The Pope Strikes Back

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 19 2002 6:05 AM

The Pope Strikes Back

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times lead with the Vatican's apparent rejection of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church's "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual abuse. The Washington Post leads with a scoop detailing the Defense Department's plans to train and equip as many as 10,000 Iraqi exiles to serve alongside U.S. troops in a potential invasion force.

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The papers say the future of the strict sexual-abuse policy adopted by U.S. Catholic bishops in June is in doubt (the WP goes inside with the story). In a letter to American bishops released yesterday, the Vatican called the policy potentially confusing, and said the provisions for suspending accused priests might conflict with the church's established canon law, which affords due process. Vatican officials told all the papers that the U.S. bishops had acted too hastily in creating the policy and did not take sufficient care to ensure the rights of accused priests. The letter called for a joint commission of U.S. and Vatican officials to take up the issue, which the NYT says will happen in six to 10 days.

The WP says President Bush has authorized the Defense Department to spend up to $92 million on combat training for Iraqi exiles. The administration has already compiled a list of 5,000 Iraqi recruits, and training will begin next month. The White House hopes to have a force of 10,000 trained Iraqi exiles to accompany and help out in the event of a U.S. invasion. The initiative is not new; Congress authorized $92 million for training Iraqi exiles in 1998. But a presidential directive signed by President Bill Clinton limited the program to nonlethal training, and only $6 million has been spent so far. Bush's latest action supercedes Clinton's order. The WP says that in the fractious Iraqi expatriate community the move is seen as a sop to the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group favored by the Pentagon but distrusted by the CIA and the State Department. The INC is one of six Iraqi opposition groups eligible for training under the program—the WP waits until the very last sentence to tell us that one of them is called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leadership of which is based in Iran.

The LAT and the WP front, and the NYT goes inside with, the recently disclosed nuclear ambitions of North Korea. The WP emphasizes that congressional Democrats are miffed that for 12 days the White House withheld the fact that North Korea had admitted it has been conducting a secret nuclear weapons program. The Democrats suggest they were purposefully kept in the dark about North Korea to avoid complicating the congressional debate over authorizing the president to use force in Iraq. The Democrats also complain that the White House seems to have been capricious in the way it distributed the information: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., read about it in the papers, while Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., was briefed two hours before the press, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was let in on the news last week. The NYT and LAT both say that the U.S. is organizing a diplomatic blitz with Japan, South Korea, and, most importantly, China to build a coalition to convince North Korea to drop the program. The LAT, oddly, says two U.S. diplomats held talks in Beijing on Friday, but neither the U.S. nor China "disclosed the names of the officials involved." The NYT plainly identifies them as State Department officials James Kelly and John Bolton.

The WP stuffs what seems like a whopper—the U.S. intelligence community has had evidence of North Korea's nuclear program for two years. The WP says intelligence analysts were aware of the program by the summer of 2000, but that, for some reason, the information "was not reaching the highest levels of government." According to the paper, it wasn't until last July that senior U.S. officials found out that their own intelligence folks were pretty sure North Korea had a nuclear weapons program. Still, in a timeline discrepancy the WP doesn't explain, a South Korean official told the paper that U.S. sources informed South Korea of the program in August 2001. Which would mean that we told South Korea almost a year before our own senior officials were aware of the program.

The NYT off-leads with the Bush administration's attempts to cut back on the proposed budget increase for the Securities and Exchange Commission. Three months ago, and with great fanfare, the paper says, Bush signed a bill that would increase the SEC's budget by $338 million to fight corporate corruption. But now the White House, citing budgetary concerns, is asking Congress to cut back and appropriate a more modest increase of $130 million. Congressional Democrats are accusing the White House of pretending to care about beefing up the SEC when it was politically expedient and of reversing now that corporate crime seems to be on the nation's back burner. The White House says it thinks the lower budget increase is sufficient.

The WP's "Style" section fronts a dispatch from the campaign trail with Katherine Harris. Harris, who is running for Congress from Florida, was Florida's secretary of state during the 2000 election debacle. These days, she's toned down the make-up—which, she says, she used to "put on in the car at the stoplight"—and campaigning door-to-door in Dolce & Gabbana pumps, a tactic that's earned her more campaign cash than Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. Her performance during the election struggle has made her a popular if divisive figure, and many Floridians admire her. She's often introduced at events as an "American heroine" who "stood her ground with grace and courage" during the recount. She is introduced that way partly because people really feel that way about her but mostly because that's the script that her campaign forwards to anybody who's scheduled to introduce her at campaign events.

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