In An Old Pope's Resignation, Lessons For Aging In Today's Fast-Moving World

The resignation of Benedict XVI is historic for the Catholic Church, but it also shows the difficulty of growing old in a society of constant demands and real-time technology.

Frozen in time?
Frozen in time?
Mario Calabresi

Ours is a society that demands speed, adaptability, reactions in real-time. Facing these facts, Pope Benedict XVI confessed his weakness last Monday with disarming awareness and words of utter clarity in announcing his plans to resign from the papacy: “In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith," he said, speaking in Latin during a Vatican ceremony, "in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Almost an act of surrender before a world that is changing at a speed that a man who was born in 1927 could have never imagined. The pace and nature of communicating is shifting, as we are called on to comment on everything, immediately. But still, this 85-year-old man – even as he was already thinking about stepping down from the Pontificate – tried to keep up with this bustle of contemporary life by signing on to Twitter, with its short and syncopated 140-character messages.

Benedict had tried, not without difficulty, to follow the global agenda and its rhythms as dictated by 24/7 media broadcasting. It is an agenda that, each day, slides further away from his ethical and social conventions – a seemingly unnatural race for a man who consecrated his life to study, reflection and silent meditation.

In his words and in his historic choice to step down, the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years, a short-circuit seems to have been set off between his deep studies of the life of Jesus and the requirement to respond blow-by-blow to modern life.

The spreading of scandals, controversies and leaks on a global scale can be followed only by young people: "I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry..." But it has not always been this way. Pope Pius IX went to Emilia Romagna for a one-month journey in 1854 solely to bless the faithful, without making a single speech. Pope Paolo VI answered to his believers only during the Sunday Angelus or at the Wednesday audience. It was only during the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II that the number of journeys and rhythm of the speeches multiplied.

Is this a train destined only to accelerate for a Church that is of this world? If it wants to be heard, such a global institution would seem to have little choice but than to adapt to these modern rhythms and cadences. Still, one of the Church's great strengths is its ability to lay low and sing to its own tune while taking part in the world where it resides.

The time of the millennial Church was possible when information didn’t spread through the walls, and mobile phones were not the extension of our body, when butlers didn’t make photocopies or send faxes and email – a time when the Vatican walls could keep secrets. A slower pace and its own unique vision had guaranteed a leading role to the Church for 20 centuries.

And so in surrendering to old age, and recognizing a centrality of youth, energy and speed, what value can we find in contemplated thought, wisdom and experience? He gave us part of his answer by choosing to return to being Joseph Ratzinger, even if the question of how this will actually play out remains unresolved and of great importance.

Obviously, the Pope's difficult decision cannot be read only through this question and its answer, as it is the daughter of a complexity of issues we will be writing about for a long time.

We can compare Ratzinger’s resignation to the courage of Wojttyla’s choice to carry the Calvary cross till the end of his Pontificate as John Paul II.

Benedict XVI knows that the price of the long Calvary of his predecessor was paid in the absence of effective governance of the Church – he knows because he inherited all the unresolved issues and internecine fights in the Vatican. He confronted all of them with courage, starting with the crisis of priest sex abuse, but may have also had particular awareness of the strength it takes to govern – and it was this that convinced him to step back now and avoid leaving an even more difficult path to his successor.

This is perhaps the most revolutionary decision he ever made.

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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 for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

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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