Morning News Brief The Vatican responds to a Pa. grand jury report detailing abuse of children by clergy. Nearly a year after Hurricane Maria, FEMA scales back assistance to Puerto Rico. The legacy of Aretha Franklin.
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Morning News Brief

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Morning News Brief

Morning News Brief

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, after two days of silence and a barrage of criticism for failing to address the latest clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States, the Vatican has now responded.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. It released a statement yesterday. It said the report elicits feelings of, quote, "shame and sorrow." Now, the church is responding to a report from a Pennsylvania grand jury that was released earlier this week. It alleges that 301 clergy members across the state sexually abused more than a thousand children and teenagers over the course of 70 years.

GREENE: Now let's go to Rome now and NPR's senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli.

Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: Help me track the evolution that might be happening in the Vatican right now. I mean, this is a very strongly worded statement from the church. But just a few months ago, the pope was casting doubts on the accounts of victims in Chile. Right? So what has happened here?

POGGIOLI: Well, what's happened is that there's been a tremendous pressure from American Catholics to hear the pope - to hear something from the Vatican, some reaction to the Pennsylvania report. The statement was issued last night. It was from the Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, and it does not contain direct quotes from Francis. But its language, as you said, for the Vatican, is unusually strong.

It says the Holy See takes the report with great seriousness and that the abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible. It says there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur. And it stressed the need to comply with civil law, including mandatory reporting of abuse against minors. It also said the pope understands well how much these crimes shake the faith and the spirit of believers and said victims should know he's on their side and wants to root out these tragic horror.

GREENE: Let me ask you about those final words, wants to root out the tragic horror. Have there been actions behind words like that? Has the church been reforming?

POGGIOLI: Well, as you mentioned before about Chile, earlier this year, Francis had been accused of really having a blind spot on the issue of clerical sex abuse following his trip to Chile, where he callously dismissed allegations from victims about sex abuse. Then there was a huge media outcry. Many critics said he just doesn't get it. And then Francis did a turnaround. And he issued a major mea culpa admitting he had mishandled the affair. He invited the victims to the Vatican. He met at length privately with each one. And he accepted the resignations of several Chilean bishops who had covered up the abuse.

Last month, he accepted the resignation of a cardinal, which is a very rare occurrence - Cardinal Theodore McCarrick - following allegations that he had, in the past, engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians and minors. And then there's the case of the Australian cardinal, George Pell, who's standing trial in Australia in connection with cover-ups of sex abuse. He's been put on leave of absence as the Vatican's de facto economics minister.

So Francis has made clear he now gets it. But so far, there's been no implementation of structural reforms inside the Vatican to ensure accountability, also for cover-ups by bishops. And there's strong resistance within Vatican circles of people who are not fond of this pope and who still embrace a centuries-old culture of secrecy.

KING: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

Sylvia, thank you so much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right, we're going to go now to Puerto Rico. It has been 11 months since Hurricane Maria, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency says the island is no longer in an emergency. And because of that, FEMA has started cutting back financial assistance to the island, which Puerto Rico's government is not happy about. NPR's Adrian Florido has been reporting from Puerto Rico. He's in San Juan this morning.

Good morning, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right, so FEMA says the emergency in Puerto Rico is over. What exactly does that mean?

FLORIDO: Well, it means that the agency thinks that the island's, you know, sort of urgent, immediate needs have been met. It was just this week, for example, that the government said it had finished restoring power to the island. A lot of the roads and bridges that were damaged or washed out have been repaired or at least patched up. Downed trees and branches and other debris has mostly been cleared away. Hazardous spills have been cleaned up. You know, hospitals generally are up and running.

This isn't to say that things are perfect here in Puerto Rico, far from it. But when FEMA comes to a place after a disaster, there's generally an emergency phase of a response and a recovery phase of a response. And what FEMA says is that Puerto Rico is now in that recovery phase.

KING: And that has real implications for the way FEMA spends money there. Right?

FLORIDO: It does. So since the hurricane, FEMA has been paying a hundred percent of the cost of much of the emergency work that's been done here. And earlier this summer, Puerto Rico's government asked FEMA to keep picking up the full tab. But yesterday - I'm sorry - two days ago, FEMA said no. The agency denied the governor's request to keep paying a hundred percent and said that now Puerto Rico will have to start pitching in. So listen to what Mike Byrne, the top FEMA official in Puerto Rico, said on a call yesterday.

MIKE BYRNE: It's not that we're walking away. It's just that the early part, where emergency needs were required and we were able to provide a hundred percent cost share after that. We've done that. And we believe that we're at the end of that period. And we've just let the governor know about that.

FLORIDO: So he said, you know, we're not walking away. FEMA is still going to pay 90 percent of the cost of the recovery work here and that Puerto Rico will now pay 10 percent. FEMA estimates that that could come out to about $100 million that Puerto Rico will have to shell out between now and whenever the disaster is declared over.

KING: All right, so what does Puerto Rico's government have to say about all of this? Are they unhappy?

FLORIDO: They are not happy with the decision. Officials on the island issued a statement yesterday. The director of the office of recovery sent me a statement saying that the Puerto Rican government will appeal FEMA's decision.

KING: Wow.

FLORIDO: And he said something that officials here often allude to when they're talking about how the federal government treats Puerto Rico. He said that he would continue to fight for the, quote, "equal treatment to which all of the island's U.S. citizens are entitled." Now, he didn't elaborate exactly on what he meant by that, but it could refer to the fact that after Hurricane Katrina, for example, FEMA paid a hundred percent of the emergency recovery costs in Louisiana until that disaster was over.

KING: So will Puerto Rico be able to pay anything here? Can it pay its share of the recovery?

FLORIDO: So Puerto Rico has about $20 billion on the way, not from FEMA but in grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which that agency approved for the disaster recovery. And Puerto Rico has earmarked some of that money for possible use to cover its share of these emergency expenses that FEMA is going to stop paying. And that's actually another reason that Mike Byrne, the head of FEMA here in Puerto Rico, told me that the agency had made the decision to stop covering the full cost - because the agency knows that that money is on the way and that Puerto Rico will be able to use some of that to cover these costs.

KING: Wow. that's really interesting. NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Thanks, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And finally, let's close this week with a remembrance of the great Aretha Franklin.

KING: Yeah, we're going to start with her performance at the Kennedy Center in 2015.

That was "A Natural Woman" written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. And Franklin's performance of that song nearly blew the roof off the Kennedy Center. She called it one of the greatest nights of her life. And even the famously very composed President Obama was caught on camera wiping away a tear.

GREENE: All right, let's bring NPR Music reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas. She's here to talk about Aretha's legacy.

Good morning.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, David.

GREENE: I want to start with that Kennedy Center performance that Noel mentioned. I mean, it was just 2 1/2 years ago. What struck you about that night onstage?

TSIOULCAS: Well, the singing, of course, was phenomenal. But there are little bits of stagecraft that really stuck out to me, too. For one thing, she walks on stage. First thing she does is plunks her purse down on the piano. And you might be thinking, that is kind of a grandma move. But it was something she usually did, David. She insisted on getting paid upfront, preferably in cash, and kept it within her line of sight. And many black artists of her era had similar demands. They knew that their forerunners had often gotten cheated or ripped off. And it was a way of declaring right up front for all to see that she knew her worth and her value.

GREENE: Wow. What a message to send and then how powerful.

TSIOULCAS: Absolutely. So it was not just a grandma looking after her things. And when she's singing, right before she scales the very highest heights emotionally, she just shrugs off her fur coat and punches her arm in the air. And that is a bit of good, old-fashioned, gospel-grounded stagecraft that she learned from her mentors. And of course, the audience just goes wild and leaps to their feet. And it's that amazing combination of what she feels in the moment and what she knows will make the audience go absolutely crazy.

GREENE: Now, after that performance at the Kennedy Center a few years ago, President Obama reflected on how much her music embodied the sound of black America. But listening to you, it sounds like it's so much more than that.

TSIOULCAS: I really believe she carried in her voice the story of black America, too. You could hear in her phrasing, in her tone the sound of the work songs and spirituals and field hollers and right through to blues and jazz and of course gospel and of course soul, which she made. She was, onstage and off, a huge and fierce advocate for civil rights. And of course, some of her songs, like "Respect" and "Think," became anthems for empowerment for women's rights, for broader rights. And she empowered herself, too, by creating this singular soul sound that you hear on so much of her classic material.

GREENE: Well, I mean, we're going to be thinking about her, obviously, through the weekend and for so many years to come. And so much we could talk about - and anything on your mind that you think we should be, I don't know, thinking about, listening to as we head into the weekend and remember her?

TSIOULCAS: Well, all week I have been saturating myself in her gospel music. And you know, her music was always rooted in the church, David. And I think she sanctified everything she sang, whether it was a sexy song or a love song or the blues or jazz. So I'd love it if we could hear a little bit of a 1972 live album she did called "Amazing Grace," which was her best-selling album in her whole career. It is transcendent. And you can really hear how the audience lifts her and how she lifts them in return.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARY, DON'T YOU WEEP")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) Jesus said Mary...

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY CHOIR: (Singing) Oh, Mary, don't you weep.

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Mary, don't weep.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY CHOIR: (Singing) Don't weep.

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Don't weep.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Tell your sister not to mourn.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY CHOIR: (Singing) Tell Martha not to mourn.

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Don't mourn. Don't mourn.

GREENE: Good choice from NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas.

Thanks for joining us, Anastasia.

TSIOULCAS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me, David.

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