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Woman is chosen to lead Central African Republic out of mayhem

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Cheers broke out in the National Assembly building here Monday as representatives chose the mayor of this beleaguered capital to serve as the interim president of the Central African Republic, a country in the grip of a sectarian civil war.

Catherine Samba-Panza, 58, will be the first woman to lead the nation, and she will probably serve for a little over a year, with the goal of leading it to national elections. Her appointment came from an unusual assortment of unelected rebel sympathizers, politicians, artists and others who have filled in as a substitute parliament for a nation so fractured that it has suffered a total breakdown of the state in recent months.

Now, hopes are high here that she can halt this impoverished nation’s precipitous “free fall,” as the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, put it in a statement Monday.

There was singing and dancing in the streets of the dilapidated capital on Monday afternoon, and inside the cavernous chamber of the assembly, female spectators broke into joyful shouts, cheers and trilling. The consensus, in the chamber and on the street, was that men had inexorably led the country into a spiral of vicious violence, and that the only hope was for a woman to lead it out.

Samba-Panza defeated seven other candidates, including the sons of two former presidents and a man whose claim to hold degrees that no other Central Africans possess drew hoots of derision in the assembly chamber Monday.

—Adam Nossiter, The New York Times

In files, a history of sexual abuse by priests in Chicago archdiocese

CHICAGO — Thousands of documents gleaned from the personnel files of the Archdiocese of Chicago were released to the public Tuesday, unspooling a lurid history of abuse by priests and halting responses from bishops in the country’s third-largest archdiocese.

In each case, the priests ultimately died or were ousted from ministry, and in most cases, the allegations were never proved in a criminal court. But the documents suggest that church officials were at times quite solicitous toward priests accused of abuse.

On Tuesday, shortly after the documents were posted online, the Archdiocese of Chicago published on its website a statement again apologizing for abuse by priests and declaring, “The Archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify.”

A few hours later, abuse victims and their lawyers gathered in the 23rd-floor ballroom of a downtown hotel, lined up in front of posters and a video screen displaying photographs of priests accused of abusing minors. At the side of a lectern sat three cardboard boxes filled with copies of the files.

Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who has represented numerous victims of clergy sexual abuse around the nation, said the documents depicted a “systematic, ongoing, decades-long, continuous pattern of conscious choices by top officials of the archdiocese,” and argued that church officials were complicit in the abuse when they failed to remove abusers from ministry. Most of the abuse described in the documents was alleged to have taken place years ago; about half of the accused priests are dead, and many of the victims have already been given financial settlements from the archdiocese.

But the victims have pressed for public release of the files, arguing that the comprehensive set of documents will provide an important form of reckoning, chronicling what church officials did, and did not do, when they learned of accusations that priests had molested minors.

“For some of us it will be answers, for some of us it will be peace of mind, for some of us it’s wanting to know, but for all of us it’s a start,” said Angel Santiago, 47, who won a $700,000 settlement from the archdiocese in 2011 after accusing the Rev. Joseph L. Fitzharris of abusing him in the early 1980s.

—Steven Yaccino and Michael Paulson, The New York Times