The abuse of power
Amid the past week's commanding news stories, another development also deserves attention: a British inquiry has accused the Catholic church of betraying its moral purpose over the issue of child sexual abuse perpetrated by its clergy.
It's not often that two all-pervading global nightmares start to ease at the same moment. Let's not rejoice too soon - but two ominous five-letter words 'Trump' and 'COVID' may soon be falling into disuse.
The big news from the US is not that Joe Biden won - it's that Donald Trump lost. By more than four million votes. He becomes part of a small and select bunch of presidents who failed to win a second term in office. In the past century, that's happened only four times - well, five now.
And it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy: racist, misogynist, bully, liar, tax avoider... just a few of the epithets that could be used to describe the outgoing president. He's in office for another two months so there is still time for him to blow up the world, and his shadow will loom for quite a while - but the sense of menace is starting to lift.
Just a couple of days after Trump’s defeat became apparent, we got word that a 90% reliable vaccine for COVID-19 is in prospect. There's some way to go before it's cleared for use, but we have a new reason to hope that the tide can be turned against the pandemic and that within a few months life can start to get back to something like normal.
There will now be an unruly jostle for the top of the queue to get access to the vaccine. It would be nice to imagine that those most at risk will be the first to get vaccinated. The world doesn't usually work like that, however, and between nations and within nations it's likely to be money and power that takes precedence over need.
So, with those two spectres perhaps starting to evaporate, all we need now is to tackle climate change, scrap all nuclear arsenals, ensure everyone can access safe drinking water... you get the point. There's no shortage of challenges facing the world.
We've just in the last day or two had a reminder of one of the most awful of evils - the prevalence of child sexual abuse and the flawed response of organisations which harboured perpetrators of this abuse. It's a universal problem, particularly within institutions - families, religious movements, orphanages, boarding schools - where adults are powerful and used to being obeyed and children have nowhere to seek refuge.
In Britain, the government established a wide-ranging independent inquiry some years back, after a series of disturbing news stories about child victims of abuse and the manner in which perpetrators had at times been shielded from scrutiny. Some of the more lurid allegations of paedophile rings involving top politicians and public figures have proved baseless. But it is clear that some Members of Parliament have in the past repeatedly abused vulnerable children and used their position and connections to escape investigation.
The latest report from the inquiry looks at the Roman Catholic Church - and its findings are coruscating. It accuses the Catholic church of 'betraying' its moral duty by prioritising the church's own reputation over the welfare of children abused by priests.
There have been 3,000 allegations of child sexual abuse reported to the Catholic Church in England and Wales since 1970 - and we must imagine that a much larger number of incidents were suffered in silence. This is not a specifically Catholic problem. The Church of England has also been subject to shaming criticism, as have other churches, religions and faith groups.
Catholicism stands out, perhaps, because of the rigidity of its hierarchy and its insistence on priestly celibacy. When complaints were made, the church often failed to support victims and simply moved priests alleged to be abusers to another parish. 'Child sexual abuse was swept under the carpet', the report says. 'For decades, the Catholic Church's failure to tackle abuse consigned many more children to the same fate.'
The inquiry also indicts Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, of failing in his duty. 'There was no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change', the report stated. 'Nor did [Cardinal Nichols] demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined.'
The Cardinal has responded by accepting the inquiry's findings in full. He said the church was 'deeply sorry this happened' and offered an assurance that 'we are here to learn and improve'. He said he had offered to stand down as head of the church in England and Wales on reaching the age of 75 this month but had been told by the Vatican to stay at his post - and so he would.
Victims of child sexual abuse insisted that the Cardinal could not simply carry on regardless. 'In any other walk of life he would be gone immediately', a survivors' representative commented. 'This is a church that cannot be trusted to protect children.'