Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Flying for a kingpin: The revelations of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s personal pilot

The man who handled all El Chapo’s personal flights spoke to journalist Gonzalo Guillén about what it was like flying for the world’s most feared drug lord.

l. “You will be carrying money, of course. And our weapons.”

“Hey, buddy. I want you to know something,” Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán-Loera said to the veteran helicopter pilot who he nicknamed ‘Tinieblo’ (Twilight). The pilot had just arrived in Sinaloa, Mexico from Miami, to begin flying for Guzmán-Loera.

“I’m all ears, Mr. Guzmán,” answered the pilot. He knew his new boss was no saint, but didn’t know much else.

“Do you recognize me?” inquired Guzmán.

“I’m afraid I don’t, sir,” answered the pilot.

“I’m no little angel,” Guzmán said. “But later I’ll tell you the story of a cardinal of the Catholic Church they assassinated, mistaking him for me.”

Continue reading Flying for a kingpin: The revelations of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s personal pilot


Catholic Church losing ground in Latin America


MIAMI — In just one generation, Latin America has seen the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic plummet, with more people becoming Protestant or dropping religion altogether, a new report shows.

The shift is dramatic for a region that has long been one of the bastions of Catholicism in the world. With more than 425 million Catholics, Latin America accounts for nearly 40% of the global Catholic population. Through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin Americans were Catholic, and 84% of people surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center said they were raised Catholic.

But the report released Thursday found that only 69% of Latin Americans still consider themselves Catholic, with more people switching to more conservative Protestant churches (19%) or describing themselves as agnostic or religiously unaffiliated (8%).

Even last year’s election of an Argentine as pope to head the Catholic Church has led to conflicting feelings in Latin America.

“While it is too soon to know whether (Pope) Francis can stop or reverse the church’s losses in the region, the new survey finds that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favorably and consider his papacy a major change for the church,” the report said. “But former Catholics are more skeptical about Pope Francis. Only in Argentina and Uruguay do majorities of ex-Catholics express a favorable view of the pope.”

Games of Throne production suffers setback as nude scene is banned by Dubrovnik church

The crew applied to the local film commission in the Croatian city to shoot the racy scene, which sees Cersi, played by Lena Headley, embarking on a ‘walk of penance’ through the streets of King’s landing, but the request was rejected according to TMZ.com.

It’s understood, the Croatian church has ‘a rigid policy against public displays of sexuality’ and as a result has left the team desperately searching for a new location.

Lena Headley 'walk of penace scene' has been banned

Despite the major set back, the pivotal scene will still be filmed due to its importance in the storyline.

It is also considered a memorable moment from the George R.R. Martin’s novel A Dance With Dragons, the fifth of seven from his Song Of Fire And Ice series, which the show is based on.

Double take: Portion of picturesque Dubrovnik double for fictioonal Game Of Thrones citadel King's Landing 

The 65-year-old author previously opened up about the level of attention he has received as a result of the show.

Speaking to The Guardian he said: “A few years ago I came to Edinburgh wife my wife and we were able to listen to the street musicians and go to plays and comedy performances and the military Tattoo

“And, in the whole week we were here, maybe three people recognised me, and I was happy to sign an autograph for them.”

He added: “Now, three or four people recognise me every block. I can’t go out any more; I can’t walk the streets. And it’s great to have all these readers and fans who, for the most part, are very nice people, saying they love the books and the TV show.”

A majority of the filming for the fifth season, which will air in April 2015, has been filmed on location across Northern Ireland.

The following two series of the hit HBO show will only come into fruition once Martin has physically written the novels, including The Winds Of Winter and A Dream Of Spring – neither of which has a release date.

The fantasy drama series, has been nominated in an incredible 19 categories in tonight’s Emmy Awards.

The 66th Primetime Emmy Awards take place tonight at NOKIA Theatre L.A. live in Los Angeles.

Pope Francis: ‘About 2%’ of Catholic clergy paedophiles

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has been quoted as saying that reliable data indicates that “about 2%” of clergy in the Catholic Church are paedophiles.

The Pope said that abuse of children was like “leprosy” infecting the Church, according to the Italian La Repubblica newspaper.

He vowed to “confront it with the severity it demands”.

But a Vatican spokesman said the quotes in the newspaper did not correspond to Pope Francis’s exact words.

The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says there is often a studied ambiguity in Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff statements.

He wants to show a more compassionate attitude towards Church teaching than his predecessors, but this can sometimes cause consternation among his media advisers, our correspondent adds.


Analysis: David Willey, BBC News, Rome

When is a papal interview not an interview? Sunday’s edition of La Repubblica devotes its first three pages to an account of a conversation between Pope Francis and editor Eugenio Scalfari, which took place last Thursday. Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a sharp note that it was not an interview in the normal sense of the word, although he admitted it conveyed the “sense and the spirit” of the conversation.

Mr Scalfari does not use a digital recorder, and Father Lombardi said Pope Francis never checked the accuracy of the interview.

Until now, the Vatican has declined to quantify the extent of clerical sexual abuse scandals in the worldwide Church. Statistics are usually available only for countries in the developed world. In the developing world, information is usually only sketchy.


In the interview, Pope Francis was quoted as saying that the 2% estimate came from advisers. It would represent around 8,000 priests out of a global number of about 414,000.

While the incidence of paedophilia as a psychiatric disorder in the general population is not accurately known, some estimates have put it at less than five percent.

“Among the 2% who are paedophiles are priests, bishops and cardinals. Others, more numerous, know but keep quiet. They punish without giving the reason,” Pope Francis was quoted as saying.

“I find this state of affairs intolerable,” he went on.

Protesters against clerical child abuse gather outside the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis in June 2014Many Catholics feel the Church hierarchy has not taken strict enough action against abusers

Above the interview La Repubblica ran the headline: “Pope says: Like Jesus, I shall use a stick against paedophile priests.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied that Pope Francis had said that there were cardinals who were paedophiles.

Last year Pope Francis strengthened the Vatican’s laws against child abuse and earlier this month begged forgiveness from the victims of sexual abuse by priests, at his first meeting with victims since his election.

Many survivors of abuse by priests are angry at what they see as the Vatican‘s failure to punish senior officials who have been accused of covering up scandals.

Asked in the same La Repubblica interview about the celibacy rule for priests, Pope Francis recalled that it was adopted 900 years after the death of Jesus Christ and pointed out that the Eastern Catholic Church allows its priests to marry.

“The problem certainly exists but it is not on a large scale. It will need time but the solutions are there and I will find them.”

Father Lombardi also denied that these were the Pope’s exact words.

Vatican Bank: No More Secret Accounts For Politicians And “Bad Families”

Vatican City — When Cardinal George Pell, the Holy See’s new Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, addressed the Vatican press corpson Wednesday to lay out the new economic framework for the universal Catholic Church and introduce the Vatican Bank’s new president, he made what could easily be interpreted as a Freudian Slip.

“We are working towards transcendence,” the cardinal said to the packed press room before quickly correcting his mistake. “I mean we’re working towards transparency.”

Pell could have just as easily stuck with the word “transcendence” given his enormous task to lift the Institute for Religious Works or IOR as the Vatican bank is officially called, from its sinful past to a loftier future.

The IOR has been mired in a litany of scandals including the criminal corruption trial of its former general director and assistant,  and the ongoing money laundering trial against a prelate referred to as Monsignor 500 for his penchant for big bills.  The prelate, Nunzio Scarano, who once worked in the Vatican Treasury, is standing trial for allegedly trying to smuggle more than $25 million from Switzerland to a secret Vatican Bank account.

The bank was nearly closed by Pope Francis in 2013 before the pontiff decided to give the administrators one more chance.  Since then, the bank has cleaned up its act, but not without a hefty price.

In conjunction with the not-so-surprising announcement that IOR president Ernst von Freyberg would be replaced by asset fund guru Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, the bank also released its 2013 Financial Report, in which it reported a somewhat dramatic 97 percent plunge in net revenue from €86.6 million ($118 million) in 2012 to a paltry €2.9 million ($4 million) in 2013.

Investigations led to a temporary block on all credit card transactions in Vatican City, which meant that for a time tourists had to pay cash for tickets and trinkets at St. Peter’s Basilica.

According to the IOR press release, the loss was due to a fluctuation in the Vatican’s gold reserves and losses in “proprietary investments in externally managed investment funds.”

But at Wednesday’s press conference, outgoing president von Freyberg implied there were other factors, including the closure of thousands of individual and institutional client accounts after external examiners pored over the bank’s financial records.

“After examining all the legacy cases the IOR is burdened with, we can be sure we now know who our customers are,” von Freyberg told reporters, when asked about the type of accounts that were closed down. “There are no enormous accounts belonging to Italian families, politicians and bad families.”

In fact, the IOR has been quietly terminating relationships with unseemly clients since before Francis was elected, including those held by diplomatic missions, embassies, and consulates to Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Indonesia after “vague cash transactions” including some for more than half a million euro were discovered when the Vatican was trying to be listed on Moneval’s white list of virtuous financial institutions.

In 2012, Moneval’s investigations led to a temporary block on all credit card transactions in Vatican City, which meant that for a time tourists had to pay cash for tickets and trinkets at St. Peter’s Basilica.   After the implementation of a new board and an outside Financial Intelligence Authority tasked with supervising the IOR for “the prevention and countering of money-laundering and financing of terrorism” the IOR started refocusing its purpose.

“Subsequent to the screening process as per 30 June 2014, the IOR has terminated around 3,000 customer relationships, in an orderly process,” said the IOR statement. “Thanks to this decision, the IOR now focuses only on Catholic institutions, clerics, employees or former employees of the Vatican with salary and pension accounts, as well as embassies and diplomats accredited to the Holy See.”

But that doesn’t mean the IOR is a charity.  Both Pell and Franssu, the IOR’s new president, insisted that making a profit was not a sin, with Franssu saying his goal was for the IOR to grow, which meant they would be signing up new customers that fit the new “ethical” criteria.

“Clients come first.  We want to ensure that clients with money at IOR have the best possible service,” Franssu said. “If we can ensure that, new clients will naturally find us.”

Pell said the goal of the bank was to become a reputable, trustworthy institution rather than one shrouded in secrecy and allegations of financial impropriety. “Our ambition is to become something of a model in financial management rather than a cause for occasional scandal,” Pell said.  If they can manage that, they will have indeed achieved transcendence.

The scandal at the Vatican bank

An 11-month FT investigation reveals the extent of mismanagement at the €5bn-asset bank

Cardinals at the Vatican conclave to elect the new pope in March

On June 28 this year, Italian police arrested a silver-haired priest, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, in Rome. The cleric, nicknamed Monsignor Cinquecento after the €500 bills he habitually carried around with him, was charged with fraud and corruption, together with a former secret service agent and a ­financial broker. All three were suspected of attempting to smuggle €20m by private plane across the border from Switzerland.

Prosecutors alleged that the priest, a former banker, was using the Institute for Religious Works – the formal name for the Vatican’s bank – to move money for businessmen based in the Naples region, widely regarded in Italy as a haven of organised crime. Worse still, Scarano (who, together with the other men, has denied any wrongdoing) had until only a month earlier been head of the accounting department at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, the treasury of the Vatican.

The arrest, and the headlines that screamed across the Italian press, was the latest shock for the Holy See. The year had already witnessed an emotional upheaval in the church with the resignation in February of the aged Pope Benedict XVI – the first time in 700 years a pope had stepped down voluntarily. But this new crisis demanded cold, hard resolve. For regulators and politicians in Europe who had pushed for change in the Vatican’s scandal-plagued bank over the previous four years – from the Bank of Italy under Mario Draghi to officials in Mario Monti’s government and in Brussels – it served as evidence of their concerns. Those worries also jolted a number of international financiers determined to press for reform.

Peter Sutherland, non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International and unpaid consultant to the Vatican’s treasury

In early July, Peter Sutherland, non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International and the former attorney-general of Ireland, flew into Vatican City. His mission – although described by some insiders as simply a “bit part” in the wider drive for change – was an illuminating one. Sutherland, a practising Catholic and an unpaid consultant to the Vatican’s treasury, had been asked by reformers in the church to speak with the council of cardinals, the most senior advisers to the pope. His message to the men who filed into a room near Doma Santa Marta, the plain-fronted residence of Pope Francis, was respectful but direct.

How God’s bank ended up as a financial penitent this year is a bracing chapter in the history of financial reforms that have swelled up in the aftermath of the 2008 credit crisis. Untouchable havens such as Switzerland and Liechtenstein were forced to open their chocolate-box palaces to the probes of international regulators. This year the power of the popes was challenged.

The FT interviewed two dozen bankers, lawyers, regulators and Catholic insiders over 11 months to understand how the murky operations of a bank with €5bn in assets, and which says its aim is to serve the global mission of the Catholic Church, had unnerved bankers, regulators and governments across Europe and the US.

The reforms now under way at the Vatican have come about in part because of the pressure brought to bear by banks such as Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan and UniCredit, all of which found themselves in the sights of regulators because of their business relationships with the Holy See. About three dozen banks, including some of the world’s biggest financial institutions, were for years “correspondent” banks to the Vatican, providing services when the pope’s business went beyond the boundaries of Vatican City. As with other institutional clients, the banks gave the Vatican access to foreign financial markets. Correspondent banks moved as much as €2bn a year from the Vatican’s bank to other accounts across the globe, according to a Vatican spokesman. It was the bankers’ fear of being tarnished by their links with the Vatican bank after the credit crisis – and fears of fines from emboldened regulators – that led them to take steps that forced it to clean up its act.

The Institute for Religious Works issued its first annual report in early October, which showed that the bank has 19,000 clients, from around the world, 33,000 accounts and €5bn in assets. Few loans are made; the bank holds deposits, transfers money and makes investments. Half the bank’s clients come from religious orders; another 15 per cent are Holy See institutions, 13 per cent are cardinals, bishops and clergy, 9 per cent are from Catholic dioceses around the world. The rest of the clients are split among those who have, or should have, some “affiliation to the Catholic Church”, the report says.

Vatican insiders also revealed that the bank is awash in donations and cash, from Sunday collections and charitable giving. As much as 25 per cent of the bank’s business is done in cash – a feature that regulators said raised red flags for money laundering. About a third of its business comes from donations rooted in charities.

Laura Pedio, a Milan anti-Mafia prosecutor who specialises in white-collar crime, was one of the few sources willing to speak publicly to the FT. Pedio, who had been investigating the bankruptcy of a Catholic hospital in 2011 and needed access to Vatican bank information, said she was astonished to find a complex system of proxies, the authorisations given to representatives to execute transactions on behalf of often unidentified beneficial account holders.