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Pope Francis Delivers Sunday Blessing in Person After a Month

Pope Francis spoke to the faithful from his study overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, the first time he had done so in just over a month.

“I’ll tell you something: I miss the square when I have to recite the Angelus in the library,’ Francis said, referring to the prayer that he leads the faithful in praying on most Sundays. Throughout the pandemic, the pope has often delivered the weekly address, prayer and blessing from the apostolic library, with no public in attendance.

“I am happy, thanks be to God! And thank you for your presence,” the pope said Sunday, smiling.

The pope identified several flags among the several hundred faithful in the square, “Brazilians, Poles, Spanish people,” Francis said, offering a “warm greeting” also to the “people of Rome and pilgrims.”

Italy suffered one of the earliest and most severe outbreaks of the coronavirus in Europe. During the first lockdown, in 2020, pilgrims were not allowed to gather in St. Peter’s Square from March 8 to May 24. A huge surge over the winter brought back new restrictions, and another that peaked last month prompted another tight lockdown. That has succeeded in lowering infections, and many restrictions are expected to be eased beginning on April 26.

setting off alarms in Europe and Washington, the largest build up since the conflict in the contested region began seven years ago.

“Please, I firmly hope that the increase of tensions may be avoided and, on the contrary, gestures may be made that are capable of promoting mutual trust and fostering reconciliation and peace, both so necessary and so desired,” Francis said.

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After Going ‘Free of L.G.B.T.,’ a Polish Town Pays a Price

KRASNIK, Poland — When local councilors adopted a resolution two years ago declaring their small town in southeastern Poland “free of L.G.B.T.,” the mayor didn’t see much harm in what appeared to be a symbolic and legally pointless gesture.

Today, he’s scrambling to contain the damage.

What initially seemed a cost-free sop to conservatives in the rural and religiously devout Polish borderlands next to Ukraine, the May 2019 decision has become a costly embarrassment for the town of Krasnik. It has jeopardized millions of dollars in foreign funding and, Mayor Wojciech Wilk said, turned “our town into a synonym for homophobia,” which he insisted was not accurate.

A French town last year severed a partnership with Krasnik in protest. And Norway, from which the mayor had hoped to get nearly $10 million starting this year to finance development projects, said in September that it would not give grants to any Polish town that declares itself “free of L.G.B.T.”

“We have become Europe’s laughingstock, and it’s the citizens not the local politicians who’ve suffered most,” lamented Mr. Wilk, who is now lobbying councilors to repeal the resolution that put the town’s 32,000 residents in the middle of a raucous debate over traditional and modern values. The situation also illustrates the real-life consequences of political posturing in the trenches of Europe’s culture wars.

rally its base before a presidential election in 2020, did not bar gay people from entering or threaten expulsion for those already present. Instead they vowed to keep out “L.G.B.T. ideology,” a term used by conservatives to describe ideas and lifestyles they view as threatening to Polish tradition and Christian values.

Cezary Nieradko, a 22-year-old student who describes himself as Krasnik’s “only open gay,” dismissed the term “L.G.B.T. ideology” as a smoke screen for homophobia. He recalled how, after the town adopted its resolution, his local pharmacist refused to fill his prescription for a heart drug.

will cut funding to any Polish town that violates Europe’s commitment to tolerance and equality.

The European Parliament also passed a resolution last month declaring all 27 countries in the bloc an L.G.B.T. “Freedom Zone,” although like the Polish resolutions declaring the opposite, the declaration has no legal force.

All the posturing, however, has begun to have concrete consequences.

Krasnik’s mayor said he worried that unless his town’s “free of L.G.B.T.” status is rescinded, he has little chance of securing foreign funds to finance electric buses and youth programs, which he said are particularly important because young people keep leaving.

called off the visit to Krasnik after what he described as pressure from Polish officials not to go, a claim that Poland’s foreign ministry said was untrue.

When Krasnik and other towns adopted “free of L.G.B.T.” resolutions in early 2019, few people paid attention to what was widely seen as a political stunt by a governing party that delights in offending its foes’ “political correctness.”

But that changed early last year when Bartosz Staszewski, an L.G.B.T. activist from Warsaw began visiting towns that had vowed to banish “L.G.B.T. ideology.” Mr. Staszewski, a documentary filmmaker, took with him an official-looking yellow sign on which was written in four languages: “L.G.B.T.-FREE ZONE.” He put the fake sign next to each town’s real sign, taking photographs that he posted on social media.

The action, which he called “performance art,” provoked outrage across Europe as it put a spotlight on what Mr. Staszewski described in an interview in Warsaw as a push by conservatives to “turn basic human rights into an ideology.”

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused Mr. Staszewski of generating a fake scandal over “no-go zones” that don’t exist. Several towns, supported by a right-wing outfit partly funded by the government, have filed defamation suits against the activist over his representation of bans on “ideology” as barring L.G.B.T. people.

But even those who support the measures often seem confused about what it is that they want excluded.

Asked on television whether the region surrounding Krasnik would become Poland’s first L.G.B.T.-free zone, Elzbieta Kruk, a prominent Law and Justice politician, said, “I think Poland is going to be the first area free of L.G.B.T.” She later reversed herself and said the target was “L.G.B.T. ideology.”

For Mr. Wilk, Krasnik’s mayor, the semantic squabbling is a sign that it is time to drop attempts to make the town “free” of anyone or anything.

But Mr. Albiniak, the initiator of the resolution, vowed to resist what he denounced as blackmail by foreigners threatening to withhold funds.

“If I vote to repeal,” he said, “I vote against myself.”

Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting.

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Hans Küng, Catholic Theologian With a Powerful Critique, Dies at 93

Soon after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a leader in the campaign against Dr. Küng, became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, he invited Dr. Küng to his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome. Pope John Paul II had denied more than a dozen of Dr. Küng’s requests for a meeting.

Dr. Küng and Cardinal Ratzinger had become friends when Dr. Küng recruited Cardinal Ratzinger to be a professor at the University of Tübingen in 1965. They split over the student revolts of 1968, which had horrified Cardinal Ratzinger. They continued to diverge, and Dr. Küng came to refer to the cardinal, who was head of the Vatican office responsible for defending church orthodoxy, as “the Grand Inquisitor” or “head of the K.G.B.”

Nevertheless, after Cardinal Ratzinger became pope, the two enjoyed a long dinner at the pope’s summer residence after agreeing not to disagree. Pope Benedict applauded Dr. Küng’s efforts to revive the dialogue between faith and the natural sciences. Dr. Küng praised the pope for reaching out to other religions.

But after Benedict resigned the papacy in 2013, Dr. Küng suggested that the pope had been out of step with “modernity” and that the church was in need of more progressive leadership.

“In this dramatic situation the church needs a pope who’s not living intellectually in the Middle Ages, who doesn’t champion any kind of medieval theology, liturgy or church constitution,” he wrote, “a pope who stands up for the freedom of the church in the world not just by giving sermons but by fighting with words and deeds for freedom and human rights within the church, for theologians, for women, for all Catholics who want to speak the truth openly. ”

Dr. Küng’s image was distinctly nonclerical. Athletic and handsome, he wore crisp business suits, not a priest’s collar, and drove a sports car. On his trips to the United States, he sometimes appeared on television talk shows, and his youthful style drew comparisons to President John F. Kennedy.

Dr. Küng preferred to be called “professor” or “doctor” or “just plain Hans Küng,” explaining that the title “Father” was not traditionally used in German-speaking lands.

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New York allows in-person services this Easter, but some congregations stay virtual.

The Rev. Henry Torres told his parishioners, who had gathered on Palm Sunday in socially distanced rows of half-empty pews, that God had not abandoned them.

The coronavirus had killed dozens of regulars at the church, St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Queens, N.Y., and the pandemic forced it to close its doors for months last year. But the parishioners were there now, he said, which was a sign of hope.

“Even through difficulties, God is at work,” Father Torres said. “Even when people are suffering, even if it may seem that God is silent, that does not mean that God is absent.”

That is a message that many Christians — and the cash-strapped churches that minister to them — are eager to believe this Easter, as the springtime celebration of hope and renewal on Sunday coincides with rising vaccination rates and the promise of a return to something resembling normal life.

Religious services during the Holy Week holidays, which began on Palm Sunday and end on Easter, are among the most well-attended of the year, and this year they offer churches a chance to begin rebuilding their flocks and regaining their financial health. But the question of whether people will return is a crucial one.

Across New York City, many churches have still not reopened despite state rules that would allow them to do so.

The Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, a nationally prominent Black church, said concerns over the virus, and its disproportionate impact on the Black community, would keep his church from reopening until at least the fall.

Nicholas Richardson, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, said many of its churches had also not reopened. When the diocese introduced a program last fall to allow its 190 parishes to pay a reduced tithe to the diocese, roughly half of them applied.

“It varies church by church,” he said. “Pledges are not necessarily dramatically down, but donations given to the collection plate are hopelessly down.”

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Building a Mosque in France, Never Easy, May Get Even Harder

The disparities also touch on everything from government subsidies to private schools to credits on personal income for donations, which overwhelmingly favor Catholics and high-income taxpayers. But they are perhaps most glaring in physical structures. Even as Mr. Macron has pledged to nurture an “Islam of France,” followers of the faith suffer from an acute shortage of proper mosques across the country.

“It’s a total paradox,” Saïd Aït-Laama, an imam, said in an interview before Friday Prayer.

Unable to finance mosque-building themselves, generally unassisted by the state, Muslim communities have turned to governments abroad for help.

But that may now become more difficult under Mr. Macron’s new law, which is intended to combat Islamism by toughening rules on secularism and controls over religious organizations, including tightening the flow of foreign donations.

Last week, the government said that the new law would allow it to oppose the public financing of a large mosque in Strasbourg, in the eastern region of Alsace, where, for historical reasons, the construction of religious buildings can still qualify for government subsidies.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, pressed the local government to cancel the funding, saying that the association behind the Strasbourg mosque had ties to the Turkish government.

Even before new law was drafted, the City Council of Angers used real-estate regulations last year to stop mosque leaders from turning to Morocco. A provision in Mr. Macron’s law would allow the national government, too, to oppose the sale of religious buildings to a foreign government if the French authorities consider the sale a threat.

Mr. Macron has said that the legislation is critical to fighting the kind of radical ideology that has sent French youths to fight in Syria and led to the deaths of more than 250 French people in Islamist terrorist attacks since 2015. Last fall, four people were killed in three separate terrorist attacks.

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Cologne Catholic Church Failed in Handling Sex Abuse Claims, Report Finds

BERLIN — The Cardinal of Cologne in Germany has suspended two high-ranking officials named in a report on the church’s handling of accusations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, bringing an end to months of speculation about a matter that has led thousands in the area to sever their relationship with the church over the past year.

The report, released on Tuesday, found no wrongdoing by the cardinal, Rainer Maria Woelki. But an auxiliary bishop serving in the archdiocese and the head of its ecclesiastical court were both named in the 800-page review. It documents a “systematic cover-up” in the archdiocese’s handling of accusations of sexual abuse from 1975 to 2018, and the cardinal immediately announced suspensions for both men.

“As of today, it is no longer possible to say we had no idea,” Cardinal Woelki said after the release of the report — which he had not previously seen, but which said he had been fearing. “I am deeply moved and shamed by this, and I am convinced that for clerics, their actions must have consequences.”

None of those named were accused of criminal wrongdoing, although a copy of the report was sent to prosecutors in Cologne for review. Cardinal Woelki said a copy would also be sent to the Vatican.

a hotline for abuse, and had a bishop serving as its own commissioner on the issue.

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President John Magufuli of Tanzania Dies at 61

NAIROBI, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist leader who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his country away from democratic ideals, died on Wednesday at a hospital in the port city of Dar es Salaam. He was 61.

His death was announced on television by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who said Mr. Magufuli had died of heart complications while being treated at Mzena Hospital. The announcement followed more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically ill with Covid-19 — reports that senior government officials had repeatedly denied.

Ms. Hassan did not specify the nature of Mr. Magufuli’s underlying illness in her brief televised remarks, but said that he had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. She said that flags will fly at half-staff nationwide and that funeral arrangements were underway.

Mr. Magufuli, a trained chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the economy, stem wasteful spending and upgrade Tanzania’s infrastructure.

marked a sharp departure from his two immediate predecessors who had promoted the East African nation as a peaceful, business-friendly democracy.

During his first term, Mr. Magufuli’s government banned opposition rallies, revoked the licenses of nongovernmental organizations and introduced laws that critics said repressed independent reporting. He also said that pregnant girls should not be allowed in school.

refused to let opposition representatives into polling stations.

On voting day, at least 10 people were killed when violence broke out in the semiautonomous archipelago of Zanzibar after citizens said they had seen soldiers delivering marked ballots.

Mr. Magufuli won that election with 84 percent of the vote amid accusations of widespread fraud and irregularities. Tundu Lissu, the main opposition candidate running against him, was accused of trying to overthrow the government and had to leave the country. He remains in exile in Belgium.

Over the past year, Mr. Magufuli came under intense criticism at home and abroad for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He railed against masks and social distancing, promoted unproven remedies as cures and said that God had helped the country eliminate the virus.

Tanzania has not shared data on the coronavirus with the World Health Organization since April, and it has reported just 509 cases and 21 deaths, figures that have been widely viewed with skepticism.

As vaccine rollouts began worldwide, Mr. Magufuli discouraged the Health Ministry from securing doses for Tanzania.

in a speech to an unmasked crowd in late January. “If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccines for AIDS would have been brought. Vaccines for tuberculosis would have made it a thing of the past. Vaccines for malaria would have been found. Vaccines for cancer would have been found.”

writing on Twitter, “Science shows that #VaccinesWork.”

In February, the United States Embassy in Tanzania cautioned against “a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases” and warned that “limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care.”

Mr. Magufuli’s death came just days after speculations that he was sick with the virus. The rumors started swirling after Mr. Lissu, the opposition figure in exile, said that the president had Covid-19 and was being treated in a hospital in neighboring Kenya.

Mr. Lissu urged the authorities to disclose the whereabouts of the president, who had not been seen in public for almost two weeks. Mr. Magufuli did not attend a virtual summit for leaders of the East African regional bloc on Feb. 27.

Tanzanian officials dismissed the rumors and said that Mr. Magufuli was working as usual.

John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was born on Oct. 29, 1959, in the district of Chato in northwestern Tanzania. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Dar es Salaam, according to the presidential office’s website. In 2009, he obtained a doctorate in chemistry from the same university, according to the website.

Before becoming president, he was a member of Tanzania’s Parliament and held a number of cabinet posts. He first developed a reputation for fighting corruption when working in cabinet positions including as the minister of lands, fisheries and public works.

Mr. Magufuli is survived by his wife, Janet, a primary schoolteacher; and two children.

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Vatican Says Priests Can’t Bless Same-Sex Unions

ROME — The Vatican said on Monday that priests could not bless same-sex unions, calling any such blessing “not licit.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, issued the judgment in response to questions raised by some pastors and parishes that sought to be more welcoming and inclusive of gay couples.

In an explicatory note signed by the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Luis F. Ladaria, the congregation said that Pope Francis had “given his consent to the decision.”

The ruling said that the church should be welcoming toward gay people, but not their unions. Catholic teaching holds that marriage between a man and woman is part of God’s plan, and since gay unions are not intended to be part of that plan, they cannot be blessed by the church.

should have legal protection, but only in the civil sphere, and he has continued to oppose gay marriage.

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Tanzanian President’s Absence Fuels Speculation About His Health

NAIROBI, Kenya — As unrecorded numbers of Tanzanians succumbed to the coronavirus, the country’s president consistently downplayed the pandemic, dismissing protective measures, scoffing at vaccines and saying God had helped to eliminate the virus.

Now, President John Magufuli’s unusually lengthy absence from public view is fueling speculation that he himself is critically ill with Covid-19 and is being treated outside the country.

The rumors started swirling this week after Tanzania’s leading opposition figure, Tundu Lissu, said Mr. Magufuli was infected with the virus and was being treated in a hospital in neighboring Kenya. In a text message, Mr. Lissu said he had it “from fairly authoritative sources” that the president was flown to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Monday night and checked into Nairobi Hospital, one of the largest private facilities in that country.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lissu demanded that authorities disclose the whereabouts of the president, who has not appeared in public for almost two weeks. On Wednesday, he said that Mr. Magufuli was transferred to a hospital in India to “avoid social media embarrassment” in case “the worst happened” in Kenya.

did not attend a virtual summit for the leaders of the East African regional bloc on Feb. 27 and was represented by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

“The most powerful man in Tanzania is now being sneaked about like an outlaw,” Mr. Lissu said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.

“His COVID denialism in tatters, his prayer-over-science folly has turned into a deadly boomerang,” he said in another post on Thursday.

Mr. Lissu’s comments came after the Tanzanian human rights organization Fichua Tanzania said Mr. Magufuli had left the country to receive treatment in Kenya.

As speculation concerning his whereabouts and illness remained rife on social media, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper also reported that an “African leader” had been admitted to Nairobi Hospital and cited diplomatic sources who said the leader was “on a ventilator.”

threatened to punish those circulating conjectures about his health.

“The head of the state is not a television anchor who had a program but didn’t show up,” Mwigulu Nchemba, minister for legal and constitutional affairs, said in a Twitter post. “The head of state is not the leader of jogging clubs who should be in the neighborhood every day.”

Minister of Information Innocent Bashungwa warned the public and the media that using “rumors” as official information violated the country’s media laws.

From the beginning of the pandemic a year ago, Mr. Magufuli, 61, railed against masks and social distancing measures, advocated unproven remedies as cures and said the country had “absolutely finished” the virus through prayer. Known popularly as “The Bulldozer,” Mr. Magufuli also questioned the efficacy of vaccines, arguing that if those produced by “the white man” were effective, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria would have been eliminated.

Under Mr. Magufuli’s leadership, which began with his election in 2015, Tanzania, once a model of stability in the region, has slid toward autocracy, with the authorities cracking down on the press, opposition figures and rights groups. Mr. Magufuli won a second five-year term last October, in an election marred by accusations of widespread fraud and irregularities.

Mr. Lissu, who was the main opposition candidate against Mr. Magufuli, left the country for exile in Belgium, where he remains.

Since last April, Tanzania has not shared data on the coronavirus with the World Health Organization and has reported only 509 cases and 21 deaths from Covid-19. This lack of transparency has been widely condemned, including by the director general of the W.H.O., Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

warned of a “significant increase” in Covid-19 cases. The Roman Catholic Church has also called on the government to admit the truth of the virus and has urged its congregants to avoid large gatherings.

Tanzanian leaders like Seif Sharif Hamad, the first vice president of Tanzania’s semiautonomous island of Zanzibar, have died after contracting the coronavirus. Soon after news spread that Mr. Hamad had succumbed to the virus last month, the minister of finance, Philip Mpango, appeared at a news conference in Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma, to deny rumors that he too had died. Mr. Mpango, though, was not particularly reassuring when, flanked by unmasked doctors, he began wheezing heavily and coughing fitfully.

Facing pressure, Mr. Magufuli finally changed course in late February and asked people to wear masks and heed the advice of experts.

But for Mr. Lissu, it was too little too late.

“It’s a sad comment on his stewardship of our country that it’s come to this,” Mr. Lissu said in a post on Twitter about Mr. Magufuli’s infection, which he said is evidence “that prayers, steam inhalations and other unproven herbal concoctions he’s championed are no protection against coronavirus!”

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