A Pope From Across The World? The Time Is Now

Most say the cardinals must shake up the Church. That gives better chances to electing a cardinal from South America... or North America.

A changing Church? From the archives the Second Vatican Council
A changing Church? From the archives the Second Vatican Council
Julio Algañaraz

VATICAN CITY - No, the conclave will not be long. Many cardinals have said so in private. Such confidence in the timing makes us think that they are quickly advancing towards an agreement regarding the profile, and even the name, of the next pope. Up until now, most were predicting a wide-open assembly of 115 voting cardinals, with no clear favorite, which would tend to lead to a protracted conclave. But now a different hypothesis seems to dominate.

“The Church needs to be shaken up because it is going through a real crisis,” one well-connected priest told Clarín. Though this source sides with the more progressive wing of the hierarchy, he agrees with others that whoever is chosen will again be a clear doctrinal traditionalist.

What is different this time is that many believe that for the first time the pope will be chosen "from the other side of the world,” as one source put it. That is: not from Europe, but from the American continent.

Two of the favorites from the Western hemisphere are Brazil's Odilo Scherer, 63, and Canada's Marc Ouellet, 68. Both fit the profile -- that many cardinals are eyeing -- of younger and conservative in doctrine, but open about social issues.

On a mission

But bishops have also noted the importance of a strong missionary and evangelizing spirit, which both men have had to show back home. In Scherer's Brazil, a country of 200 million inhabitants, 123 million of which are baptized, the percentage of Catholics is falling in the face of growing evangelical Protestant movements.

Ouellet, who heads the Congregation of Bishops, is a French-Canadian from Quebec, the most liberal province in Canada; he also served 11 years in Colombia, as a member of the order of San Sulpicio, and as president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. That could win him support from Latin America's 19 voting cardinals, particularly from colleagues he knows well in Mexico, Colombia and Central America. He also could garner support from some of the 14 North American cardinals.

Apart from the two Americans candidates, there are some other favorites such as the archbishop from Milan, 71-year-old Cardinal Angelo Scola, another conservative disciple of Benedict XVI from the days he was known as Joseph Ratzinger. The Italian block of 28 voting cardinals heading into the conclave continues to be by far the largest of any single nation. Among the Italians there is much talk around Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads the Vatican"s culture office, but lacks pastoral experience in the diocese.

Other Europeans considered potential dark horses include Vienna's Christoph Schönborn and Budapest's Peter Erdo. But more and more, with the last two popes being non-Italian Europeans, it looks like the successor of Peter may indeed finally come... from the other side of the world.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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