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Birute/iStock(ROME) -- On the first day of a historic conference that’s likely to become a defining moment of his papacy, Pope Francis appeared prepared to tackle the excruciating, decades-long epidemic of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests.

“We hear the cry of little ones calling for justice,” the pope said as he gaveled to order the church’s first ever worldwide conference on the protection of minors.

More than 190 bishops and cardinals were summoned to Rome to participate in the meeting. The pope told them that more than one billion Catholic faithful “expect not simple and obvious condemnations, but concrete and effective measures.”

Abuse survivor Mary Dispenza said he’s got that right.

“This is an opportune moment for this pope to step forward and give us some concrete actions of what he is going to do to face the past and move into the future,” she told the Associated Press.

The clerical sexual abuse scandal has resurfaced in recent months, following a damning report last summer from a Pennsylvania grand jury, which accused more than 300 priests of molesting more than 1,000 victims in that state alone over the past 70 years.

The report prompted law enforcement in multiple other jurisdictions to launch their own forensic accounting of historic abuse cases.

The issue of sexual abuse by priests has reached the highest levels of the Vatican. Australian Cardinal George Pell, the most senior cleric to be convicted of sexual abuse, faces likely prison time. He's due to be sentenced this month.

Last week, Pope Francis defrocked former Washington D.C. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, after a Vatican tribunal found him guilty of sexually abusing a minor decades ago.

McCarrick was already the first cardinal in more than a century to be kicked out of the College of Cardinals, after a preliminary investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found the allegations against him to be credible.

It’s not clear what, if any, concrete actions will come out of the four-day Vatican conference. The church is a worldwide institution, and bishops in some parts of the world have resisted greater openness on sexual abuse because of local sensitivities.

Survivors of sexual abuse have urged the church to adopt a zero tolerance approach by mandating the reporting of credible allegations immediately to law enforcement for further investigation.

Survivors have also called for the Church to name priests who have been credibly accused and to hold bishops accountable for cases in which pedophile priests have been transferred from one parish to another.

Phil Saviano, one of the survivors who shared his story with the Boston Globe Spotlight team more than a decade ago, told ABC News the priest who abused him was transferred by six different bishops to four different states before law enforcement finally caught up with him.

Saviano was one of a dozen survivors invited to sit down with Vatican organizers ahead of the conference.

“This is my third time in Rome on this issue and it was my first opportunity to speak with someone who has a little bit of power,” Saviano said.

“As is often the case, things are said, promises are made, but you really have to see what actually happens,” he said.

Saviano said he’s pleased the church appears to be taking the issue seriously.

“I’ve been talking about this for 28 years now,” he said. “I know some some organizations move slowly but this is ridiculous.”

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Hornet83/iStock(ROME) -- The meeting of Catholic leadership in the Vatican to address clerical sex abuse comes amid a busy and controversial time for the church within the United States.

There are now at least 17 states or cities that have open investigations into their respective local dioceses, and a number of states and cities have released lists of priests and church volunteers that they have found to have credible accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct against them.

"People are asking 'where is the leadership? What have the people who are supposed to be the overseers of this community done or not done?'" said Fr. Mark M. Morozowich, the dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America.

The summit that convened in the Vatican Thursday morning was called by Pope Francis and is set to last for four days.

The meeting comes less than a week after it was announced that Pope Francis officially defrocked the disgraced former cardinal of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick.

Church leaders from more than 100 countries and regions are set to discuss how to protect minors within the church, and it comes at the same time as many outside of the clergy hope to do the same in the U.S. with the various investigations.

Investigations are underway in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as with the Archdiocese of Anchorage in Alaska. Spokespeople for several other state attorneys general offices told ABC News that their offices were reviewing options and considering taking similar actions.

The current investigations come more than 15 years after the first bombshell report of Catholic clergy sex abuse rocked the U.S., when The Boston Globe’s 'Spotlight' investigation into local priests was first published in 2002.

A series of investigations were launched in the immediate wake of that reporting, prompting the creation of the so-called Dallas Charter by the Catholic Church, where the church implemented new policies that required that priests who faced accusations be temporarily removed from ministry during the investigation, and permanently removed if the accusations were found to be credible.

Morozowich said that the calls for transparency are different now because of a shift outside the church.

"I don’t think there’s ever been a time like this in the history of our country where we've put so much attention on sexual abuse, whether it be by the church or other people. We as a society are beginning to really take this issue from the shadows and put it into the light as a society. We're finally saying 'Yes, it doesn’t matter who you are: this is wrong,'" Morozowich told ABC News.

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About 1,330 priests and clergy members have been identified by various state-level agencies or the local dioceses themselves as having credible allegations filed against them. Here are some recent updates on those released reports:

New Jersey: More than 180 clergy were identified in lists released by the state's five dioceses in mid-February, with varying levels of detail about the allegations.

Virginia: There were 50 clergy whose names were shared in Virginia in mid-February.

Texas: Nearly 300 priests and clergy members of the Catholic dioceses in Texas were identified in late January for alleged sexual abuse of minors, allegations of which spanned decades. That came about two months after police searched the offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in November in connection to an investigation into Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who is charged with four felony counts of indecency with a child.

Illinois: In December, an investigation by the then-Illinois attorney general's office identified 500 priests and clergy members with credible claims of sexual abuse against them, all of whom have not been previously identified by church officials and some of whom are still active within the church. The names and list was not released publicly.

Pennsylvania: In August, Pennsylvania’s attorney general released a report from a two-year grand jury investigation that detailed how at least 1,000 children had been abused by 301 priests across the state for decades.

Jesuits: The structural hierarchy of the Catholic Church means that the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits as they are commonly called, are a religious congregation of the Catholic Church yet do not fall under the larger church’s purview. Therefore the Northeast Province of Jesuits were the ones to release their own list of 50 Jesuits with credible abuse allegations in January. The list detailed how some of the alleged abusers circled through various institutions – sometimes for years – after the alleged abuse took place.

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Sushaaa/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A photographer on a quest to capture an image of the elusive world's largest bee found success while retracing the steps of famous anthropologist Alfred Russel Wallace, who jointly published some writings on evolution through natural selection with Charles Darwin in 1858.

Clay Bolt's search for the Megachile pluto began with picking up a copy of one of Wallace's journals, "The Malay Archipelago," which detailed his travels through Malaysia, New Guinea and Indonesia in the late 1800s, Bolt wrote in a blog published Thursday on the Global Wildlife Conversation's website.

The bee, commonly known as Wallace's Giant Bee, has been lost to science since 1981, Bolt wrote. It is "about as long as an adult human's thumb" and "a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle," Wallace wrote in his journal.

The bee can grow up to 1.5 inches long and can have a wingspan of up to 2.5 inches, according to National Geographic.

 Bolt first caught a glimpse of the giant -- albeit dead -- bee in 2015, when he visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, he said.

"It was more magnificent than I could have imagined, even in death," Bolt wrote.

In late January, Bolt and three others flew to Indonesia because it was the same time of year that researcher Adam Messer last encountered the bee in 1981, Bolt said.

After arriving in Ternate, one of Bolt's guides, Iswan, ended up having a "very sharp set of eyes and a passion for insects," he wrote. The bee, which is known to nest in active termite mounds inside of trees, emerged on the last day of searching on a low termite mound about 8 feet from the ground.

"We immediately noticed that it had a hole in it, like many other nests we’d seen, but this one was a little more perfect," Bolt wrote. "It was very round, and just the size that a giant bee might use."

Iswan then exclaimed that he saw something move, the other climbed up to determined that the they had "rediscovered Wallace's Giant Bee."

"After doing a happy dance, I photographed the bee and shot some video proof," Bolt said. "My goal was to be the first person to make a photo of a living Wallace’s Giant Bee and I had achieved that goal."

Bolt now hopes to work with conservation groups to ensure protection for the species.

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STR/LatinContent/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Attorneys for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman say they are "deeply concerned" by an interview in which one of the jurors who convicted the notorious Mexican drug kingpin admitted to ignoring the judge's orders not to read media reports about the case.

The juror, who has not been identified, told VICE News in an exclusive interview that at least five members of the panel reviewed and discussed news reports and social media posts about the case during the trial and jury deliberations.

"You know how we were told we can't look at the media during the trial? Well, we did. Jurors did," the juror told VICE.

The panelist went on to tell a VICE reporter who covered the 44-day trial and jury deliberations that resulted in Guzman's conviction, "We would constantly go to your media, your Twitter … I personally and some other jurors that I knew."

After six days of deliberations, the New York federal court jury found Guzman guilty on 10 charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, money laundering, and multiple counts of distributing heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.

Guzman is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25 and is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"Obviously we're deeply concerned that the jury may have utterly ignored the judge's daily admonitions against reviewing the unprecedented press in the case," one of Guzman's defense lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman, said in a statement.

"More disturbing is the revelation that the jury may have lied to the court about having seen some deeply prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible allegations against Mr. Guzman on the eve of jury deliberations."

Eduardo Balarezo, another attorney for "El Chapo," said that, if true, the juror's admissions in the VICE interview indicates Guzman "did not get a fair trial."

"The information apparently accessed by the jury is highly prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible — all reasons why the Court repeatedly warned the jury against using social media and the internet to investigate the case," Balarezo said in a statement.

Balarezo said he and other members of Guzman's defense team "will review all available options before deciding on a course of action."

The U.S. Department of Justice for the Eastern District of New York had no immediate comment.

Guzman's legal team had already said it will appeal the conviction before the juror was interviewed by VICE.

Throughout the trial, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan admonished the panel daily to avoid news coverage and social media of the case, and not to discuss the case with each other until they began deliberations.

Before dismissing the jurors, Cogan said they were free to speak to the media, but advised them not to.

The juror who spoke to VICE is the first member of the jury to publicly speak of the trial.

VICE reported that the juror reached out to the news organization and agreed to be interviewed on grounds the identity of the juror remain anonymous.

To protect the safety of the jurors, the judge made all of their identities anonymous during the trial.

The juror, who spoke to VICE, said the panelists were even anonymous to each other throughout the criminal proceedings and referred to one another by their juror numbers or nicknames that included, "Pookie," "Mountain Dew," "Doc," "Crash" and "Starbucks."

"We were saying how we should have our own reality TV show, like 'The Jurors on MTV' or something like that," the juror told VICE.

The juror said the deliberations went on for six days largely because of a single holdout and said some jurors expressed concern about Guzman being held in solitary confinement for the rest of his life if they found him guilty.

"A lot of people were having difficulty thinking about him being in solitary confinement, because, well, you know, we're all human beings, people make mistakes, et cetera," the juror told VICE.

Guzman, 61, was the leader of Sinaloa cartel, one of the most ruthless drug-smuggling organizations in Mexico. He has previously staged two elaborate escapes from Mexican prisons.

During the trial, the prosecution called more than 50 witnesses who described all aspects of Guzman's life, from brutal murders, a naked journey he took through a secret tunnel, plastic bananas filled with cocaine and spied-on mistresses.

Following Guzman's conviction, Ray Donovan, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, described El Chapo as a "ruthless killer" who was "responsible for unthinkable amounts of death and destruction" in the U.S. and Mexico.

"He was the man behind the curtain -- he pulled all the strings," Donovan said.

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RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images(FAIRFAX, Va.) -- A species of tortoise thought by scientists to be extinct for more than 100 years were actually hiding in plain sight on a remote Galapagos island.

The Galapagos Conservancy, a Fairfax, Virginia-based organization dedicated to the long-term protection of the Galapagos Islands, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that one of its employees had just returned from Fernandina Island, where he spotted a female adult Chelonoidis phantasticus, describing the discovery as a "monumental finding."

BREAKING NEWS! GC’s own @wacho_tapia just returned from Fernandina Island in #Galapagos, where they discovered a female #tortoise. Tortoises on Fernandina have been thought to be extinct for over 100 years, so this is a monumental finding! Photos © GNPD, W. Tapia

— GalapagosConservancy (@SaveGalapagos) February 20, 2019

Before the female was found, the species of tortoise was believed to have been "lost" for 112 years, according to The Search for Lost Species. The tortoise has only ever been found on Fernandina Island, the "youngest and least-explored of the Galapagos Islands," according to the organization.

But, the website alluded to the chance that the species may be "holding on," citing tortoise droppings that were found during an expedition in 1964 and a fly-over of the island in 2009, where people on board "reported sightings of something tortoise-like from the air."

Experts believe more species may be on the island due to findings of tracks and scat.

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MyHeritage DNA(SEOUL, South Korea) -- After nearly five decades of living without knowing each other, two South Korean-born sisters embraced each other at a subway station in Daegu, a city 180 miles outside of Seoul, thanks to a DNA test.

"The chances of finding each other really are one in a billion without taking a DNA test," Rafi Mendelsohn at MyHeritage told ABC News. "Taking the MyHeritage DNA test has enabled Kim and Christine to finally discover their biological family for the first time in their lives."

Christine Pennell was 2 years old when she was left at the Banyawol subway station in Daegu, the sisters told ABC News. A few weeks later, Kim Haelen -- then only 6 weeks old -- was abandoned at Daegu Station, a different stop.

They were brought under the care of two different orphanages in Daegu, and no one knew the infants were related, they said.

Christine, the elder sister, was adopted and grew up in the United States as a happy child in a loving family where she had five brothers and sisters, she told ABC News. But still, she always wondered about her biological family.

"I kind of tried starting [to find them] when I was about 24 or 25," she said. "And then I was told there's no information, so it wasn't possible for me to go anywhere with it."

Kim, the younger sister, grew up as a big sister in a home in Belgium with two younger sisters and two older brothers, she said. She never imagined she would meet a blood-related older sister.

But after some health problems, she started wondering about her genealogy. So, in December, she did a DNA test with MyHeritage -- just hoping to find some information, not necessarily any family members, she told ABC News.

On Jan. 25, the results came in through an email, telling her she had what appeared to be a full biological sister.

"That can’t be, that can’t be," Kim said she told her husband in shock.

She couldn't stop looking at the results, which indicated she could email the match through the company, and she decided to reach out.

"I never have luck in lottery and games. Now, they found out that I have a sister -- this is a jackpot," Kim told ABC News.

On the other side of the planet, Christine, who did a test with MyHeritage DNA after being inspired by the movie Lion to find out about her biological family, was about to go out for dinner when she received an email from Kim saying, "I think we're related."

"I’m shaking and I’m crying, and I haven't even opened up the email yet," Christine recalled to ABC News. "It was such a gift ... I never thought that would ever happen for me."

That night, they had their first video chat -- and they've been in touch ever since catching up on their lost sisterhood through hours of phone conversation and emails.

"That was the first time I ever saw somebody that somewhat looked like me. Because you always wonder as an adoptee, whose eyes do I have? Whose hands?" Christine said. "Now, I have my sister, and we're so much alike."

They decided to reunite where they were separated. So on Feb. 15, Christine flew to South Korea from Connecticut and Kim from Belgium to make up for the time they missed over the last 47 years.

Kim pulled into the Daegu subway station where she was abandoned all those years ago and saw her sister waiting for her train.

"And we're now together," Kim told ABC News. "It's wonderful."

In South Korea, Christine and Kim did what all sisters would do growing up together: They picked out dresses for each other at the mall and tried traditional Korean cuisine. They realized they had more things in common than just the looks.

"We both don’t like fish. We both like to sing and dance. We both like to smile and laugh a lot and are very silly. We pretty much have a good amount of energy," Christine said, adding that they're both mothers to grown children themselves.

Now that they've found each other, Christine and Kim are hoping to find their birth parents. During their week-long visit to South Korea, they made flyers and distributed them across community centers and police stations in Daegu, hoping someone would recognize the sisters from their pictures.

"The fact that we’re full-blood sisters means our parents were together long enough for us both to be born. And there’s a good chance that they're still together and we may have more siblings," Christine said.

"I want to know who they are," Kim said, "and I want to search with Christine."

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Adrian Edwards/GC Images via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Meghan Markle's wedding to Prince Harry last May was a star-studded affair, and her baby shower Wednesday in New York City proved no different.

Amal Clooney and Serena Williams were reported to be the co-hosts of Meghan's private baby shower reportedly held at the Mark Hotel on New York's Upper East Side.

Meghan's close friends designer Misha Nonoo, actress Abigail Spencer stylist Jessica Mulroney and makeup artist Daniel Martin, who did Meghan's wedding makeup, were spotted entering the five-star hotel Wednesday.

"CBS This Morning" anchor Gayle King and fitness guru Taryn Toomey were also among the guests photographed entering the Mark Hotel, both carrying gift bags.

In addition to the high-profile guests, photographers also caught baby shower-friendly items like cotton candy machines and a harp being brought into the hotel Wednesday.

The Duchess of Sussex, 37, was seen cradling her bump and surrounded by security when she left the Mark Hotel Tuesday for an outing with Spencer, her former "Suits" costar.

Meghan, who is due this spring, arrived in New York City from London last Friday. She is expected to depart New York City for London soon after the baby shower.

Meghan and Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Susssex, kick off a three-day official visit to Morocco on Saturday.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- "ISIS bride" Hoda Muthana, who has been asking to return to the United States, is not an American citizen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday, contrary to her family lawyer's assertion.

Muthana is being held by U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria as they regain the final territory from ISIS.

 In her first television interview, the 24-year-old Alabama woman who spent four years as an "ISIS bride" told ABC News she felt shame hearing the tweets she posted when she was part of ISIS and wants to return to the U.S. with her 18-month-old son, who was born under the terror group.

But in a statement, Pompeo said she "is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States."

"The Trump administration continues its attempts to wrongfully strip citizens of their citizenship," Hassan Shibly, the Muthana family's attorney, told ABC News in a statement. "Hoda Muthana had a valid US passport and is a citizen. She was born in Hackensack, NJ in October 1994, months after her father stopped being [a] diplomat."

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump tweeted that the U.S. will not allow Muthana back into the country.

 Shibly said Trump is trying to "play games" with American citizens.

"I think it’s preposterous, that the president called for Europe to take back its citizens and now is trying to play games when it comes to American citizens," he said.

Muthana was born to a Yemeni diplomat in New Jersey and moved to New York and then Washington, D.C., before finally settling with her family in Alabama as a seventh grader, she said.

While children born in America are granted citizenship under the 14th Amendment, children of foreign diplomats are not because they are not under the "jurisdiction of" the U.S., according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Still, children of diplomats can apply for residency and then eventually citizenship, per USCIS.

Muthana was seen in photos while under ISIS claiming to show her U.S. passport. Only U.S. citizens can obtain American passports.

She, her family and their lawyer maintain she is a U.S. citizen.

Muthana surrendered to Kurdish authorities within the SDF and is now one of 1,500 foreign women and children living in a Kurdish-run refugee camp in northern Syria.

When interviewed by ABC, she expressed remorse and regret about her social media posts inciting violence in the name of Islam and ISIS.

"I wish I could take it completely off the net, completely out of people's memory. ... I regret it. ... I hope America doesn't think I'm a threat to them and I hope they can accept me and I'm just a normal human being who's been manipulated once and hopefully never again," she said.

Muthana said U.S. consul officials had not been in contact with her yet. She said she cried herself to sleep, worrying that if and when she returns to the U.S., she will be sentenced to jail and separated from her son.

Shibly told ABC News the young mother was "brainwashed" by ISIS and now feels "tremendous remorse."

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ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) -- After thousands of cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors have come to light over decades, an unprecedented summit of leading bishops gathered to discuss the protection of minors in the church is set to start in the Vatican on Thursday. Speaking to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis called the upcoming meeting a "powerful gesture of pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge."

The four-day gathering -- announced by Pope Francis in September -- will bring together about 190 people, nearly all male clerics. The participants include more than 100 presidents of bishops ’conferences from 130 countries, leaders of eastern churches, prefects of Vatican departments tasked with addressing the issue, 12 male heads of male religious orders, 10 heads of female religious orders, plus those on the organizing committee and members of the pope's advisory Council of Cardinals.

The meeting, which loosely follows the format of a synod, will include speeches by prominent cardinals, carefully-chosen from all the continents, with the pope introducing the meeting at its start Thursday and closing it with a speech following the Penitential Liturgy Saturday evening and concelebrated Sunday morning mass, in which multiple priests say mass together.

At a crowded press conference earlier this week, Vatican officials highlighted the goal of the meeting to ensure that all bishops around the globe – even in countries where cases have not yet emerged -- are fully aware and up to speed with the church’s rules and procedures as to how to deal with complaints of sexual abuse.

"We are going to do everything possible to make sure people are held responsible, accountable and there’s going to be transparency, because those elements will keep children safe," Cardinal Blase Cupich from Chicago, who is seen as a close ally of the pope and was one of the panelists, said at the press conference.

While Cupich said there was no quick fix for the problem, he said that he saw the meeting as a "turning point in how the Catholic Church will handle allegations around the world going forward."

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who was also present and works in the Vatican office that handles sex abuse allegations involving the clergy, said that the summit leaders did not plan to produce a new document because the church’s canon law, papal documents and norms suffice to deal with the problem.

Vatican officials said that an unspecified number of victims of both sexes will be present at the meeting during moments of prayer, but that their identities will be kept private according to their wishes.

The pope, however, had asked all bishop leaders to prepare for this summit by speaking and spending time listening to victims in their own countries.

Just this week the organizers invited about a dozen victims of different nationalities to a meeting near the Vatican on Wednesday. Ahead of the meeting, Peter Isely, a spokesman for Ending Clergy Abuse said that advocates want the pope to put zero tolerance into practice, by kicking out abusive priests and expelling bishops and cardinals who covered them up.

"Resignations are not enough," Isely insisted.

With thousands of journalists and activists descending on Rome to follow the meeting, the Vatican has stepped up its communications drive and launched a new website dedicated to the issue.

But many of the victims of clerical sex abuse and various advocacy groups -- already in Rome in large numbers ahead of the meeting -- do not seem hopeful that there will be any great change after this meeting. Even if Pope Francis has called the problem of ridding clerical sex abuse an "urgent challenge," they say that this meeting comes at least 20 years too late and that the church is moving too slowly to deal with such a serious crisis.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of, a group that documents the crisis of clerical sex abuse around the world, told reporters in Rome Tuesday that she fears that the pope seems to be on the retreat from consolidating reforms to end this "epidemic." However, she said, Pope Francis was the first pope to have said that bishops have to be held accountable and that there had to be an end to all cover-ups.

Many in Rome also insist that the focus of this meeting on minors is too restrictive wanting the discussion to include other vulnerable groups that have suffered clerical sexual abuse like seminarians, vulnerable adults, and women religious.

Others, in the wake of the laicization of former Cardinal McCarrick and Archbishop Vigano’s explosive missives this summer, want the topics of homosexuality among the clergy and celibacy to be addressed.

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Gary Miller/Getty Images(LONDON) -- In one of the strangest twists yet in the current crisis enveloping Venezuela, two rival concerts representing the divide in the international community will take place this weekend on the nation’s Colombian border -- one staged by billionaire Richard Branson, the other by an increasingly defiant President Nicolas Maduro.

After philanthropist Branson, a critic of the Maduro regime, announced he was sponsoring a Live Aid-style benefit concert in the Colombian border city of Cucuta on Friday, Feb. 22, Maduro responded by announcing his administration would be hosting its own, two-day concert at the Simón Bolívar International Bridge on Feb. 22 and 23.

Both are set to take place this weekend on the border that is serving as the current flashpoint in the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela.

The opposition leader, Juan Guaido -- who has been recognized by the United States as interim president of the country -- has denounced Maduro’s refusal to let humanitarian aid enter the country. Maduro, who crucially holds the backing of the military, has consistently said that the aid his government has blocked from entering the country is part of an imperialist plot to bring about regime change.

Branson announced the benefit concert on Feb. 15, saying in a statement that the “humanitarian crisis in Venezuela worsens every day." “Nicolas Maduro’s regime still refuses to accept any humanitarian aid destined for the country’s suffering people,” he added. Around 300,000 people are expected to attend the benefit concert, according to The Guardian.

Branson said all the money raised by the aid concert will be distributed to humanitarian aid organizations.

In response, Venezuela's vice president of communication, tourism and culture, Jorge Rodríguez, announced at a press conference on Monday that the “a large number of Venezuelan artists” had proposed a “great concert for peace." The lineup of artists for the Venezuelan government's concert is yet to be confirmed.

The musician Roger Waters, the former bassist and singer of rock band Pink Floyd, has criticized Branson’s aid concert as being politically motivated.

“It has nothing to do with humanitarian aid at all,” Waters said in a video posted on twitter. “It has to do with Richard Branson… having bought the U.S. saying, ‘We have decided to take over Venezuela.’”

“There is, so far, no civil war, no mayhem, no murderer, no apparent dictatorship,” he added.

Branson has said there is no government involvement in the aid concert and it is purely a humanitarian exercise.

“Richard is helping them to raise awareness of the crisis in Venezuela and raise much-needed funds through this event,” a spokesperson for Virgin, which handles media inquiries for Branson, said in a statement. “This is not a political statement and the U.S. is not involved in any aspect of this.”

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Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual state of the union-style address on Wednesday, and, for the second year in a row, he used part of his speech to tout a new generation of nuclear weapons.

Among the weapons is a nuclear-capable underwater drone, which Putin said will take to the water this spring.

He said the weapons are only defensive and that Russia wants good relations with the United States. But he warned that if the U.S. deploys medium range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to deploy its own that could strike America quickly.

Putin also criticized the United States' withdrawal from a key nuclear arms treaty this month.

The speech, which mostly targets a domestic audience, also included promises of improved health care, tax benefits and other pledges to help ordinary Russians.
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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- In her first television interview, a 24-year-old Alabama woman who spent four years as an ISIS bride told ABC News that she'd felt obligated to go to Syria once the so-called caliphate had been announced by the terror group.

Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey and moved to New York and then Washington, D.C., before finally settling with her family in Alabama as a seventh-grader, she said.

Muthana said she had a good relationship with her family but found home life very strict and longed for a more Americanized life, one in which she was able to go out and have friends.

At the age of 17, she turned to social media, specifically Twitter. A year later, she became radicalized, Muthana told ABC News Tuesday.

Once she joined ISIS, she sent messages of hate herself. She spread ISIS propaganda online, calling for attacks on Americans.

In one tweet regarding Memorial Day weekend, she wrote: "Americans wake up. ... Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood. ... Veterans, patriots."

When ISIS announced the so-called caliphate, Muthana said, the community she'd joined "interpreted ourselves that it was obligatory upon us to go."

She said she was driven by a fear of God and a fear of doing the wrong thing, so she traveled to Syria without thinking of the consequences.

Muthana, who would not comment on how she paid for her trip to Syria, first traveled to Turkey and then crossed the border into Syria in November 2014. Muthana said she remembered getting shot at as she crossed the border. She was 19 at the time.

In 2017, Muthana's father told ABC News' Diane Sawyer that he'd been proud when she seemed to become more devout about religion. He said he had no idea that she was secretly taking cues from ISIS recruiters sending her messages over the phone.

"I never thought in my life that it would happen to us, to me, to my family, but it happened," he said. "It could happen to any other family."

She was put in a safe house in Raqqa, the so-called capital of the caliphate, where, she said, about 200 people lived. She said that she had one option if she wanted to leave the house: Get married.

So, she married an Australian ISIS fighter. He was killed three months after their marriage, she said. At 20 years old, Muthana became a widow for the first time. She later married a Tunisian, who fathered her only child, a son. He was killed a little over a year later, she said.

"Everyone blames the struggles of the things that go on in a war zone that it's a test from God basically," Muthana said.

Muthana said although she never saw any executions, she did see dead bodies in public.

She told ABC News she felt shame hearing of the tweets she posted when she was part of ISIS.

"I was still at the peak of being brainwashed I guess and I had people all around me that were just widowed so we were very angry ... because we were all just young girls married for the first time -- most of us it was our first relationships -- and then he just suddenly died," she said. "I can't even believe I thought of that."

Two years after she arrived in Syria, Muthana became pregnant. She said that's when she started thinking about her future in a war zone, about her family and about the fate of unborn child. When she went to her friends and her husband about possibly leaving, she said they were shocked.

Her 18-month-old son was born in Raqqa. She said they stayed there for two weeks as mortars were fired in the neighborhood.

"The more I gained knowledge, I knew that it wasn't correct. ... We were just at the beginning of seeking knowledge once we did come to ISIS so we had just young people not knowing much about their religion, thinking they knew everything really, and we interpreted everything very wrong," Muthana said.

For six months, Muthana said, there was no food in the markets or in the trucks. People tried to hide the food they had, she said. She and her son were forced to eat the wheat that was fed to cattle. She decided it was time to go, she said, after she plucked grass from outside her home and fried it. Seeing her son eat grass was the final straw, she said.

"Everyone was starving," she said.

She surrendered to Kurdish authorities and is now one of 1,500 foreign women and children living in a Kurdish-run refugee camp in northern Syria.

She expressed remorse and regret about her social media posts inciting violence in the name of Islam and ISIS.

"I wish I could take it completely off the Net, completely out of people's memory. ... I regret it. ... I hope America doesn't think I'm a threat to them and I hope they can accept me and I'm just a normal human being who's been manipulated once and hopefully never again," she said.

Muthana said U.S. consul officials had not been in contact with her yet. She said she cried herself to sleep, worrying that if and when she returns to the U.S., she will be sentenced to jail and separated from her son.

Muthana's family lawyer, Hassan Shibly, told ABC News the young mother was "brainwashed" by ISIS and now feels "tremendous remorse."

"This is a young, vulnerable woman who was brainwashed and manipulated by monsters who took advantage of her," Shibly said in an interview that airs on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday morning. "Hoda is absolutely disgusted by the person she became while under the spell."

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Gotham/GC Images via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Meghan Markle was spotted leaving a posh Upper East Side hotel Tuesday, ahead of her baby shower in New York City.

The Duchess of Sussex, 37, cradled her bump as she left the Mark Hotel wearing a black top, black skinny jeans, heels and sunglasses.

Markle, who is due this spring, was surrounded by security as she left the hotel during her five-night stay in New York City that began last Friday when she arrived from London.

She is reportedly having lunch with actress Abigail Spencer, her former "Suits" costar, before the baby shower, according to ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie.

The baby shower will be a private affair for around 15 guests, according to Scobie.

"Today's baby shower is a reunion of sorts for Meghan," Scobie told "Good Morning America." "[Guests] include best pal Jessica Mulroney, actress and close pal Abigail Spencer has flown in, and Priyanka Chopra is supposed to be flying in especially for this from London Fashion Week."

"It'll be a celebration with her closest friends," he added.

Markle was spotted in New York City on Monday wearing a dark overcoat and a newsboy cap. Over the weekend, Markle visited the famous Ladurée bakery in SOHO for macarons and tea with Mulroney.

"The trip was planned some months ago and, with [with an official trip to] Morroco this weekend, is the last available time Meghan can travel before the Baby Sussex is born," Scobie said. "Over the weekend, she has been catching up with some of her closest friends, visiting favorite spots in the city and even shopping for baby clothes."

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Jack Taylor/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- On Feb. 20, President Donald Trump will host the Austrian chancellor in the White House. So, who is Sebastian Kurz and what is there to know about him?

The basics

At just 32 years old, Sebastian Kurz is Europe's youngest head of state and leads the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP).

After running a campaign that adopted hard-line positions on immigration, he took office in December 2017, entering into a governing coalition with the nationalist, anti-migration Freedom Party, originally founded by former Nazis in the 1950s.

Despite his youth, Kurz is no stranger to politics. His political career began early when, as a teen, he joined the youth wing of the ÖVP and eventually became its leader. In 2013, he became the world’s youngest serving foreign minister at age 27.

As chancellor, Kurz maintains a pro-EU stance while emphasizing preserving Austria’s traditions and cracking down on illegal immigration.

A hard-line stance on immigration

Kurz has ruffled feathers for his anti-immigration policies, which critics say are helping to push Europe farther to the right and pandering to the populist agenda espoused by his coalition partner, the Freedom Party.

He has opposed refugee resettlement, instated a burqa ban and been an active critic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to let nearly a million refugees into Germany in 2015.

He helped organize the shutdown of the overland Balkan route, which many migrants from the Middle East used to enter Europe. In November, Austria joined Hungary in refusing to sign a UN migration pact approved by most countries, drawing criticism from the European Commission.

He’s a Trump foreign policy fan

On Sunday, before his trip to the White House, Kurz said in an interview with Austrian paper Die Presse that the president "is running, in part, a very active and also very successful foreign policy."

Although he disagrees with Trump on trade and his handling of Iran, Kurz praised the U.S. president for his support of Israel and efforts to secure peace on the Korean peninsula.

The outspoken, Trump-appointed U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, called Kurz a "rockstar" in an interview for the conservative news site Breitbart in July. In the same interview, Grenell said he wanted to "empower" European conservatives -- a statement that caused sharp backlash on both sides of the Atlantic for politicizing diplomacy.

The two leaders will meet for a private conversation on Wednesday where, according to a White House statement, they will "look to address both global conflicts and those in the European neighborhood, promote economic prosperity, and strengthen energy security."

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Chris McGrath/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With U.S.-backed forces closing in on ISIS in Syria, young mother Hoda Muthana is pleading for a second chance and the opportunity to return home to her family in Alabama.

"I realized I've made a big mistake and I know I've ruined my future and my son's future and I deeply, deeply regret it," she said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper.

Muthana is one of 1,500 foreign women and children living in a Kurdish-run refugee camp in northern Syria.

Muthana's family lawyer, Hassan Shibly, told ABC News the young mother was "brainwashed" by ISIS and now feels "tremendous remorse."

"This is a young, vulnerable woman who was brainwashed and manipulated by monsters who took advantage of her," Shibly said in an interview that airs on Good Morning America Tuesday morning. "Hooda is absolutely disgusted by the person she became while under the spell."

In 2017, Muthana's father told ABC News' Diane Sawyer that he'd been proud when she seemed to become more devout about religion. He said he had no idea that she was secretly taking cues from ISIS recruiters sending her messages over the phone.

"I never thought in my life that it would happen to us, to me, to my family, but it happened," he said. "It could happen to any other family."

Muthana, who now has an 18-month-old son, left Alabama four years ago at the age of 19. She spread ISIS propaganda online, calling for attacks on Americans.

According to, she tweeted messages encouraging people to "'spill American blood."

Now, after surrendering to Kurdish authorities, she told the Guardian that she fears for her safety.

"From what I heard, if they were to read my messages, I would have been killed," she said.

Muthana has been married three times to ISIS fighters. Each time, she was made a widow.

In a letter obtained exclusively by ABC News, she described herself as a "naive, angry and arrogant" young woman when she set out for Syria. Muthana said she thought she understood her religious beliefs and had stopped listening to her family.

"That was a big mistake," she said in the letter.

"During my years in Syria I would see and experience a way of life and the terrible effects of war which changed me. Seeing bloodshed up close changed me. Motherhood changed me. Seeing friends, children and the men I married dying changed me. Seeing how different a society could be compared to the beloved America I was born and raised into changed me," she said.

"Being where I was and seeing the ppl around me scared me because I realized I didn’t want to be a part of this. My beliefs weren’t the same as theirs. In my quiet moments, in between bombings, starvation, cold and fear I would look at my beautiful little boy and know that I didn’t belong here and neither did he. I would think sometimes of my family, my friends and the life that I knew and I realized how I didn’t appreciate or maybe even really understand how important the freedoms that we have in America are. I do now. To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly," she added.

Muthana is expected to be brought home to face justice, which President Donald Trump has pushed other countries to do as well.

Muthana's family lawyer told ABC News she wants to return to the United States to be "accountable for her choices," and to hopefully be a powerful voice to ensure that others don't repeat the mistakes she made.

"She wants to make amends by doing her best to speak out and ensure that she can protect other young individuals being brainwashed and taken advantage of in the same way she has," Shibly said in the interview on GMA. "She's willing to risk her life right now to condemn ISIS."

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