U.N. Slams Vatican: Associated Press: "The Vatican 'systematically' adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a U.N. human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes. In a devastating report ... the U.N. committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children's rights and their access to health care are guaranteed. ... The report, which took the Vatican by surprise in its harsh tone, puts renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced in December, but few details have been released since then."
The Holy See Responds: Reuters: "The Vatican called the report 'distorted' and 'unfair' and said the United Nations had ignored steps taken in the past decade to protect children. ... The combative exchange sets the scene for the Vatican's biggest clash with the United Nations since 1994. Then, at a U.N. population conference in Cairo, the Vatican forced the international organization to back down on a proposal to approve abortion as a means of birth control. ... The Vatican initially planned a muted response, according to a person familiar with the matter, but raised its tone, after much debate, in response to the report's demands that the Catholic Church scale back its opposition to abortion, artificial contraception and homosexuality."
Latest Olympic Fear: NBC News: "The U.S. government has sent an advisory to airlines that fly into Russia, warning them that recent intelligence suggests terrorists might try to smuggle explosives onto planes by using toothpaste tubes. An official says the intelligence does not indicate any threat to planes flying either to or within the United States, but was instead limited to flights to Russia. 'Out of an abundance of caution, [Department of Homeland Security] regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics.'"
Russia Says: CNN: "A suspected mastermind of twin bomb attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd was killed in a police operation in the restive North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, state media reported Wednesday. The man died in a shootout at a house in the town of Izberbash, the official Itar-Tass news agency said. One accomplice surrendered to police, but others were killed alongside the suspected mastermind, the news agency said. The attacks on Volgograd's public transit system in late December, which killed 34 people and injured about 100, shocked Russia and fueled security concerns ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics."
Five-Ring Circus: The Sochi Games Are Already the Craziest in Recent Memory
Pussy Riot Ready to Play On: New York Times: "Two women from the Russian punk group Pussy Riot said Wednesday that their 21-month incarceration in Russia’s penal system for having staged a political protest in a Moscow cathedral had emboldened them to speak out more forcefully against President Vladimir V. Putin, partly because of the global support they received. In an interview with the editorial board of The New York Times, the women said they had no fear of any further imprisonment and suggested they may even run for political office in Russia someday. They also advocated political protests at the Winter Olympic Games, which are about to commence in Sochi. And they expressed admiration for the political protest movement underway in Ukraine, saying they hope it creates an infectious spirit in Russia."
The Chair: Washington Post: "Virginia lawmakers are expected to vote this week to establish the electric chair as the state’s default method of execution when drugs used for lethal injection are not available. The measure, prompted by a long-standing shortage of the drugs, would make Virginia the only state where a death-row prisoner could be forced in some circumstances to be electrocuted. ... The embrace of an execution method largely shunned over the past two decades comes as the death penalty, while still legal in many states and supported by a large if declining majority of Americans, is becoming increasingly difficult to implement. Across the country, states are struggling to procure the drugs necessary to perform lethal injections. Manufacturers in Europe have refused to sell drugs for use in capital punishment, as has at least one major U.S. manufacturer. The three-drug cocktail used commonly since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 is now out of reach."
Hoffman Autopsy: Los Angeles Times: "An autopsy of Philip Seymour Hoffman's body was inconclusive, and the determination of the official cause of death will have to wait for additional testing, the New York City’s medical examiner's office said Wednesday. 'Our examination has been concluded but the results are inconclusive,' spokeswoman Julie Bolcer told the Los Angeles Times. 'We are awaiting results and additional studies.' Bolcer said there was no time frame available for when the tests would be completed. Police have said Hoffman appeared to die from a drug overdose, but the exact cause will be determined by toxicology tests."
That's all for today. See you back here tomorrow. Until then, tell your friends to subscribe or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.