By Kevin Rollason
Winnipeg Free Press, February 7, 2014
Does art stolen by Nazi soldiers from European galleries and private owners grace the walls of the Winnipeg Art Gallery?
A federally funded pilot project co-ordinated by the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization (CAMDO) aims to find out.
Stephen Borys, the WAG's director and CEO and also CAMDO president, said the $200,000 provided by the federal government, along with another $200,000 privately raised by the six galleries involved, will allow them to do "provenance research" -- determine the documented history of each painting's ownership through the years.
Borys said the two starting points for the project are works created in 1945 and earlier for which the provenance is not known between the years 1933 and 1945. "This is something we have been doing for years -- we do provenance research all the time -- so it's nothing new," he said.
"But this program allows us to bring in two internationally renowned researchers to work with our team. We can start looking in a much broader way." The issue is topical -- this weekend, the movie The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney, opens in theatres.
It's based on the true story of a platoon ordered by then-U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt to recover and return to the owners artworks the Nazis stole and took to Germany before and during the Second World War.
"There's a heightened presence," Borys said. "And now, 70 years after the Second World War, the people who would know the pieces are theirs are gone." But he said artworks can be returned to their rightful owners by something as simple as a note in a diary describing a piece.
Catherine Chatterley, an adjunct professor of history at the University of Manitoba, said it's believed the Nazis stole hundreds of thousands of art pieces -- as much as 20 per cent of the artworks in Europe.
"When the Germans invaded the countries of Europe, they raided museums, art galleries, libraries and research institutes, stealing works of art, books, religious objects, coins, medal collections -- anything of value," she said.
"France and Italy were particularly affected by the greatest theft in European history, but so was the Soviet Union, with over 173 museums raided...
"The collections were first picked over by (Nazi leaders) Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler for their own private use, then the remainder was transported back to Germany. The most valuable items, mostly paintings and sculptures, were held in salt mines and caves so as to be protected from aerial bombardment."
Chatterley said the haul included works by Matisse, Dégas, Picasso, Botticelli and Raphael and marble sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo. She said stolen artworks are still being found, citing a case about two years ago where more than 1,400 pieces were discovered in a Munich apartment. "The apartment owner's father had worked for the Nazis, trading in their stolen artwork."
Chatterley said it's not unusual for major art galleries to have art with provenance voids during the war years. That includes the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with more than 400 works, the Art Institute of Chicago, with more than 500, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, with 393.
Pointing at a large painting entitled Madonna, painted in 1662 by Juan Carreno de Miranda, Borys said: "We're looking at 300 years of provenance.
"One of the first things to be destroyed or moved during war is culture."
Borys said gallery acquisitions have changed in the last few decades. "If we want to buy an 18th-century painting today, we want to know where it was. We would never buy a piece of art now that has large gaps in its provenance. "The biggest challenge is to get private collectors to co-operate. You can't force a private collector to say, 'I will co-operate.' "
BBC, February 5, 2014
The UN has demanded that the Vatican "immediately remove" all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers. The UN watchdog for children's rights denounced the Holy See for adopting policies allowing priests to sexually abuse thousands of children. In a report, it criticised Vatican attitudes towards homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
The Vatican responded by saying it would examine the report - but also accused its authors of interference. "The Holy See takes note of the concluding observations on its reports... [but] does, however, regret to see... an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person... [and] reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child," it said in a statement.
And a Vatican official, speaking to Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said the statements on homosexuality, contraception and abortion were outside the committee's remit and "heavily agenda-driven and smacking of acute political correctness". The Vatican has set up a commission to fight child abuse in the Church.
The UN committee's recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism. In its report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said the Holy See should open its files on members of the clergy who had "concealed their crimes" so that they could be held accountable.
The committee said it was gravely concerned that the Holy See had not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed. In the report, the committee expressed its "deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide".
It also lambasted the "practice of offenders' mobility", referring to the transfer of child abusers from parish to parish within countries, and sometimes abroad. The committee said this practice placed "children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children".
Magdalene laundries The UN report called on a commission created by Pope Francis in December to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse "as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them". Many campaigners feel the Vatican should open its files on priests known to be child abusers Ireland's Magdalene laundries scandal was singled out by the report as an example of how the Vatican had failed to provide justice despite "slavery-like" conditions, including degrading treatment, violence and sexual abuse.
The laundries were Catholic-run workhouses where some 10,000 women and girls were required to do unpaid manual labour between 1922 and 1996.
Catholic Church abuse scandals
The report's findings come after Vatican officials were questioned in public last month over why they would not release data and what they were doing to prevent future abuse. The Vatican has denied any official cover-up. However, in December, it refused a UN request for data on abuse on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.
In January, the Vatican confirmed that almost 400 priests had been defrocked in a two-year periode by the former Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse. The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the Vatican has set up new guidelines to protect children from predatory priests.
But, he adds, bishops in many parts of the world have tended to concentrate on protecting and defending the reputation of priests rather than listening to the complaints of victims of paedophile priests. Meanwhile several Catholic dioceses in the US have been forced into bankruptcy after paying out huge sums in compensation to victims of abuse by clergy.
Barbara Blaine, president of a group representing US victims of abuse by priests, told the BBC that the UN report "reaffirms everything we've been saying. It shows that the Vatican has put the reputation of Church officials above protection of children". "Church officials knew about it and they refused to stop it. Nothing has changed. Despite all the rhetoric from Pope Francis and Vatican officials, they refuse to take action that will make this stop."
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