The World Today for February 12, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

VATICAN

Man in the Mirror

Pope Francis took the opportunity during his annual Christmas address to give Vatican officials a tongue-lashing for their ambition and vanity, nagging issues he sees as a “cancer” within the church.

“Reforming Rome is like cleaning the Egyptian sphinxes with a toothbrush,” the pope said during his address. “You need patience, dedication and delicacy.”

Known for his commitment to reforming the Catholic Church, Francis has always spiced his Christmas greeting with bittersweet notes of the church’s ills.

But a string of recent gaffes by his Holiness has some saying that the reformer needs to take a look in the mirror.

During his trip to South America last month, the pope denounced misogyny and corruption within politics and society at large and called on the nations of Peru and Chile to bolster the rights of their indigenous communities.

However, people in both nations have criticized the church’s response to revelations of sexual abuse in prominent Catholic institutions, ABC News reported.

Before his arrival in Santiago, homemade bombs went off in three Catholic churches, complete with notes protesting Francis’ appointment of a bishop in 2015 accused of covering up wide-scale sexual abuse by a priest in the 1980s and 1990s.

Francis dove directly into the issue during the first leg of his trip in his many public addresses, but stopped short of condemning the bishop he’d elevated, telling journalists that “the day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I’ll speak.” He went on to equate accusations by survivors with slander, the Associated Press wrote, sparking outrage from victims and the public.

“That is the enigma of Pope Francis,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org. “He is so bold and compassionate on many issues, but he is an old-school defensive bishop when it comes to the sex-abuse crisis.”

Francis eventually apologized for the statement, but his tour in Peru wasn’t without its hiccups, either.

During an address to some 500 cloistered nuns in Lima, Francis lobbed a joke that likened gossiping nuns to the Shining Path terrorists who fought the Peruvian state during the 1980s and 1990s, a conflict that resulted in 69,000 deaths, Reuters reported.

Critics argued that the church’s sex-abuse scandals were more akin to terror than were gossiping nuns.

The church recently took over a 20,000-member Catholic lay society based in Peru amid widespread accusations of pedophilia. But instead of being handed over to Peruvian investigators, the founder of the society was forced into exile in Rome, where he is being investigated by the church.

Such anecdotes smell of brushing scandal under the rug, but some argue that the strict political structure of the Catholic Church gives the pontiff only so much power, Simeon Tegel wrote for US News & World Report.

Even so, others say that the politically active pope is preaching hypocrisy by demanding reform without doing the legwork, Tegel wrote.

One only has to look at the numbers to see dissatisfaction with the Holy See, Tegel writes: The proportion of Latin Americans describing themselves as Catholic fell to 59 percent last year from 80 percent only two decades ago, according to one study by Chilean pollsters.

That’s a reflection of something happening in the church – and it’s certainly not reform.

WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Striking Back

Israel said its weekend retaliatory strike against Syria for the downing of one of its F-16 fighter jets wiped out half of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air defense systems.

The fighting broke out Saturday after an Iranian drone, launched from a site controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, flew into Israeli airspace, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Israel shot down the drone and dispatched four F-16s into Syrian territory to bomb the site from which it was launched. One of the F-16s was hit by a Syrian missile and crashed after its pilot and navigator ejected over northern Israel – prompting Israel’s largest strike on Syrian forces since the 1982 Lebanon war.

Iran has denied that its drone crossed into Israel’s airspace, while an Israeli commander warned that Tehran seeks to establish a “forward command post” in Syria. Notably, the New York Times quoted experts as saying the incident marks a new chapter of hostilities among Iran, Israel and Assad.

ITALY

Antisocial Media

Italy escaped an anticipated clash between far-right street fighters and marchers protesting against racism over the weekend, as the right-wingers devoted their energy to social media instead.

Italian authorities were braced for the worst on Saturday, Bloomberg reported. But thousands of protesters marched peacefully against racism in response to an attack on African migrants in the city of Macerata last week, Reuters reported.

“We are here because we want to be a dam against this mountain of hate,” one marcher told the news agency.

Notably, none of the leaders of Italy’s main political parties attended the march. And Giorgia Meloni, leader of the rightwing Brothers of Italy party, issued anti-immigrant broadcasts via Facebook Live in response to the protest.

On Feb. 3, a former Northern League candidate in local elections shot and wounded six people in what police called a racially motivated attack. The shooter claimed to be exacting revenge for the murder of an Italian woman, following the arrest of a Nigerian suspect.

SOUTH AFRICA

After the Deluge

Drought-hit Cape Town rejoiced Friday after a brief rain alleviated fears that the city will soon run dry.

Cape Town, which has been plagued by drought for three years, faces strict water rationing due to fears the city could run out of water by April. So residents took advantage of Friday’s 8 millimeters (0.3 inches) of rain to fill barrels and buckets. But the rain only pushed back “Day Zero” to May 11, the BBC reported.

Meanwhile, South Africa as a whole is anticipating another kind of D-Day – as African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa all-but pledged to oust President Jacob Zuma at a meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee on Monday, Bloomberg said.

So far, Zuma has defied pressure to resign, partly due to corruption allegations. But in an address to some 3,000 supporters on Sunday, Ramaphosa promised “closure on this matter,” saying, “our people want this matter finalized.”

DISCOVERIES

The Price of Money

Bitcoin mania has reached fever pitch as its value ebbs and flows with the debate over its future in global markets.

But for all the headlines, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are bad news for the environment, the New York Times reported.

Creating just one Bitcoin requires tremendous amounts of computing power – and as much electricity as the average American household uses in two years, according to figures from Morgan Stanley.

All of the computers connected to the Bitcoin network consume as much power each day as some medium-sized countries – and Bitcoin is just one of many cryptocurrencies.

It’s due to a complex algorithm needed to create cryptocurrencies, the answer to which requires lots of guesswork by computers and, consequently, lots of electricity.

That’s why cryptocurrency server farms have popped up near geothermal and hydroelectric power plants around the globe, CNBC reported.

Some say the environmental footprint is worth it to create a new financial system free from the influence of traditional financial players, but others are calling for green solutions.

“I would personally feel very unhappy if my main contribution to the world was adding Cyprus’s worth of electricity consumption to global warming,” Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Bitcoin competitor Ethereum, told the New York Times.

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