ROME— Considering that the Catholic Church is present in almost every country in the world, amounting to one sixth of the planet’s total population, it’s basically impossible to keep track of what’s going on everywhere at any given moment.

An unusually major wave of Catholic news, however, has been cresting of late in Latin America, so here’s a rundown of what you need to know.


Facing a continuous state of social revolt, which some observers have warned is putting the country on the brink of civil war, President Nicolas Maduro, the successor of Hugo Chavez, sees enemies everywhere, including in the Church.

Among those perceived enemies is the Catholic charity “Caritas Spain”, which until recently had been sending food and medicine to Caritas Venezuela to be distributed to hundreds of thousands of citizens who today have no access to basic things, from bread and aspirin to toilet paper.

Caritas’ offices in Venezuela are currently off the grid, however, since the government recently cut off their phone lines and website.

Edsel Moreno, who works for Caritas, told the Spanish newspaper ABC that Maduro is forbidding the charity to provide humanitarian aid and to distribute medicine because it would “put in evidence how grave the situation is for the ill, and the many deaths occurring in hospitals and private clinics for the lack of medicines.”

This shameful situation, she said before the phone call was cut off, “is the reason behind the blockage.”

The country’s economic situation is so dire that it has prompted the government to declare a state of emergency, which Maduro has said will last at least through part of 2017. Locals claim he’s grasping at straws, trying to defeat what he calls a “coup” being organized by those opposing his regime and “external threats,” with the United States as the biggest alleged threat.

Although Maduro has not said which constitutional guarantees will be suspended, his new decree gives sweeping power to the military and the police “to ensure public order against the threat of criminal groups.”

“Criminal groups,” as the government defines it, means essentially who opposes the government, which has reduced working days in public offices to two a week and public schools to four days a week to try to counteract an energy shortage – a deep irony is a country commonly thought to possess the world’s largest deposits of proven oil reserves.

Last week the Vatican announced that the second-in-command of the Secretary of State, British Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, would travel to the country. Formally, he was going to participate in the episcopal ordination of Archbishop Francisco Scalante as new papal representative in Congo.

His boss, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a former papal representative in Venezuela, said he hoped Gallagher’s visit could become an “occasion for any kind of dialogue.”

Yet on Wednesday the diocese of San Cristóbal, where the British archbishop was supposed to visit May 24-29, announced Gallagher’s visit had been cancelled “for reasons beyond the Holy See’s control.”

According to Juan Nagel, a Venezuelan economics professor working in Chile’s University of Los Andes, Gallagher’s visit “had stirred up expectations, particularly in opposition circles.”

Nagel, who’s also the editor of the blog, told Crux that the opposition is desperate for an opening in the political process and for the administration to change policies which are “creating a terrible social and economic crisis.”

“Most in the opposition viewed Gallagher’s visit as a chance for the Vatican to weigh in and pressure the government into a more moderate position,” Nagel said. “This is not surprising given the deep knowledge Parolin has of the country, and given what the Venezuelan Bishop’s Conference has said in recent months.”

In a statement released April 27, the Venezuelan bishops warned about an “upsurge in murderous and inhuman crime,” which has turned its capital, Caracas, into the most dangerous city in the world outside active war zones: Last year, 8,946 people were murdered, meaning 120 people for every 100,000 inhabitants.

The bishops also denounced that never before the country suffered from such an “extreme lack of goods and basic food and health products.”

“Casting the situation in terms of an ideology and pragmatism in order to manipulate it are exacerbating it,” the bishops warned.

Maduro has often blamed the crisis on the opposition and what he calls “Yankee imperialism.”

“The bishop’s conference has been openly urging the government to change course, so one would only expect Pope Francis to lend his considerable stature to that cause given how much deference His Holiness has shown to bishops’ conferences in the past,” Nagel said.

Admitting that he could only speculate, because “little has been said in the open” regarding Gallagher’s visit, Nagel believes it was suspended because the government is not showing any signs that it will budge.

If anything, the recent barrage of international criticism, including an open letter from the President of the Organization of American States who called Maduro a “petty dictator,” the government has doubled down and decided to close its doors to foreigners.

“My guess is that the visit was suspended because the government – faced with the possibility that the visit would be interpreted as Pope Francis urging the government to change – decided it would not meet with him,” Nagel said.

In recent days Francis has expressed his concern over the country’s situation, even sending a personal letter to Maduro earlier in May.

For Catholics in Venezuela, the cancelation of Gallagher’s visit comes as a big disappointment.

Daniel Diaz-Vizzi, a young journalist living in Caracas, said the situation is “desperate” and the cancellation of Gallagher’s trip “cools down the hope transmitted to the people of Venezuela.”

“A big majority believes that at this point, only Pope Francis can dialogue and mediate with these people,” Diaz-Vizzi told Crux on Thursday. “The only institution actually working for the country right now is the Catholic Church.”


In October 2, 1989, Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve, was kidnapped, tortured and killed by a left-wing guerrilla group called the ELN. It arose with a Christian inspiration, backed by Father Camilo Torres and liberation theology, yet the ELN said it tortured and killed Jaramillo because of his “good relationship with the military.”

He received seven shots in the head, plus multiple bone fractures and wounds in his arms, which confirmed he had been brutally tortured before being murdered. A sainthood cause for Jaramill was opened in 1998.

In recent days, it was announced that on May 31 there will be a judicial hearing in Colombia in which the prosecution plans to charge the Central Command of the ELN with more than 15,000 murders, including that of Jaramillo.

It has been almost 27 years since his murder, and although it’s public knowledge that the guerilla movement murdered him, no one has ever been tried for it. This means that in theory, the case is now beyond the statute of limitations.

However, according to a directive issued by Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office, that barrier doesn’t apply to this case: Since it’s been labeled a crime against humanity, there’s no time limit to find those responsible for his death.

Speaking to Crux last summer, Archbishop Augusto Castro Quiroga, president of the Colombian Bishops Conference, said that Jaramillo’s sainthood cause is presently stalled in Rome “because he wasn’t killed for hatred of the faith,” referring to the traditional Catholic standard for martyrdom.

But, he said, the story of another Latin American prelate, Archbishop Oscar Romero, declared a martyr and beatified last year, might help move Jaramillo’s cause ahead.

Romero was killed in 1980 during a period of social revolt, fueled by poverty and abuses of power. His death triggered a bloody civil war that lasted more than a decade, with Communist guerrillas opposing a US-backed right-wing military government. For years, his cause for sainthood was stalled both in El Salvador and in the Vatican, largely because of debates over him being truly a “martyr” or a victim of political tensions.

Colombians might also be in a better position to move Jaramillo’s sainthood cause under Pope Francis.

Beyond the Latin American connection between the murdered bishop and the first pontiff of the global south, there’s the fact the Vatican is currently studying the sainthood case of Argentine Bishop Enrique Angelelli, assassinated during the country’s Dirty War in 1976.

For years his murder was disguised as a car accident, which took place as he was returning home after attending a tribute for two priests of his diocese killed by the military.

In his diocese, La Rioja, Angelelli encouraged the creation of unions of miners, rural workers and domestic workers, as well as cooperatives to manufacture knitting works, bricks, clocks and bread, and to claim and work idle lands.

During the military regime, he was seen as a hero for the people, openly opposing the violence and tortures perpetrated by the government that tortured, and killed thousands.

It wasn’t until July 5, 2014, that two military men were sentenced to life for the murder. Many believe that Pope Francis is personally invested in seeing the cause for Angelelli move forward, and since the basis for Jaramillo’s sainthood is eerily similar, the two might progress together.


The church in Paraguay has recently been in the spotlight for mishandling accusations of clerical sexual abuse. In late February a local newspaper, La Nacion, began to publish what they said would be a series of articles on five pedophile priests, all from Argentina.

The series began with the life of Father Carlos Ibáñez, who fled Argentina in 1992 accused of paying at least ten minors to have sex with him in the city of Bell Ville, in Cordoba.

The rest of the articles hasn’t been published yet, allegedly because the Church pressured the owner of the paper, although those allegations have been denied.

Ibáñez relocated in neighboring Paraguay, where he even became a professor at the local Pontifical Catholic University. Employees of the institution are now asking Pope Francis to investigate its rector, Father Narciso Velázquez, arguing that the he covered up for Ibáñez.

Velázquez has denied the accusations, saying he doesn’t know any pedophile priests.


On Tuesday, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, through Twitter, proposed a constitutional reform to legalize same-sex marriage across the country, following a decision from the Supreme Court declaring it was unconstitutional for the country’s states to ban such marriages.

According to the court’s ruling, “the purpose of marriage is not procreation,” so there’s no reason that the matrimonial union has to be heterosexual, or that it should be stated as occurring exclusively “between a man and a woman.”

Yet unless the national constitution is modified, or each state changes its law, gay marriages are only legal in the capital, Mexico City, and a handful of other states.

Mexico’s bishops warned the president that “de facto unions, or those between persons of the same sex” can’t be “equated to marriage”

The prelates quoted Pope Francis’ recent document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, to express their point: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” the pope said.

Also quoting Francis’ text, the bishops added that “all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, must be respected in their dignity, and treated with compassion and sensitivity, avoiding ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination, and particularly any form of aggression and violence.’”