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European Press Review: The Vatican Cleans House

European papers took aim at a variety of issues including the church sex scandal in Austria, the debate over longer working hours and the political dilemma facing Yasser Arafat.

The predominately Catholic Austria is reeling from a child sex and pornography scandal involving priests and their students. Pope John Paul II has named a special investigator to probe the affair. The Salzburger Nachrichten in Austria said the fact that the priests at a seminary outside Vienna enjoyed the sexual exploitation of children via the Internet awakens memories of a whole set of scandals involving the Catholic Church worldwide. It commented that thousands of pupils -- mostly boys -- have become victims of sexual abuse by priests, from Boston to Ireland and now in Austria. The Church’s usual reaction is to look away and clandestinely move the culprits to different posts. The Salzburger newspaper noted that the recent decision by the Vatican indicates the Church might be starting to move away from its usual practice in such cases.

The Neue Züricher Zeitung in Switzerland agreed. It applauded the quick move by the Pope John Paul II to replace the arch-conservative bishop of St. Pölten, Kurt Krenn, and make room for a thorough investigation into the case.

In reference to a recent German study showing that people in this country actually work more than previously thought -- an average of 42 hours -- caused other countries to examine working hours. The Dutch paper Trouw examined the situation in the Netherlands where it said statistics about working hours only reveal half the truth. The rest, it said, lies in the fact that average productivity for every work hour in the Netherlands, Germany and France is higher than in the United States. "It is obvious we are working smarter," the paper said. It cautioned about lowering Dutch wages to the level of those in Poland or the Czech Republic. In order to become more competitive, the Dutch must become even more efficient and smarter, the paper concluded.

British newspapers focused on Tuesday's House of Commons debate following the publication of the Butler report, which examined the government's reasons for entering the Iraq war. The Independent scathed that Tony Blair asked the British people to rejoice in the fact that Iraq had been liberated. This echo of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous exhortation during the Falklands campaign serves only to demonstrate the extent of the prime minister’s arrogance about the war, the paper said. It added, "if Blair believes the British people are in the mood to join in his celebrations of a misbegotten foreign adventure, he is sorely mistaken."

The French paper Le Monde commented on the growing difficulties connected to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. The leader of the Palestinian people is faced with an internal crisis, unparalleled in the ten years since his return from exile. The Parisian daily noted that once again Arafat must prove that his status as a symbol of a national liberation struggle can still be useful to his own people. "While his adversaries in Israel and the United States are no doubt rejoicing at his current state of weakness, time is indeed running out for the PLO chief and his attempts to stop his fundamentalist followers from drifting into terrorism."

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