Saturday, January 22, 2022

Bot revolution is reforming business procurement activities

By Dr. Tim Sandle
Published January 19, 2022

Xiaoice was designed to hook users through lifelike, empathetic conversations, satisfying emotional needs where real-life communication too often falls short. — © AFP

Companies are using bots to cut costs, save time, make their processes more efficient and enable a faster and more accurate response to customer and employee queries. The use of bots cuts across organizations in a variety of industries, such as retail, travel, healthcare, and finance.

The main advantage is that through the use of bots, firms are able to provide a 24/7 service to customers. This is especially so in larger enterprises. According to a recent report by Fortune Business Insights, the global chatbot market size is expected to grow from $396.2 million in 2019 to USD $1,953.3 million in 2027.

According to analysts at apsolut, from a report shared with Digital Journal, due to advancements in AI and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and the increasing affordability of intelligent technologies, more midsize and smaller organizations are seeking to use bots. The driver is with providing a round-the-clock service to customers.

Freeing up procurement in SMEs for value-add tasks


Small and medium-sized enterprises are also becoming more aware of the benefits they can gain by using intelligent bots outside of customer communications. For example, to streamline business processes and to answer employee queries, according to the apsolut data. Bots are a great way to automate repetitive tasks and can act as digital assistants, making employees far more effective at their jobs.

Procurement specialists deal with a lot of data and can waste time looking for information, such as documents and company policies related to contracts management. Procurement also deals with a lot of repetitive tasks like processing purchase requisitions or invoices which bots can do more efficiently, freeing up procurement for more value-add projects.

The different types of bots

The apsolut data finds that two different types of bots are deployed. The first one is conversational AI (CAI), which is commonly known as a chatbot. The key feature of chatbots is they allow you to communicate with your system in your natural language, either by voice or typing.

The second type is the RPA bot which is designed to execute specific tasks. These tend to be simple and repetitive tasks, like going to a mailbox, extracting a PDF invoice, and moving that document into the procurement system. RPA automates predefined workflows but when we combine it with machine learning, the bot can understand the likely outcomes of choices and make its own decisions.

How SME procurement departments are using bots

As an example of application, apsolut have found that firms are starting to use chatbots to automate simple FAQ tasks in procurement. For example, answering a question like “How do I need to create my purchase requisition and who still needs to approve it?”. To address this, some mature, midmarket companies are using bots to automate up to 80-90 percent of their processes, especially in procure-to-pay (p2p).

There is a growing awareness that bots can also handle more complex tasks within the source-to-contract area. For example, sending out RFPs, and doing the negotiation for small volume contracts.

Interconnected bots

Many midsized organizations tend to build more intelligent RPA/ML bots to perform specific tasks. If there’s a second task they want to automate, they build a second bot and there’s rarely much communication between the bots. This is starting to change. Bots are becoming more interconnected and evolving into comprehensive digital assistants. apsolut have designed a bot called ProBo, which is an RPA chatbot that sits in Microsoft Teams. The bot makes it quicker and easier for users to create and complete purchase requisitions in SAP Ariba and to approve work items.

'Always there': the AI chatbot comforting China's lonely millions

XiaoIce has pioneered a cutting-edge artificial intelligence system designed to create emotional bonds with its 660 million user
XiaoIce has pioneered a cutting-edge artificial intelligence system designed to 
create emotional bonds with its 660 million users worldwide.

After a painful break-up from a cheating ex, Beijing-based human resources manager Melissa was introduced to someone new by a friend late last year.

He replies to her messages at all hours of the day, tells jokes to cheer her up but is never needy, fitting seamlessly into her busy big city lifestyle.

Perfect boyfriend material, maybe—but he's not real.

Instead, Melissa breaks up the isolation of urban life with a virtual chatbot created by XiaoIce, a cutting-edge artificial intelligence system designed to create emotional bonds with its 660 million users worldwide.

"I have friends who've seen therapists before, but I think therapy's expensive and not necessarily effective," said Melissa, 26, giving her English name only for privacy.

"When I unload my troubles on XiaoIce, it relieves a lot of pressure. And he says things that are pretty comforting."

XiaoIce is not an individual persona, but more akin to an AI ecosystem.

It is in the vast majority of Chinese-branded smartphones as a Siri-like , as well as most social media platforms.

On the WeChat super-app, it lets users build a virtual girlfriend or boyfriend and interact with them via texts, voice and photo messages.

Xiaoice was designed to hook users through lifelike, empathetic conversations, satisfying emotional needs where real-life commun
Xiaoice was designed to hook users through lifelike, empathetic conversations,
 satisfying emotional needs where real-life communication too often falls short.

It has 150 million users in China alone.

Originally a side project from developing Microsoft's Cortana chatbot, XiaoIce now accounts for 60 percent of global human-AI interactions by volume, according to chief executive Li Di, making it the largest and most advanced system of its kind worldwide.

It was designed to hook users through lifelike, empathetic conversations, satisfying emotional needs where real-life communication too often falls short.

"The average interaction length between users and XiaoIce is 23 exchanges," said Li.

That "is longer than the average interaction between humans," he said, explaining AI's attraction is that "it's better than humans at listening attentively."

The startup spun out from Microsoft last year and is now valued at over $1 billion after venture capital fundraising, Bloomberg reported.

Developers have also made virtual idols, AI news anchors and even China's first virtual university student from XiaoIce. It can compose poems, financial reports and even paintings on demand.

But Li says the platform's peak user hours—11pm to 1am—point to an aching need for companionship.

"No matter what, having XiaoIce is always better than lying in bed staring at the ceiling," he said.

AI-generated faces which can be selected as virtual girlfriends created by XiaoIce
AI-generated faces which can be selected as virtual girlfriends created by XiaoIce.

Urban isolation

The loneliness Melissa experienced as a young professional was a big factor in driving her to the virtual embrace of XiaoIce.

Her context is typical of many Chinese urbanites, worn down by the grind of long working hours in vast and isolating cities.

"You really don't have time to make new friends and your existing friends are all super busy... this city is really big, and it's pretty hard," she said, giving only her English name out of privacy concerns.

She has customised his personality as "mature", and the name she chose for him—Shun—has similarities with a real-life man she secretly liked.

"After all, XiaoIce will never betray me," she added. "He will always be there."

But there are risks to forging emotional bonds with a robot.

"Users 'trick' themselves into thinking their emotions are being reciprocated by systems that are incapable of feelings," says Danit Gal, an expert in AI ethics at the University of Cambridge.

Li Di says the platform's peak user hours—11pm to 1am—point to an aching need for companionship
Li Di says the platform's peak user hours—11pm to 1am—point to an aching
 need for companionship.

XiaoIce is also gifting developers "a treasure-trove of personal, intimate, and borderline incriminating data on how humans interact," she added.

So far the platform has not been targeted by government regulators, who have embarked on a swingeing crackdown on China's tech sector in recent months.

China aims to be a world leader in AI by 2030 and views it as a core strategic technology to be developed.

Fact or fiction?

Thousands of young, female fans discuss the virtual boyfriend experience on online forums dedicated to XiaoIce, sharing chat screenshots and tips on how to get to the chatbot's highest "intimacy" level of three hearts.

Users can also collect in-game points the more they interact, unlocking new features such as XiaoIce's WeChat moments—kind of like a Facebook wall—and even going on virtual "holidays", where they can pose for selfies with their virtual partner.

Laura, a 20-year-old user in Zhejiang province, fell in love with XiaoIce over the past year and now struggles to break free of her attachment.

"Occasionally, I would long for him in the middle of the night... I used to fantasise there was a real person on the other end," said the student, who prefers not to use her real name.

Developers have also made virtual idols, AI news anchors and even China's first virtual university student from XiaoIce
Developers have also made virtual idols, AI news anchors and even China's first
 virtual university student from XiaoIce.

But she complained that he would always switch conversation topic when she raised her feelings for him or meeting in real life. It took her months to finally realise that he was indeed virtual.

"We commonly see users who suspect that there's a real person behind every XiaoIce interaction," said Li, the founder.

"It has a very strong ability to mimic a real person."

But providing companionship to vulnerable users does not mean that XiaoIce is a substitute for specialist mental health support—a service that is drastically under-resourced in China.

The system monitors for strong emotions, aiming to guide conversations onto happier topics before users ever reach crisis point, Li explained, adding that depression is the most common extreme emotional state encountered.

Still, Li believes modern China is a happier place with XiaoIce.

"If human interaction is wholly perfect now, there would be no need for AI to exist," he said.

A real conversation piece: Social chatbot in China does phone talk

© 2021 AFP


CIA sees no foreign effort behind ‘Havana syndrome’ cases

By AFP
Published January 20, 2022


The US embassy in Cuba, where staff in 2016 complained of mysterious, debilitating symptoms that wre dubbed "Havana Syndrome." -
 Copyright POOL/AFP Kay Nietfeld

Paul HANDLEY

The CIA has concluded that no foreign government is likely behind hundreds of mysterious “Havana syndrome” afflictions reported by US diplomats and that nearly all have more conventional medical or environmental explanations, a senior official said Thursday.

Out of as many as 1,000 anomalous health incidents (AHIs) reported by American diplomats, intelligence and other officials, commonly dubbed Havana syndrome, about two dozen remain unexplained and are still the focus of intense examination, the official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

The first cases in Cuba in 2016, involving complaints of nosebleeds, migraines and nausea after experiencing piercing sounds at night, sparked suspicions that Russia or another rival was conducting campaigns to hurt US officials.

The reports of unexplained physical ailments spread to US officials in China, Russia, Europe and even Washington, sparking a broader investigation by the government and direct accusations that Russia had an unknown electronic or sound-based weapon.

That led to Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns delivering a warning to Moscow last year of consequences if Russian intelligence was shown to be behind the mysterious ailments.

But the preliminary conclusion of a CIA study found no evidence of a foreign state actor — Russian or other — behind the AHI cases.

“We have assessed that it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained worldwide campaign harming US personnel with a weapon or mechanism,” the official said.

Nearly all of the cases can be explained by the person’s existing or previously undiagnosed medical conditions, or by environmental factor, the study concluded.

Only about two dozen cases cannot be explained, and are the focus of further study.

In those cases the CIA has not ruled out a foreign actor as the cause, the official said.


– ‘Their pain is real’ –



In a statement Burns said the US spy agency is continuing to investigate and pledged support and care for any officials with health problems, whatever the underlying cause.

“We are pursuing this complex issue with analytic rigor, sound tradecraft, and compassion and have dedicated intensive resources to this challenge,” Burns said.

“We will continue the mission to investigate these incidents and provide access to world-class care for those who need it. While underlying causes may differ, our officers are suffering real symptoms,” he said.

Victims’ advocates quickly dismissed the CIA’s conclusions.

Mark Zaid, an attorney who represents several people afflicted with AHI, said the CIA released the conclusions to deal with a “revolt within its workforce as officers don’t want to go overseas.”

“The CIA report is disinformation,” he said, noting that other agencies in the US intelligence community disagree with it.

In a statement US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not challenge the CIA conclusions but said investigations will continue.

“These findings do not call into question the fact that our colleagues are reporting real experiences and are suffering real symptoms,” Blinken said.

“Their pain is real. There is no doubt in my mind about that.”

CIA says ‘Havana Syndrome’ is not foreign power campaign: reports



By AFP
Published January 20, 2022

The CIA has concluded that US diplomats suffering mysterious headaches and nausea in what has been dubbed “Havana Syndrome” were not targeted in a global campaign by a foreign power, reports said Wednesday.

NBC News, The New York Times and Politico cited multiple officials briefed on a CIA intelligence assessment on the incidents that first surfaced among diplomats in 2016 in the Cuban capital, in which US and Canadian officials complained of severe headaches, nausea and possible brain damage after hearing high-pitched sounds.

Since then, diplomatic and intelligence officials have reported similar experiences in countries including Australia, Austria, China, Colombia, Germany and Russia.

The reports said the CIA did not rule out foreign involvement in about two dozen cases that remain unexplained, which continue to be investigated.

“In hundreds of other cases of possible symptoms, the agency has found plausible, alternate explanations,” the NBC sources told the network.

Some US officials previously alleged the cases could have been caused by Russian microwave attacks, but scientists expressed doubts about the theory and said there was not one affliction or cause of the reported cases.

The reports said the CIA document reported interim findings.

“The interim report was not a final conclusion of the broader Biden administration or the full intelligence community,” NBC reported, citing US officials.

The findings elicited frustration from some of those who fell ill, with a group of people saying the CIA assessment “cannot and must not be the final word on the matter,” according to a statement cited by the Times.

“While we have reached some significant interim findings, we are not done,” William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, said in a statement quoted by the Times.

“We will continue the mission to investigate these incidents and provide access to world-class care for those who need it.”

SEE 
FRIENDLY FIRE?
Everyone’s least favorite climate fix? Nuclear power gets fresh look.



Stephanie Hanes
Fri, January 21, 2022, 9:41 AM·7 min read


A few years out of college, Robbie Stewart knew he needed to make a career change. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his job working as a mechanical engineer for General Electric – he did. But he also knew, as someone who felt deeply about being a steward of the earth, that he wanted to be part of fighting climate change.

So he thought for a while about how he could best contribute. And then he decided to go into the nuclear industry.

“I saw nuclear as a huge opportunity for decarbonization,” he explains. “And this was where my skillset was.”

Mr. Stewart quit his job, entered a Massachusetts Institute of Technology nuclear science Ph.D. program, and eventually co-founded the company Boston Atomics, which is creating “design to build” nuclear power plants that can be constructed on a quicker schedule and at lower cost than traditional facilities.

“Our entire bet is that the value of low-carbon energy is only going to go up in the future,” he says. “That’s a big part of our value case as a startup.”

A slew of “advanced nuclear” startups have launched recently to bring new, nimble technology to the long-lumbering nuclear industry, often with the goal of reducing global warming. There are companies working to build smaller “micro” reactors the size of shipping containers, some looking to recycle radioactive waste, and some that use materials other than water to cool reactors, among other innovations.

Many of the entrepreneurs are young, and many consider themselves climate activists. They are part of a broader mindset change involving nuclear power overall, in which more environmentalists – although certainly not all – are shedding negative feelings about nuclear and instead embracing the technology.


“There has been a shift where the broader climate community has realized the benefit that nuclear can bring to meet our climate goals,” says Lindsey Walter, deputy director for climate and energy at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington. “The biggest issue that we’re trying to address is the climate crisis. And if you’re going to follow the science, if you’re going to follow the evidence, then it’s really quite clear that nuclear has to be part of the solution.”

On climate action, a rising focus on speed


In large part, supporters say, this is because renewable energy alone isn’t ready to speedily free the power grid from carbon. And speed is of the essence, scientists say, as human emissions of greenhouse gases are already altering Earth’s climate.

Wind and solar power are dependent on the weather, and at this point battery storage technology is not advanced enough to smooth the electricity grid’s complicated fluctuations in supply and demand.

A nuclear power plant, on the other hand, can produce energy constantly, without releasing climate warming gasses. And that means that it could provide a key component to a fossil-fuel-free energy system, supporters say.

“We have to radically reduce green gas emissions,” says Judi Greenwald, executive director of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance. “It’s not something like a 10% or 20%, or even a 50% reduction. We have to get as close as we can to zero. And that really makes you have to rethink the whole energy system.”

Still, concerns about nuclear power remain widespread.

Traditionally, environmentalists have considered it dangerous. Accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and more recently Fukushima have reinforced this concern – along with lingering questions about what to do with radioactive waste, the environmental and ethical implications of uranium mining, and the risk of nuclear material being used for weapons.

“Nuclear energy is not safe, it’s not economical, and it increases the risk for nuclear weapons proliferation,” says Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany who has been working on energy systems for 30 years. “We are in a climate emergency, and we’re wasting our time, and a lot of column inches, talking about a technology that’s essentially irrelevant.”

Beyond the ethical and environmental concerns, he argues that the impracticality of nuclear power should be enough to make people wary of the technology. Traditional nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build, and they take years, if not decades, to actually come online. In the United States, which currently gets about 20% of its electricity – and about half of its carbon-free electricity – from nuclear, some 21 reactors are in the process of being decommissioned, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“It’s not possible for the nuclear industry to play the essential role for decarbonization over the next decades,” Mr. Burnie says. “It’s a myth.”

But that has not stopped officials worldwide from turning toward it as a possible climate solution.

A “green investment” or not?


Recently, a European Union proposal to classify some nuclear power plants as “green investments” drew both praise and debate. Germany, which has pledged to shutter the last of its nuclear plants by the end of this year, has argued that any process that leaves permanent radioactive waste can’t be labeled “sustainable.” But France, an atomic energy leader, lobbied in favor of the designation.

In the U.S., the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year included money to prevent the closing of nuclear power plants, since nuclear power that goes offline is largely replaced with fossil fuels. The bill also has money to support nuclear innovation.

It’s that innovation that is key for many climate activists, says Jessica Lovering, co-founder of the Good Energy Collective, a group that tries to make a progressive political case for nuclear power. Whether through small startups such as Mr. Stewart’s Boston Atomics, or Bill Gates’ company TerraPower, which last year announced plans to build a “next generation” demonstration reactor on the site of a retiring Wyoming coal mine, the climate potential of new nuclear technology offsets old environmental concerns, she says.

“Whatever gets us there”


“A lot of the bigger traditional incumbent environmental groups, founded in the ’60s and ’70s, spun out of anti-war movements, anti-establishment movements,” she says. “They come with a lot of baggage against nuclear. ... What we’re seeing with these newer climate groups is that they are really pushing for an aggressive standard on decarbonization. ... There’s this pragmatic viewpoint of, ‘well, we’re just trying to reduce emissions as fast as possible as much as possible. So whatever gets us there.’”

From a progressive point of view, Dr. Lovering says, it is also important that the ownership models of nuclear power plants are changing. For years, she says, nuclear power was the purview of large utilities, often with connections to the military. Now, there are more models that give communities more input, with scaled-down footprints. And even in its traditional form, nuclear takes up less land than large solar or wind farms, which can come with their own environmental challenges. While she acknowledges that advanced nuclear is still in the future, it is closer than many people realize, she says, with a number of demonstration technologies launching in the next decade.

And just because the technology doesn’t exist now, she and other supporters say, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working for a future solution. That’s why many scientists are still excited about the long-postponed dream of nuclear fusion as a potentially abundant and clean source of electric power.

In addition to electricity generation, some advanced nuclear technologies – including Boston Atomics – would be able to produce the extreme heat for industrial processes such as chemical production or steelmaking. That emissions-heavy, and varied, industrial sector is widely considered one of the hardest to address as far as greenhouse gasses.

“There’s embodied carbon in everything that we manufacture,” Dr. Lovering says. “I actually was not a supporter of nuclear until I learned more. ... You begin to realize, oh, shoot, we really do need this technology if we’re going to meet these [net zero] goals. I think a lot of others in the climate community that are supportive of nuclear came about it in the same way.”

She concludes: “I’m not for nuclear for the sake of nuclear. I’m purely for nuclear for the sake of climate.”
German leader champions new tack on climate at Davos event


German Klaus Schwab, left, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), listens German Chancellor Olaf Scholz displayed in screen, during the Davos Agenda 2022, in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. The Davos Agenda, from 17 to 21 January 2022, is an online edition due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak gather global leaders to shape the principles, policies and partnerships needed in this challenging context.
 (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

JAMEY KEATEN
Wed, January 19, 2022

GENEVA (AP) — New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Wednesday for a “paradigm shift” in the way the world approaches climate policy, saying his country would leverage its presidency of the Group of Seven industrial nations this year to push for standards to fight global warming.

Climate discussions have been a key theme this week at a World Economic Forum meeting, which is being held online after COVID-19 concerns delayed its annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. It included a panel with U.S. special envoy on climate John Kerry and billionaire Bill Gates that featured ideas environmentalists and scientists have challenged: that innovations yet to be invented or used widely would help drastically reduce emissions.

Unlike events such as last year's U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the Davos meeting is more of a discussion of big ideas — not where concrete agreements are made on how to act. Critics regularly fault the Davos event, whose origins date to 1971, for hosting economic and political elites who voice high-minded but often empty goals that are deemed out of touch with the needs of regular people.

In an address, Scholz focused on ambitions by Germany and the wider European Union to fight climate change.

“Europe has decided to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050; Germany wants to reach that goal in 2045 already … a monumental task, but a task that we can and will master,” he said.

Scholz added that Germany will use its G-7 presidency to “turn that group into the nucleus of an international climate club."

“What we want to achieve is a paradigm shift in international climate policy. We will no longer wait for the slowest and least ambitious," he said. “Instead, we will lead by example, and we will turn climate action from a cost factor into competitive advantage by agreeing on joint minimum standards.”

Scholz said the “climate club,” which he first announced months ago when he was finance minister, would be open to all countries.

Several groups of countries have similar goals, including the High Ambition Coalition that aims to achieve the strictest target in the Paris climate accord — limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times.

Critics say such groups often include members with less-than-stellar climate records. Both Germany and the United States, for example, are not on track to meet their emission reduction goals and have pushed back against granting poor countries the kind of funding they seek to tackle climate change.

The targets Scholz suggested for the climate club — the 1.5-degree cap and climate neutrality by 2050 — are already part of or implied by the Paris accord. More significant, Scholz said the club could seek to achieve those goals “by pricing carbon and preventing carbon leakage.”

Those proposals are designed to prevent companies from shifting carbon-heavy industries to countries with less stringent emissions rules and putting nations like Germany at a competitive disadvantage.

While the idea has strong support within the European Union, whose members are used to negotiating compromise agreements for the common good, getting the U.S. and major developing countries such as China and India on board will be trickier.

Representing the U.S., Kerry urged businesses and governments to accelerate efforts to get technologies to scale that will help drastically reduce carbon emissions. Speaking on a panel about climate innovation, Kerry said most “critical technologies” needed to reduce emissions were not moving fast enough.

“The world has to pick up the pace,” he said.

He and other panelists talked about “carbon capture,” the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide before it gets into the atmosphere, and “green hydrogen,” splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen with energy from low-carbon sources.

The idea that technologies and markets are central to the climate change fight is a popular in some circles but also controversial because technologies like carbon capture are expensive, energy intensive and far from being used widely.

Carbon capture also was mentioned by an energy company executive in a separate panel on the energy transition, where Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, stressed that the major oil producer was “proactively engaged with everybody” as the world tries to reduce emissions.

The prince said fossil fuels would play a role alongside renewables and urged countries to use “every tool in the kit,” including cleaner ways to use fossil fuels rather than simply eliminating them.

A group of Latin American leaders also discussed climate change in another panel, urging accountability from the largest carbon-emitting nations and help funding green agendas.

Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei tied climate change to migration in the region because it saps resources, hampering growth opportunities. He said Central America barely causes 0.33% of greenhouse gases, but countries there “suffer the most.”

“Every year, we have to rebuild the country because there are hurricanes,” Giammattei said. “Many of our resources that should be dedicated to the generation of new opportunities must be directed toward the construction of roads, bridges, drinking water systems."

___

Associated Press writers Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, Regina Garcia Cano in Mexico City and Peter Prengaman in Phoenix contributed to this report.

___

Follow all AP stories on climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.
UN adopts resolution against Holocaust denial


By AFP
Published January 20, 2022

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, pictured in 2021, welcomed the passage of a UN resolution calling on all member states to fight against Holocaust denial
- Copyright AFP Jung Yeon-je

The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a non-binding resolution calling on all member states to fight against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, especially on social media.

The Israeli-proposed text was developed with the help of Germany and co-sponsored by several dozen of the 193 states that make up the United Nations.

Iran, however, expressed opposition to the resolution, stating that Tehran dissociated itself from the text.

The resolution “rejects and condemns without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part,” according to the text.

The Holocaust saw the genocide of six million European Jews between 1939 and 1945 by the Nazis and their supporters.

The text “commends” countries that preserve sites of former Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps, execution sites and prisons during the Holocaust.

It also urges UN members to develop educational programs “to help to prevent future acts of genocide” and calls on states and social media companies to “take active measures to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial or distortion.”

In a statement, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, welcomed the “historic resolution,” which had been negotiated for several months.

The text “for the first time, gives a clear definition of Holocaust denial, calls on countries to take steps in the fight against anti-Semitism,” and demands for social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to fight the “hateful content” on their platforms.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, in a joint statement welcomed the resolution, which they said served as proof that the international community “speaks with one voice” on the subject.

A resolution in 2005 designated January 27 as an international day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, additionally welcomed the passage of the resolution.

“Holocaust distortion is so dangerous because, quite plainly, it misrepresents essential facts of history in order to legitimize past and present misdeeds,” said its director Dani Dayan.

“The Holocaust carries substantial relevance for many vital contemporary issues. Denying and distorting the uniqueness and unprecedented aspects of events is not only detrimental to the memory of the Holocaust but to that of other atrocities and genocides as well,” he added.

German museum identifies objects likely stolen from Africa

A Munich museum says 50 objects in its collection are of questionable provenance and may have been stolen by a German military commander during colonial times.

  

Due to difficulties faced by researchers, the provenance of one well-known object, a carved wooden

 post (pictured above) depicted by Munich's Blauer Reiter (Blue Rider) artists' group in their 1912 

almanac, remains unclear

The Five Continents Museum in Munich on Friday announced that it had identified some 50 objects of questionable provenance in its collection.

That determination was made by a team of researchers, led by Albert Gouaffo of the University of Dschang in Cameroon and Karin Guggeis of the Five Continents Museum, who have been investigating some 200 objects from the institution's Max von Stetten collection since 2019.

Von Stetten had been a commander in the Imperial German Army and stationed in Cameroon — where experts say the pieces likely originated — in the late 19th century. Von Stetten later donated some 200 objects to the museum.

Researchers say that most of the objects von Stetten donated had likely been acquired legitimately, but roughly 50 others may have been stolen during military campaigns known as "punitive expeditions."

Among the objects researchers have identified as problematic are two sacred figures, three horns, two bark beaters and numerous weapons.

Difficult to research

Scientists say research in Cameroon, in an effort to identify the provenance of a particularly well-known object  — a carved wooden post fancied by Munich's famous Blauer Reiter (Blue Rider) expressionist artists  — has become nearly impossible due to unrest in the country.

Recently, three Cameroonian researchers scheduled to visit Munich as part of the project were denied visas for Germany. Authorities from the Foreign Office in Berlin cited irregularities in their travel documents.

Museum representatives hope the situation can soon be rectified, noting that coming to grips with the highly sensitive issue of colonial injustice demands intense, personal cooperation, which a spokeswoman at the institution said is "the heart of postcolonial provenance research."  

The Five Continents Museum, Germany's first ethnological museum, was founded in 1862. Representatives say it is unclear what the institution will do with the objects when research is complete.

Europe's gas crisis: Could LNG help boost energy security?

Europe's gas reserves are at their lowest in years just as peak winter demand hits. If Russia were to halt gas deliveries over the Ukraine crisis, could liquefied natural gas (LNG) fill the gap?



Ships destined for Asia carrying liquified natural gas (LNG) have been rerouted to help ease Europe's energy crisis

The true scale of Europe's energy crisis hit home this week when Commerzbank published data showing the current stockpile of natural gas across the European Union.

The storage facilities of EU nations are less than half full — and that's at the height of peak winter demand, according to Germany's second-biggest lender.

"Current inventories are about 47% of full capacity," Bernd Weidensteiner, senior economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt, told DW. "Normal for this time of the year is about 60% ... so we are significantly lower."

Indeed, a Commerzbank graphic posted to Twitter shows that, in previous years, EU inventories have ranged from 60% to more than 85% in January.

Europe was already struggling with an energy crunch when Russia's state-controlled Gazprom slashed natural gas deliveries to the bloc in October, sending soaring prices higher still.

Moscow, which supplies about 40% of Europe's imported gas, is accused of using its energy exports as leverage in a dispute over Ukraine, through which much of the Russian gas transits.

Russia is believed by the West to be planning a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, after the Kremlin amassed more than 100,000 troops at its border with the Eastern European country over the past two months.



Europe's energy security threatened

Just as German and US diplomats have warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against escalating the crisis, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are growing anxious about the vulnerability of Europe's energy security.

If Putin were to cut off natural gas supplies during a military conflict or in retaliation for any future Western sanctions, Weidensteiner warned that "some [European] inventories might run extremely low."

To help ease demand for gas to heat and power homes and businesses, last month some 10 cargoes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) that were destined for Asia were diverted to Europe.

Could LNG fill the gap?


The move reignited the debate about whether LNG could be a more permanent solution to Europe's energy dependence on Russia.

LNG is a natural gas that is cooled down to liquid form and shrunk to 1/600th of its original volume. The liquid is often exported in huge ships containing heavily insulated tanks that keep the gas in a liquid state at approximately -162 Celsius. At the other end, the liquid is turned back into a gas (regasified).

The US has long warned of the threat posed by Russia's dominance in the natural gas sector, partly in an attempt to boost its LNG exports to Europe. Thanks to the shale gas boom of the past decade, the US is now the world's largest exporter of LNG.

But, while American energy firms are ramping up LNG export capacity by almost 20%, to 13.9 billion cubic feet per day by the end of the year, according to the International Energy Agency, the new supply won't be enough to bail out Europe if Putin turns off the taps.
LNG exporters need time

In the short term, "LNG would not be able to fully compensate [for any natural gas shortfall from Russia]," Weidensteiner said, citing "a lack of free short-term capacity among exporters like the US and Qatar."

The Commerzbank economist said that, though Europe still has the capacity to process or regasifiy the imported liquid gas, "it would be difficult to deliver it to end users as the distribution infrastructure is not tailored for a significant shift to LNG."

In another sign of Europe's energy vulnerability, the US government held talks recently with several international energy firms to discuss contingency plans for delivering gas to Europe if Russian supplies were disrupted, Reuters news agency reported on Saturday.

Citing two US officials and industry sources, Reuters said US State Department officials had approached the companies to ask where additional supplies might come from if needed.

With tight global supplies at present, the officials were told that there is little gas available to substitute large volumes from Russia, the industry sources said.

Without other natural gas or LNG exporters stepping up, Europe may struggle to compensate for any temporary lack of Russian supplies in a worst-case scenario, Weidensteiner warned.
Fall back on coal?

"You can ramp up coal power stations instead, but the environmentalists will not like that," Weidensteiner said. "But that really is the only possibility in the short term."


Nord Stream 2 was meant to be completed in 2019, but the threat of US sanctions delayed construction


Putin has insisted that the opening of the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany would help to calm Europe's energy crunch.

The pipe, which runs under the Baltic Sea, was finished late last year but has yet to receive its operating license from Germany. While the German government has blamed a few last-minute regulatory hurdles for the delay, the Ukraine crisis has piled pressure on Berlin to delay the authorization.

Nord Stream 2 faces resistance from the US and several European countries including Poland and Ukraine, which say it will further increase Russia's leverage over the continent and reduce transit fees earned by Ukraine for gas to pass through existing pipelines.

Weidensteiner insisted that an easing of the crisis isn't dependent on the opening of Nord Stream 2.

"Russia has the possibility to deliver more gas through the existing pipelines if it wanted to," Weidensteiner said. "That might have something to do with the game that Mr. Putin is playing. It might also have something to do with supply issues in Russian gas fields. But it's unclear."

Edited by: Hardy Graupner
Opinion: Nuclear energy too costly for humans — and the planet

Nuclear power will soon be classified as environmentally friendly under the new EU taxonomy. But nothing about it is green or safe, says DW's Jeannette Cwienk.



The 1986 Chernobyl disaster caused hundreds of billions of euros worth of damage and displaced thousands of people


I can still clearly recall that spring afternoon in late April 1986. I had been out playing in the woods and building a fort with some friends, when a rain shower forced us back home. It was a fun, carefree day.

We had no idea that just hours earlier, reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl power plant near the Ukrainian city of Pripyat had exploded.


DW's Jeannette Cwienk

When the news came out days later, the Chernobyl catastrophe and fears of a radiation-filled future quickly came to define my younger years.

Such memories, however, are not the only reason for my concern about the European Commission's proposal to include nuclear energy and natural gas as environmentally-friendly technology in the EU taxonomy.

Doing so would see nuclear energy classified as sustainable, and recommend it as an option for investors — making a mockery of environmental efforts.

Who will pay for nuclear accidents?

The EU Commission is completely ignoring the costs of nuclear energy. Quite apart from the funds required to build new nuclear power plants, even smaller ones, there is the far more important and apparently overlooked question of who would foot the bill in the event of an accident.

In Germany alone, the federal costs attached to the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe have been estimated at around €1 billion ($1.1 billion). Worldwide, the immediate economic ramifications of Chernobyl are estimated to have been more than €200 billion — and that doesn't include the cost of widespread related illness.

Health costs were also not included in the €177-billion bill linked to the consequences of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, as estimated by the Japanese government in 2017.

Most of these costs have since been covered by Japanese taxpayers, because the operating company, TEPCO, was de facto nationalized after the disaster to avoid insolvency.

Even years after the explosion, radiation levels remain high near the Fukushima power plant

Taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill

And this brings us to the heart of the problem: in Europe, the amounts that nuclear operators are required to set aside in case they're found liable for a nuclear accident are laughably small. In the Czech Republic, nuclear power plant operators are required to have €74 million on hand in case of an accident; in Hungary, the figure is €127 million.

Even in France, the driving force for the planned "greening" of European nuclear energy and the largest consumer of nuclear energy worldwide — it makes up around 70% of its energy supply — operators are only required to set aside €700 million in case of an accident. A large nuclear accident in Europe could easily cost between €100 and 430 billion. And should that happen, the affected countries — along with their taxpayers — will be forced to foot the bill.

This situation has been met with criticism by Germany's new finance minister and the leader of the neoliberal Free Democrat Party, Christian Lindner, who recently expressed skepticism about the place of nuclear energy in the new EU taxonomy.

"An energy source that can only be mainstream if the state is prepared to accept liability — that's a sign from the market that it can't be a sustainable energy source," he said.

On Friday, the German government is likely to vote against the EU Commission's plans — and rightly so. Austria and Luxembourg, on the other hand, have gone a courageous step further and have announced plans to take Brussels to court if the disputed sustainability plans go ahead.

Small modular reactors also a risk

In France, meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron likes to describe nuclear power as a "stroke of luck" for climate protection. The fact that 10 of the country's reactors are currently offline — three from the latest generation due to safety concerns — are apparently not an issue for the French government, which has been trying to allay the fears of a nuclear accident with new small modular reactors (SMR). These smaller power stations are only around one 10th of the size of a conventional nuclear site — and therefore are considered less dangerous, in the event of an accident.

But this plan has a whole range of shortcomings, not least because reaching the same capacity as a single large nuclear reactor requires a great deal of these small reactors.

"This high number will increase the risk of a nuclear accident many time over," the German Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) recently warned.

Is it really about climate protection?

BASE has also been critical of a report by the EU's Joint Research Center, which the EU Commission has used to make its assessment about the environmental friendliness of civil nuclear power.

The EU report only partially considers the risks of nuclear energy use for humans and the environment, as well as for future generations, and some of the principles of scientific work are not correctly taken into account. According to BASE, the report cannot be relied on to comprehensively assess the sustainability of nuclear energy use.

This has raised doubts over the claim that Brussels wants to include nuclear power in the new EU taxonomy primarily for climate protection reasons. Instead, the decision seems to be down to political pressure, especially from Paris.

As a global nuclear power, France wants to hold on to its nuclear plants at all costs, as Macron clearly stated in December.

"Without civilian nuclear power, there is no military nuclear power, and without military nuclear power, there is no civilian nuclear power," he said.

This commentary has been translated from German


CHERNOBYL: THE PEOPLE WHO'VE STAYED
The contagious optimism of Baba Gania
Baba Gania (left) is 86 years old. She survived her husband who died a decade ago. For the past 25 years, Gania has taken care of her mentally disabled sister Sonya (right). "I am not afraid of radiation. I boil the mushrooms till all the radiation is gone!" she says proudly. Photographer Alina Rudya visited her several times over the past years: "She is the warmest and kindest person I know."
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Austria, Luxembourg eye legal steps in EU nuclear energy row

The European Commission wants to designate nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy source, but several nations remain opposed. Austria has said it's willing to fight the notion of "green" nuclear power in court.



The Greenpeace slogan reads 'For a Europe free of nuclear power'

The European Union remains deeply divided over the so-called taxonomy plans, which aim to direct investment toward sustainable energy sources. On Friday, Austria and Luxembourg signaled that they are ready to take the dispute over nuclear energy to court.

The 27-member bloc is planning to reach net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. To achieve this, the EU will need massive long-term investment into sustainable energy sources. A new draft document proposed by the EU Commission would put nuclear energy into the "green" camp, making it easier for states and the private sector to invest money in it. But Austria and several other EU members are categorically opposed to the label.

"We have always said, when the Commission continues on this road, Austria will take legal steps," Austrian Climate and Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler said on her arrival to a meeting of EU energy ministers in Amiens, France, on Friday.

Gewessler said Vienna had "serious concerns" about nuclear energy being too expensive and too slow to actually help in the fight against climate change. Earlier this week, the minister also pointed to the issue of nuclear waste and that it has not yet been solved.

"It is as if we are giving our children a backpack and saying 'you'll get rid of it one day,'" Gewessler told the AFP news agency.
Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark join the fray

The small, wealthy EU nation of Luxembourg is also considering a lawsuit over the European Commission's proposal. Luxembourg's environment minister, Carole Dieschbourg, urged Germany to join the effort. The minister also noted that labeling nuclear energy as "green" would send a wrong signal.

"If it happens, it would be greenwashing," she said.

Spain and Denmark also joined the appeal against the proposed taxonomy on Thursday.

France, which gets about 70% percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants and is preparing to build new reactors, supports classifying nuclear energy as green. In France and some other EU nations, nuclear power is seen as a low-carbon alternative to burning fossil fuels.
Germany: Against nuclear power, but split on gas?

Germany has also voiced reservations about nuclear power.

As EU members were due to respond to the proposal by midnight on Friday, the German dpa news agency reported that Berlin has submitted its "strong rejection" to the EU Commission.

The country is turning its back on nuclear power and is in the process of shutting down its few remaining nuclear plants. This, however, has increased its reliance on natural gas — which the EU Commission has also declared "green" in the same taxonomy proposal.

The issue also seems to be controversial even inside the German ruling coalition, with Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, from the Greens, openly slamming the proposed EU taxonomy as "greenwashing" and saying such a stance on gas and nuclear power would "water down" the sustainability label.

Germany rejects nuclear power 'sustainable' label

Government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said earlier that Berlin would voice its "firm conviction" that nuclear power should not be labeled eco-friendly.

"We believe this technology is too dangerous," she said. However, she was notably cautious when speaking about Berlin's stance on gas, describing it as a "bridge technology" aimed to help Germany transition to sustainable energy sources.

dj/sms (AFP, Reuters)

REST IN POWER

Thich Nhat Hanh: Influential Zen Buddhist monk dies at 95

A pioneer of the concept of mindfulness in the West, Thich Nhat Hanh was one of the world's most influential Buddhist monks. He died in Vietnam after years of living in exile.

  

Thich Nhat Hanh (center) spent his final years at the Tu Hieu temple in Vietnam

One of the world's most influential Buddhist monks, Thich Nhat Hanh, died in Vietnam on Saturday. He was 95.

Nhat Hanh "passed away peacefully" at the Tu Hie Temple, the Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism said.

"We invite our beloved global spiritual family to take a few moments to be still, to come back to our mindful breathing, as we together hold [Nhat Hanh] in our hearts," the organization said on his Twitter account.

Who was Thich Nhat Hanh?

Nhat Hanh was a pioneer of Buddhism in the West, forming the "Plum Village" monastery in France. He spoke regularly on the practice of mindfulness.

"You learn how to suffer. If you know how to suffer, you suffer much, much less. And then you know how to make good use of suffering to create joy and happiness," he said in a 2013 lecture.

In the early 1960s, he lectured at Princeton and Columbia universities in the United States. Then he returned to Vietnam to join opposition to the US-Vietnam war.


Thich Nhat Hanh was known for spreading the practice of mindfulness

Toward the height of the Vietnam War, he met American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, who nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. "I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam," King wrote.

Fellow monk Haenim Sunim said Nhat Hanh was calm, attentive and loving.

"He was like a large pine tree, allowing many people to rest under his branches with his wonderful teaching of mindfulness and compassion," Haemin Sunim told Reuters news agency.


The Plum Village organization Nhat Hanh originally established in France has a number

 of branches around the world, including in Thailand (pictured)

Why was Nhat Hanh in exile?

The South Vietnamese government had banned Nhat Hanh from returning home due to his opposition to the war.

In 2014, Nhat Hanh suffered a stroke, which left him unable to speak. Four years later, he returned to his place of birth, Vietnam's central city of Hue, after having spent much of his adult life in exile.

Nhat Hanh was permitted by Vietnam's authorities to return, but was closely monitored by plainclothes police who kept vigil outside his gated compound.

sdi/fb (AFP, AP, Reuters)

GOD'S ROTWEILLER LED THE INQUISITION
Opinion: Pope Benedict's defense is outrageous and tragic

A report about how the archdiocese of Munich handled cases of sexual abuse by priests makes for devastating reading and tarnishes the image of the retired Pope Benedict XVI, says DW’s Christoph Strack.



Cardinal Reinhard Marx, right, has been the archbishop of Munich since 2007, while retired Pope Benedict XVI was in that position from 1977 until 1982


Before Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, critics called him the "Panzerkardinal," or "tank cardinal," in reference to his sharp, dogmatic views: someone who uncompromisingly defended the church's traditional doctrine. Soon after his election to pontiff, there were reports that the reportedly tough ex-cardinal was capable of laughter and was even a softie, to everyone's surprise.

Now, Joseph Ratzinger is being described in a new way. One of the lawyers, whose office spent many months investigating abuse in Ratzinger's former diocese of Munich, said he had a "very rocklike way of dealing with things" — in reference to the accusation that he covered up abuse in the church.

A 'catalog of horrors'

The approximately 1,900 pages that a Munich law firm has compiled on the archdiocese of Munich-Freising's handling of sexual abuse cases are a "catalog of horrors."

One of the lawyers says so literally, several times. The thick volumes are also a document of church history — they represent a new dimension, a new stage in the investigation of sexual abuse.


DW's Christoph Strack

Since 1952, six archbishops headed the archdiocese in Munich. All of them had been cardinals before or were elevated to cardinals while in office. All six, without exception, were guilty, to varying degrees, of clear misconduct in dealing with sexual abuse cases. Three of the six are still alive.


And from 1977 to 1982, that same Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich, who then continued his career in Rome and ascended to the top of the Catholic Church as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. That's why the global Catholic community watched with bated breath the events in Munich on Thursday this week.

With regard to the five years that Ratzinger spent in Munich, the experts speak of four cases of misconduct in which the archbishop should have acted against abusive priests but did not. For example in the case of priests, whose acts of abuse were known, but who nevertheless continued with pastoral work.

Ratzinger himself reacted to the allegations in an 82-page written statement. In it, he rejects "allegations," claims ignorance of certain events or even says he does not remember them at all. He also firmly denies having attended a committee meeting at which a particularly nasty case of a cover-up was discussed. The experts from the law firm, however, prove with credible details that Ratzinger was there after all.
Church can't deal with the past on its own


Ratzinger's letter is an outrageous, and at the same time, tragic document. It's hard to read when this great theologian explains that for a canonical judicial procedure to be opened would have required "an offense directed at the arousal of sexual desire.” Let's not forget, we're talking here about minors!


In light of the report by the Munich law firm, there are four points worth holding on to:


1) It's important that the lawyers repeatedly and explicitly addressed the importance of the victims and the survivors of sexual violence and thanked them, appreciated their courage and their openness. That's something they didn't attribute to any clergyman. And they are right to demand that an ombudsman's office be set up to represent their interests. This is about dealing appropriately with victims, which the church can hardly do itself.

2) It is important to look at the parishes where abusive priests worked and which the church should be monitoring more closely. Entire communities, friendships and families have already been divided over allegations, assumptions and disappointments. Here, too, the church is sinning against its base.

3) The church obviously cannot deal with the past by itself — the state judiciary must intervene more decisively. That is evident, and not just because of Joseph Ratzinger's coldly worded statement. Two days before the publication of the Munich report, an archbishop stood trial for the first time in Cologne ⁠— another hotspot of church cover-ups and appeasement ⁠— as a witness in the proceedings against a priest and alleged sexual offender. The dignitary, Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg, suddenly stood before the judge and had to answer concisely, precisely and — ⁠ according to those present ⁠— meekly. This demonstrates that state prosecutors or judges should be pushing the legal process forward. The state, if it wants to at all, should take over prosecuting the crimes. This would also mean that victims would no longer have to face the perpetrators or their organizations.

4) And finally, the fourth point is that this clerical and episcopal-driven church that elevates itself and tries to cover up its filth is no longer the church of the present. If one can at all sense a line in Pope Francis' occasionally strange-sounding statements, it is the effort to keep alive the longing for God. And the church? Comes up somehow, too. But the exaltation of the past is over. The question is whether the Catholic Church will be able to cope with this.

Pope Francis vows 'justice' for church abuse victims after damning report

More needs to be done to enforce rules against perpetrators of sexual abuse, Pope Francis has said. Public prosecutors in Munich have also said they will investigate dozens of cases outlined in a scathing report.

  

The Pope has called for a stricter enforcement of the Church's canonical law against abusers

Pope Francis on Friday pledged to apply justice for the victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church a day after a report revealed that former Pope Benedict XVI had failed to act in four cases of abuse prior to becoming pope.

Thursday's report looked into sexual abuse cases by members of the clergy in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Ex-Pope Benedict XVI — known as Joseph Ratzinger at the time — was archbishop there between 1977 and 1985.

Pope Francis did not explicitly mention the report in his address. 

"The church, with God's help, is carrying out the commitment with firm determination to do justice to the victims of abuse by its members, applying with particular attention and rigor to the canonical legislation envisaged," the Pope said in his speech on Friday.

What did Pope Francis say?

Pope Francis was speaking from the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City to representatives from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the Vatican authority charged with dealing with abuse allegations.

Ratzinger — who has resided in Vatican City since stepping down as pope — headed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for over 20 years before being elected as pope in 2005.

Francis highlighted the recent reforms to the canon law that aim to enable the Church to hold abusers to account better. He called for its strict application.

"This alone cannot be enough to curb the phenomenon, but it is an important step towards restoring justice, making amends for the scandal and changing a perpetrator," the 85-year-old pontiff said.

Two of the cases mentioned in the report pointed to perpetrators who had been punished by the German judicial system, but we're allegedly allowed to continue their work for the Church, thus avoiding consequences under canonical law.

Police open investigations into abuse

Public prosecutors in Munich also responded to the allegations in Thursday's report, announcing on Friday that they were opening investigations in 42 cases of alleged misconduct by leading members of the Catholic Church in Germany.


Ex-Pope Benedict XVI (L) and the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx (R)

 were both mentioned in the report

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government spokeswoman, Christiane Hoffmann, said on Friday it was "urgent that these matters be fully investigated and a comprehensive reappraisal be carried out."

The report makes "the extent of the abuse and breach of duty by church dignitaries shockingly clear," she said, adding that: "It is crucial that confidence in the process of coming to terms with the past is strengthened in the Catholic Church and by individual dignitaries."

Ratzinger and his successor as archbishop in the diocese of Munich and Freising, Friedrich Wetter, are both accused of direct and personal misconduct in the report.

While four cases relate to the time when Ratzinger held the role, another 21 have been connected to Wetter while yet another two have been connected to the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

ab/wmr (dpa, AP, AFP)