect opposition rather than obedience if he “does what does not belong to his office.” One sore point has been the pope’s habit of overlooking the recommendations of local Catholic leaders when naming bishops, choosing instead conservatives. This, together with the pope’s frequent foreign trips, has been viewed as a means of imposing the Vatican’s authority over the church. Of some 3,000 bishops worldwide, about 1,400 have been selected by Pope John Paul II.
WORTH MORE UNCUT
“More than 28 million acres [11 million ha] of forest and other woodlands are lost annually around the world,” notes The New York Times. “And at the current rate of deforestation it is projected that several countries, including El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, will have destroyed all their forests in 30 years.” Environmentalists have been concerned because widespread deforestation contributes to the warming of the atmosphere and increases the greenhouse effect, as well as triggers widespread flooding, such as has occurred in Bangladesh, India, the Sudan, and Thailand. Therefore, environmentalists have welcomed a recent study by scientists that shows rain forests to be worth more if left standing. According to the study, revenues from harvesting edible fruits, cocoa, oils, and rubber in the forests are almost two times greater than that produced by selling the timber and using the land for cattle grazing. It is hoped that the economic advantage will be a more persuasive inducement for poorer countries to save their forests.
WORLD’S LANDMARKS ERODING
“Acid rain and dry air pollution called acid gas are destroying the facades of some of the world’s most cherished landmarks,” reports The Toronto Star. “Up to 3 centimetres of stone has been eaten away from the exterior of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral . . . [London’s] Westminster Abbey and The Parthenon in Athens are also dissolving under a drizzle of pollutants.” But the solution is not as simple as just cutting down the acid emissions. It is now believed that the pollutants already in the pores of the rock will continue their destructive work even after emissions are reduced, and that even with zero pollution, the decay will continue for some time.
The suicide rate among the elderly in the United States rose by some 25 percent between 1981 and 1986. The overall national average is 12.8 suicides per 100,000 people. But the rate for those over 65 years old is 21.6 per 100,000. Experts blame the unexpected rise on changing attitudes, particularly an increased acceptance of suicide as an alternative to suffering through long and expensive illnesses. As The New York Times notes, “some experts speculate that the technological advances extending the lives of the elderly sometimes bring a quality of life that they cannot accept.” One expert on suicide puts some of the blame on children who fail to protest when an ailing parent expresses feelings of being a burden on the family.
CRACK IN EUROPE
Crack, the cocaine derivative that has spawned so much crime in Britain and the United States, has begun to show up in Western Europe. Over a thousand people have been added to the forces of the British police and the customs officers in an attempt to stem the problem there. While widespread prevalence of crack use has not yet been found, authorities fear that it will not be long in coming, as the availability of cocaine in Europe has recently risen sharply while its price has dropped. “It’s an eye-opener when you know there were 15 arrests for crack in New York City in 1985 and there were more than 18,000 arrests in the first six months of 1988,” a foreign narcotics expert said.