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News Brief: Cardinal Denies Sexual Assault Charges, Travel Ban Details


The height of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was almost 20 years ago, and here we are again today with a very high-profile charge.


Yeah. Cardinal George Pell is a very high-profile target. He is the Vatican treasurer, the number three figure in the church. Like many senior prelates, his long career reaches back into other countries. And the accusations here come from Australia, apparently focusing on acts many years ago. Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton says the cardinal is expected in court in Melbourne.


SHANE PATTON: Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect to historic sexual offenses. And there are multiple complainants relating to those charges.

INSKEEP: Pell says he's innocent of everything and will return to Australia to face the charges.

MARTIN: Josh McElwee is Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. He is on the line via Skype.

Josh, what else can you tell us about the charges against Cardinal Pell?

JOSH MCELWEE: Yeah, hi. We don't know much about the charges. We just know, as you had there, the police commissioner said it relates to historic sexual abuse allegations. The police in Australia are not giving any details about what those allegations are. At this point, we know that there was a book recently in Australia detailing some charges - allegations against Pell from the 1990s about apparent abuse of two choirboys in that time. But we don't know if those charges relate to this or what exactly he's being charged with.

MARTIN: We should say you're in a pressroom. It sounds like there's some lovely music happening in the background there, too. Has any other figure this high up in the Catholic Church ever faced accusations like this?

MCELWEE: No, this appears quite historic. As you said, Cardinal Pell was pulled to the Vatican by Pope Francis in 2014 to lead a new office in the reforms of the Vatican Curia. The pope had hoped that he would take control of Vatican finances, kind of addressed the scandals in that area that had been going on for decades. And it's the first time that the sexual abuse crisis has come right to the Vatican, one of the officials at the Vatican being charged with abuse himself and one of the pope's key advisers now having to go home to answer these charges.

MARTIN: So Cardinal Pell responded to the charges. We've got a tape of that. Let's hear it.


GEORGE PELL: News of these charges strengthens my resolve. And court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return back to Rome to work.

MARTIN: What is his boss saying? What is Pope Francis saying at this point, if anything?

MCELWEE: The pope has not said anything yet. It's interesting though, about a year ago when these allegations first came to light and it first was reported that the police were considering charges, the pope promised journalists that once the Australian police had come to a conclusion, that once the justice system had reached a conclusion, he would say something. And so now it seems the pope is at that point, or maybe he'll wait a while longer to see how the trial goes. And then we'll have to see what the pope will say.


INSKEEP: Pope Francis, of course, had been seen as a figure who might move the church in a new direction, change the story, change the narrative for the Catholic Church, which has been facing these scandals for many, many years. But here's a reminder that Pope Francis too will have to confront this scandal directly.

MARTIN: Yeah. Joshua McElwee, he is Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Josh, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

MCELWEE: Thank you.


MARTIN: OK, the big question today, what can we expect at airports as the Trump administration rolls out a new version of a travel ban?

INSKEEP: It is the question because this is the day for the administration to put new rules into effect. The Supreme Court said the other day that a ban on travel for some people from six majority-Muslim countries can take effect for now. People who have some direct connection with Americans can still travel, according to the court. People with no ties to the United States can be stopped.

That is the status until the court hears full arguments on the case. President Trump's administration promises to administer this rule without the chaos that engulfed airports when the first version of a travel ban was abruptly imposed in January.

MARTIN: NPR national correspondent Joel Rose is here.

So, Joel, do we know anything at this point about exactly when these new policies are going into place?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, an administration official told me last night that they are expecting to publicly roll out the details of the implementation around midday today and that the travel ban will take effect today but maybe sometime after that. It seems to be still a bit up in the air.

MARTIN: The big thing is, how do you prevent the chaos that we saw at these airports? I mean, initially when the travel ban went into place, I mean, airports were virtually shut down as people were trying to figure out who could come in and who couldn't.

ROSE: Yeah. It will hinge today, and going forward, largely on this - the meaning of one phrase - bona fide relationship. The Supreme Court said that Trump's travel ban could go into effect except for travelers who have a bona fide relationship or some kind of tie inside the U.S., whether that's a family connection, connection to a school they plan to attend or a business where they plan to work.

MARTIN: I mean, a school or a business you could produce a piece of paper, I suppose. It's much harder to prove that you've got, like, a familial connection with someone. And what exactly does that constitute?

ROSE: Right. I mean, and the problem is that bona fide relationship is not a term that has one clear set meaning in...


ROSE: ...Immigration policies. So the administration has been trying to figure out for days how to implement this. Lots of people are eager for answers.

MARTIN: What are you hearing from those groups who still oppose this ban?

ROSE: Well, they want a really broad definition of bona fide relationship because they argue that most visa holders who can get a visa to come to the U.S. already have these substantial ties. And the agencies that resettle refugees are watching this really closely as well because they say that the connection with refugees overseas who are planning to come here should count in itself as a bona fide relationship. So immigrant rights advocates are arguing that this limited travel ban really should be very limited in who it can apply to. So they hope that only a small number of travelers and refugees will be affected.

MARTIN: We should underscore, though, this isn't the last word on this. The court is just allowing parts of this ban with these limitations to take effect until they make a final decision on the case this fall, right?

ROSE: That's right. The Supreme Court is set to hear the case in the fall. And presumably, we'll get the final word on the legality of the travel ban then.

MARTIN: So we're getting an announcement today. Hopefully they're going to lay out plans, and then this thing goes into effect on a busy holiday weekend.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: That's right. I mean, we are not expecting quite as much chaos as we saw back in January for a couple of reasons. I mean, the State Department says people who have visas in hand can use them to travel. So no one's visa is going to be revoked in the air, which is what we saw back in January.

That said, immigrant rights advocates are going to be at the airport. They're dispatching lawyers to monitor implementation of this travel ban. And so we may see legal challenges again around this question of who should be allowed in.

INSKEEP: Here's a thing we don't have a clear picture of, which is, is the United States very much more secure than it was some months ago? This was supposed to be a security measure, but the debate over the implications for religious freedom and other things in the United States has obscured the larger question of whether airport travel - airline travel is any more secure.

MARTIN: All right, to be seen how this unfolds. NPR's Joel Rose is covering it. Thanks so much, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Can the simple act of breathing in and out pose a risk to millions of Americans?

INSKEEP: A study out today says yes. Hold your breath, Rachel. It's in The New England Journal of Medicine, this study. It measured air pollution levels that are allowed under current laws. And even those legal levels, it turns out, can be dangerous to some people. An editorial that accompanies the study warns that President Trump's promotion of the coal industry may only make things worse.

MARTIN: All right, Rob Stein is here with us. He covers health for NPR. Rob, there are these standards that say how much air pollution is allowed and even those levels - the allowable level of pollution is still killing people. What's going on?

STEIN: Yeah, that's what the study found. You know, Rachel, the air in the United States has been getting cleaner and cleaner in recent decades as, you know, these modern air pollution standards have kicked in. But these Harvard researchers wanted to know, could it be even cleaner? And so they launched this massive study. And the answer they found was, yes, it definitely could be cleaner. And they found, in fact, that thousands of Americans are dying each year because of dirty air. And if we just cleaned up just a little bit, they estimate that it could save at least 12,000 lives a year.

MARTIN: Wow, 12,000 people. Is there a specific demographic that's more vulnerable than others?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. That's definitely one of the most interesting findings here. This study, you know, was huge. They analyzed data from more than 60 million Medicare patients between 2000 and 2012. And they combine that with satellite data and other measurements that could estimate pollution down to the level of individual zip codes.

And what they found was that there clearly were some groups that were at greater risk and specifically, those tended to be poor people and African-Americans. They - blacks, for example, had three times the risk as the general population of having increased the rate of mortality because of air pollution.

MARTIN: This - the study moved the editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine to write an editorial, I understand, that's accompanying the study today. What's it say?

STEIN: Yeah. So Jeffrey Drazen, he's the editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and he says he thought the study was so important that he needed to personally help write an editorial that accompanied the study in the journal. And he says he's really worried about these - some of these Trump administration policies, you know, the EPA - that he wants to cut the Environmental Protection Agency.

It wants to increase the use of coal, which is a really dirty form of energy. And it wants to relax air pollution standards. There's been some talk about revoking a waiver for California that would reduce tailpipe emissions. And they're also concerned about the administration sort of pulling back and walking away from efforts to fight global warming because all of these things could increase the air pollution in the air, make the air dirtier that we breathe instead of cleaner.

MARTIN: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks so much this morning, Rob.

STEIN: Oh, sure. Nice to be here, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
Joshua McElwee
Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.