Top 10 Secrets of the Vatican Exposed

Vatican City may have fewer than 1,000 citizens and span only 110 acres, but it also has a multimillion-dollar budget and an unbelievably complex history. Understanding how it all works requires parsing through centuries of religious texts. Is the Vatican confusing and mysterious? Is the Pope Catholic? Here’s a look behind the scenes.

1. Regular Exorcise! 

Baudelaire once said that “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” But in modern-day Vatican City, the devil is considered alive and well. The former Pope John Paul II personally performed three exorcisms during his reign, and the current Pope Benedict XVI is expanding the ranks of Catholic-sponsored exorcists throughout the world. In fact, Father Gabriele Amorth, the Church’s chief exorcist, claims to expel more than 300 demons a year from the confines of his Vatican office, and there are more than 350 exorcists operating on behalf of the Catholic Church in Italy alone. Amorth also teaches bishops how to tell the difference between satanic possession and psychiatric illness, noting that those who suffer from the former seem to be particularly repulsed by the sight of holy water and the cross.

2. Where Thieves Go to Prey

With 1.5 crimes per citizen, Vatican City has the highest crime rate in the world. It’s not that the cardinals are donning masks and repeatedly robbing the bank, it’s just that the massive crowds of tourists make Vatican City a pickpocket’s paradise. The situation is complicated by the fact that the Vatican has no working prison and only one judge. So most criminals are simply marched across the border into Italy, as part of a pact between the two countries. (The Vatican’s legal code is based on Italy’s, with some modifications regarding abortion and divorce.) Crimes that the Vatican sees fit to try itself—mainly shoplifting in its duty-free stores—are usually punished by temporarily revoking the troublemaker’s access to those areas. But not every crime involves theft. In 2007, the Vatican issued its first drug conviction after an employee was found with a few ounces of cocaine in his desk.

3. The Worst Confessions

Some sins are simply too much for a local bishop to forgive. While priests can absolve a sin as serious as murder (according to the Church), there are five specific sins that require absolution from the Apostolic Penitentiary. This secretive tribunal has met off and on for the past 830 years, but in January of 2009, for the first time ever, its members held a press conference to discuss their work.

Three of the five sins they contemplate can only be committed by the clergy. If you’re a priest who breaks the seal of confession, a priest who offers confession to his own sexual partners, or a man who has directly participated in an abortion and wants to become a priest, then your case must go before the tribunal to receive absolution. The other two sins can be committed by anyone. The first, desecrating the Eucharist, is particularly bad because Catholics believe that the bread and wine transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ. Messing with them is like messing with Jesus. And then, there’s the sin of attempting to assassinate the Pope. That one’s pretty self-explanatory.

The meetings of the Apostolic Penitentiary are kept confidential because they’re a different form of confession. The sinner is referred to by a pseudonym, and only the Major Penitentiary, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, decides how the sin shall be dealt with. Presumably, a bunch of Hail Marys doesn’t cut it.

4. Read the Pope’s Mail

The Vatican Library
The Vatican’s secret archives haven’t been truly secret since Pope Leo XIII first allowed scholars to visit in 1881. Today, it’s even more accessible. Outsiders are free to examine the correspondences of every pope for the past 1,000 years, although there is one catch: Guests have to know exactly what they’re looking for. With 52 miles of shelves in the archives, the librarians prohibit browsing.

The most famous letter there is probably Henry VIII’s request that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon be annulled, which Pope Clement VII denied. Henry divorced Catherine anyway and married Anne Boleyn (and four other women), leading to Rome’s break with the Church of England. The archives also contain an abundance of red ribbons, which were used to bind 85 petitions from English clergyman and aristocrats.

5. The Pope Likes to Text Message
Pope Benedict XVI routinely sends text messages of his homilies to mobile subscribers around the world, and in 2009, the Vatican opened up an official YouTube channel to show various Papal addresses and ceremonies. The Vatican even released an iPhone application that contains multilingual versions of the Breviary prayer book and the prayers of daily mass. But the Pope’s enthusiasm for technology isn’t limited to cell phones and the Internet. The Vatican has also added solar panels to the roof of the Pope Paul VI auditorium as part of its commitment to fight climate change.

6. They Have the Finest Swiss Bodyguards

Nowadays, the Swiss have a reputation for pacifism, but back in the 1500s, they were considered an unstoppable military force. Swiss armies were renowned for the their mastery of a weapon called the halberd, a deadly combination of a spear and an axe, and their ground troops were famous for routinely demolishing legions of enemies on horseback. After Pope Julius II witnessed their ferocity in battle 500 years ago, he recruited a few soldiers to become his personal bodyguards. Ever since, Swiss Guards have pledged fidelity to the Pope, sometimes dying for the cause. During the sacking of Rome in 1527, for instance, three quarters of them were killed while providing cover for Pope Clement VII to escape.

Today, the hundred or so members of the Swiss Guard spend most of their time bedecked in Renaissance garb, twirling their halberds in ceremonies or manning checkpoints around the Vatican. When the Guards are actually protecting the Pope, they wear plain clothes and carry distinctly modern weapons.

7. The Mafia Dipped into the Collection Plate

In The Godfather: Part III, a shady deal between the mafia and the Vatican leads to the murder of the Pope. Was this based on a true story? Possibly. On the morning of September 29, 1978, Pope John Paul I was found dead, sitting up in his bed, after only 33 days in office. Although Vatican officials claimed the 65-year-old pope died of a heart attack, there was never an autopsy, and at the time, the Vatican definitely had ties to organized crime. Sure enough, in 1982, Vatican Bank president Father Paul Marcinkus resigned from his post after a series of scandals exposed the bank’s ties to the mafia. Eventually, the bank had to repay more than $200 million to its creditors. But Marcinkus was never indicted of a crime. And though he was suspected of being involved in several mysterious deaths, including Pope John Paul I’s, Marcinkus successfully claimed diplomatic immunity in the United States and retired to Arizona in 1990.

8. There’s No Vice-Pope
Once a cardinal becomes the Pope, he’s the designated leader of the Catholic Church and God’s representative on Earth for the rest of his life. As with Supreme Court justices, he can resign before his death, but that’s unlikely. (It’s been more than 500 years since the last papal resignation.) Further, as modern medicine improves, even seriously ill people tend to stick around longer, meaning that a Pope could be alive but unable to perform his duties for years, as was the case with John Paul II. What happens then? Well, no one is really sure. A cardinal can take over the Pope’s responsibilities as the Vatican’s head of state, but no one else is allowed to carry out his ceremonial duties. In the end, many masses and benedictions simply go unperformed until the Pope either passes away or recovers.

9. Faith-Based Economics

The Vatican needs several hundred million dollars per year to operate. Its many financial responsibilities include running international embassies, paying for the Pope’s travels around the world, maintaining ancient cathedrals, and donating considerable resources to schools, churches, and health care centers. So where does that money come from? Catholics pay tithes to their local parishes and donate about $100 million every year to the Vatican itself. But collection plates aren’t the Vatican’s only source of money. The city-state also gets cash from books, museums, stamps, and souvenir shops. (Get your limited-edition Vatican euros here!)

But that’s not always enough. By the end of 2007, the city-state was $13.5 million in the hole. Part of the problem was the weakened American dollar, which translated into less purchasing power. Another contributing factor was the lackluster performance of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. To boost subscriptions, the Pope has asked the editor to spice up the layout with more photos and allowed him to cover world news stories in addition to the traditional religious fare.

10. Even the ATMs Are in Latin

The Vatican Bank is the only bank in the world that allows ATM users to select Latin to perform transactions. That’s just one symbol of the Holy See’s continued devotion to the language. Pope Benedict XVI has been particularly passionate about reviving the language and purportedly holds many informal conversations in Latin. (Pope John Paul II generally spoke Polish.)

The Vatican’s Latin Foundation tries to keep the language relevant by translating modern phrases into the ancient tongue. In 2003, they released an updated dictionary that included the terms “rush hour” (tempus maximae frequentiae) and “dishwasher” (escariorum lavatory). Interestingly, the translations can have serious consequences. A recent U.S. lawsuit was brought against the Vatican for conspiring to protect a child-molesting priest, and it was held up for months as the Church’s experts rejected the prosecuting team’s Latin translations of terms such as “conspiracy to commit fraud.”



Stunning Street Blanketed in Trees

In Porto Alegre, Brazil, there is a beautiful street called Rua Goncalo de Carvalho that is completely blanketed in trees. Over a span of 500 meters (0.3 miles), the sidewalks are lined with more than one hundred Rosewood trees. The trees were actually planted in the 1930s by German officials who worked in a brewery in the neighbourhood.

Photograph by Jefferson Bernardes

Since then they have grown to towering heights, covering the entire street in a sea of green. It’s a lovely departure from the concrete jungle that envelops the rest of the city. Plans by various business to remove some of the trees for development have been thwarted by the active community and in 2006, the road was officially declared a Heritage Environment in Latin America, the first time such an honour has been bestowed on an urban street.

Photograph by Lucas Pedruzzi

Photograph by Jefferson Bernardes

Photograph by Jefferson Bernardes

Photograph by Amigos da Rua Goncalo de Carvalho

Photograph by Jefferson Bernardes

Photograph by Jefferson Bernardes



Sunami Cloud Hits Florida Coast

Helicopter pilot J.R. Hott captured these breathtaking images showing low-lying clouds swooping over the high-rise buildings lining the beaches of Panama City in Florida. At a glance, it appears as though a tsunami is poised to crash over the city.

Meteorologist Dan Satterfield explains the phenomenon:

Cool air offshore was very nearly at the saturation point, with a temperature near 20ºC and a dew point of about 19.5ºC. The air at this temperature can only hold a certain amount of water vapour, and how much it can hold depends heavily on the temperature. If you add more water into the air, a cloud will form, but you can also get a cloud to form by cooling the air. Drop the temperature, and it can no long hold as much water vapour, so some of it will condense out and a cloud will form.

In this case, the air was cooled by lifting it about 50 meters over the top of the condos. A parcel of unsaturated air will cool when lifted at a rate of 1ºC per 100 meters. In this case, it probably cooled about 0.5 degrees C, but that was all it took! On the back side of the condos, the air slowly sinks back down and warms at the same rate. As it warms the air can hold more water vapour and the cloud evaporates and disappears!

J.R. Hott, the owner of Panhandle Helicopters, says that he sees this effect a few times a year. This one was one of the best, because many times it fogs in before he can get his chopper in the air to grab a snap.



Top 10 Versions of Hell

Today, even people of the same religion often have different beliefs about Hell. Does it exist? Is it a literal place of punishment, or just a symbol of spiritual suffering? But those questions are really just the beginning. Throughout history, people have imagined vastly different scenarios for those who didn’t do things quite right during life. Here are just a few:

10. The House of Lies

In the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, souls after death first cross a bridge and meet a young woman who represents the personification of their actions in life. If the dead person has led a good life, she looks beautiful, while to the sinner she is hideous. It doesn’t get better for them, either: sinners are then thrown into the House of Lies, in which the damned continuously eat ‘foul food.’ This includes corpses, rotten food and several rather unpalatable bodily fluids. It’s also dark, smelly, and no matter how crowded it is, its inhabitants think they’re all alone.

9. Irkalla

To reach this underworld from Babylonian mythology, the dead first pass through seven gates, bribing the gatekeeper at each one with a piece of their clothing or jewelry. Why exactly they’re so eager to get there is a bit of a puzzle, since the inside is a dark, gloomy expanse where everyone is forced to eat and drink only dust, and there’s not much else to do. Also, everyone there wears feathers for some reason.

The most depressing thing about this Babylonian hell, though, was that it wasn’t actually punishment for major wrongdoing – with the exception of a few heroes, everyone went there.

8. Helheim

This was the final destination for Vikings who had the misfortune not to die a glorious death. Unlike most modern versions of Hell, Helheim was very cold. The entrance was guarded by a four-eyed, blood-soaked hound called Garmr, and by some accounts the whole place was watched over by a giant eagle called ‘corpse-eater’ whose wings created the icy wind.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Vikings whose deeds were especially bad went to an area under Helheim called Niflhel, which was even darker and colder.

7. Avici, or the Hell of No Interval

If you’re a follower of Pure Land Buddhism, this is the worst type of hell you can end up in. It’s so bad that you can only get there by committing one of the five ‘grave sins’: basically, you must kill an extremely holy person, a Buddha, or your own parents. Although Avici is technically not eternal, it does last trillions of years, which must seem like even longer when you’re facing its unending punishments. It’s surrounded by iron walls, and also features iron snakes, and iron dogs that breathe fire. Inhabitants of this hell can actually die there, but are reborn into the same hell, which must be a bit of a disappointment.

6. Narak

According to the Hindu scriptures, this hell is divided into at least twenty-five realms according to the sinful deeds that brought people there. To get an idea of what goes on in each of these places, one of these hellish realms is called ‘Diarrhea,’ and another is called ‘Forest of Sword Blades’. In some versions of Hindu hell, sufferers are actually somehow compelled to perform their own punishments, such as climbing up and down spiny trees that tear them to pieces.

5. Kasyrgan

In Mongolian shamanism, departed souls are judged before Erkil Khan, the prince of the underworld. If their bad deeds are more numerous than their good ones, they’re sent to a hell known as Kasyrgan, where they are boiled in black tar inside a giant cauldron. The worst sinners are stuck there forever, but a person who had done at least some good in life might gradually rise towards the surface of the tar, until the crown of his head reaches the surface. People in heaven who benefited from his good deeds in life can then send a special spirit to grasp the sinner by the hair, and pull him up towards paradise.

4. Black Thread Hell

In Tibetan Buddhism, ‘Black Thread Hell’ is reserved for slanderers, liars and people who mistreat their parents. Sinners are marked with black lines, and then cut up along these lines with burning saws. But if you sinned in a different way, don’t worry! The book this hell is featured in describes a total of sixteen hells, eight ‘cold’ and eight ‘hot.’ The other versions have similarly descriptive names, like ‘Crushing Hell’ (punishment for cruelty to animals) and ‘Loud Screaming Hell’ (the penalty for theft.)

3. Swedenborg’s Hell

Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher born in 1688, had a series of visions from the age of 53 in which he ‘visited’ Heaven and Hell. His vision of the Christian hell was unique: according to Swedenborg, it looks like a filthy, rundown city. The damned can leave at anytime, but do not want to. Their suffering is based not on external punishment, but on the fact that they’re full of cruel desires. Churches based on Swedenborg’s vision and philosophy exist to this day.

2. Mictlan

After death, Aztecs en route to this underworld went on an epic four-year journey, facing deadly mountains that tried to crush them, demons, and icy winds that cut them like knives. Again, it’s hard to tell why they tried so hard, because the place they eventually reached was a gloomy realm ruled by the god Mictlantecuhtli, a blood-splattered skeleton who wore a necklace of human eyeballs. His cheery home was surrounded by bats, spiders and owls.

Worse, Mictlan was a bit like Helheim and Irkalla, in that you didn’t even have to be evil to go here. Warriors and women who died in childbirth went to an Aztec version of paradise, as did those who died by drowning or hanging. In other words, if you were an Aztec concerned about your afterlife, it probably wasn’t wise to learn how to swim.

1. Tartarus

According to the ancient Greeks, Tartarus was as far below the ‘normal’ Greek underworld, Hades, as heaven was from Earth. In Tartarus, people who had committed especially awful sins were given suitable punishment. A famous example is Tantalus, who when he was alive killed his own son and served him to the gods, among other crimes. As punishment, he was forced to sit next to appetizing food and water that he was unable to eat or drink.

This hell was not eternal for everyone: by one account, people whose sins were bad but not that bad were punished for a year, and then washed out of Tartarus in one of the great rivers that ran through it. They’d end up in the Akheronian Lake, whose shores reached other, less hellish parts of the underworld, and from its waters beg the people they had harmed in their lives to allow them to leave. If their victims agreed, the sinners joined them on the shore; otherwise they were swept back in to Tartarus, and the situation repeated until their victims finally relented and let them out. Kind of like a parole hearing.



Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs in 2011

2011 was an exciting time for the medical industry, with thousands of scientific breakthroughs bringing hope to patients and health experts across the world. Here, we give you our top 10 weird and wonderful medical developments of 2011:

10. Squalamine

Virus killer found in sharks

In September it was reported that a new compound found in dogfish sharks’ tissue could soon be trialled as a treatment for viruses in humans. Diseases like dengue, yellow fever and hepatitis B, C and D could be stopped in their tracks by the revolutionary treatment ( On a side note: hugging sharks has dangerous side effects

9. Curcumin

Spice with cancer reducing properties

November saw curcumin, a spice commonly found in Middle Eastern recipes, being hailed for its cancer-reducing effects. UNM researchers found that a synthetic version of curcumin, the substance which gives turmeric its hallmark yellow coloring, inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells.

8. Bionic Lens

Projecting medical information in front of your eyes

A new generation of contact lenses is being developed by researchers at Washington University, which could one day project up-to-date medical information in front of the wearer’s eyes. The scientists envisage hundreds more pixels could be embedded in the flexible lens to produce complex holographic images.

7. Cancer Drug Cures CFS

Chronic Fatique Syndrome (CFS) cured by cancer drug

October saw hope for over 1 million people in the U.S., 250,000 people in the UK, and other people all over the world who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome. A small Norwegian clinical trial discovered that cancer drug Rituximab relieves the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, and can even eradicate the condition completely.

6. IBS Smart Pill

Smart pill for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Also in October, doctors at the Princess Grace Hospital in London became the first to use a new ‘smart pill’ to help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The new SmartPill GI Monitoring System is a small capsule, which delivers accurate and detailed information about the gut. After swallowing the capsule it travels through the system, and analyses pressure, temperature, acidity, and the rate at which food moves along the colon.

5. Cancer Gene Test

Scientists in the US have found a way to screen cancer patients for a wide range of cancer-causing genetic mutations. This method could soon be used in routine clinical practise, leading to the development of targeted cancer treatments. The clinical test called SNaPshot can test for over 50 well-known mutation sites in 14 key cancer genes.

4. Alzheimer’s Brain Scan

Brain scanning for Alzheimer’s disease

In November a revolutionary brain-scanning technique for Alzheimer’s disease entered the final stages of a clinical trial, leading to hopes that patients could have access to it by the end of 2012. The test makes an earlier diagnosis possible for the first time, increasing the quality and even the length of a patient’s life.

3. Yervoy

Revolutionary skin cancer drug

A drug which increases the chance of surviving the deadliest type of skin cancer was licensed for use in Britain last summer. The new drug is the first advance in treating the disease since the 1970’s.

2. Glowing Brain Tumors

Last year, an experimental technique to make brain tumors glow began testing in UK trials, and could soon be used to aid surgeons across the country.

Participants will receive a treatment called 5-amino-levulinic acid, which makes the tumor glow under UV light during surgery. The glowing edges will enable surgeons to remove it more accurately. A drug soaked wafer will then be placed in the remaining cavity, slowly releasing chemotherapy drugs over 4 to 6 weeks and killing any remaining cancer cells

1. Cancer Vaccine

Cancer vaccine on the market by 2020

A vaccine that could prevent 70 per cent of lethal cancers was developed by scientists in 2011, with hope that it could be on the market by 2020. In tests on mice the vaccine shrunk breast tumors by 80 per cent, and researchers now hope to pilot it on people within 2 years



10 Bizarre Road Signs

If you drive the same route each day, you probably know and expect to see certain things. Certain buildings, certain houses, and certain road signs, you are used to seeing them and passing them each day. We all know the usual yield and stop signs, but in the U.S. and around the world, there are some unusual ones that are sure to make you wonder. Here are the top ten uncommon road signs.

10. Stay away from these hitchhikers!

Common sense would tell someone not to pick up a hitchhiker in any environment, unless of course, you need some pocket change. I guess common sense really isn’t that common! “Beware of Dangerous Hitchhikers.”

9. Moose crossing

Could you imagine waiting for a moose to cross? They aren’t fast animals. As for me, I’d bypass the sign. Patience has never been on my side. The sign should read something like “Moose Crossing. Please Turn off Your Car and Wait.”

8. Thank God they warned us.

Elderly people have been a menace for years and I’m glad we are finally being warned about their slow road crossing ways

7. Caution, massive amount of armor crossing the road.

Imagine that. You’re out for a nice drive. And suddenly…a tank, crossing the road. Are there really that many tanks going back and forth across this road? And if there are, who isn’t able to see a slow moving, big hunk of metal?

6. If it looks like a duck…

I’m not sure what this sign maker’s definition of a duck is, but it sure is different from mine.

5. Tree limbs are out to get you.

Again, another common sense sign. I guess some trees are just blessed and don’t have to worry about their limbs falling off. As for the trees nearby the sign, you’re doomed, for your branches will be plucked! Besides, who really parks, gets out of their car, and stands under a tree, especially when parts of it are falling?

4. Bark, woof…what?

This sign has to have been made for the fun of it. Even if it was, who really spends money putting up a sign that is supposed to speak out to dogs? Hello, newsflash, dogs don’t understand English!

3. Sorry, you can’t have fun in Santa Cruz

If this sign doesn’t take it to the max, I’m not sure what does. It’s a shame you can’t launch your boat into the ocean while smoking a cigar, putting your dog on board, and drinking a cold beer. Sounds like a great day to me. But, thanks to the sign, it won’t happen.

2. James Bond cars only allowed.

Of course, everyone has a car with a built in parachute for those times you go flying over a precipitous bluff. Thanks for the warning, I’ll have my hand ready on the rip cord.

1. Carry explosives in your car, you’re breaking the law!

This one boggled me at first, then I realized the car is blowing up. After doing some research, this sign basically means, cars carrying explosives are prohibited. I didn’t know there was a place where carrying around deadly devices was smiled upon!



Band of Holes, Peru

These strange holes, stretching for a mile over uneven mountain terrain, were here for so long that the local people have no idea who made them, or why. Funny thing is no one really saw the big picture until the area was seen from the air.

Thousands of man-sized holes are carved into the barren rock near Pisco Valley, Peru on a plain called Cajamarquilla.

Satellite photo of the Pisco Valley with marked location of
the "Band of Holes" .

Archeologists have speculated they were dug to store grain in. Two problems with this, say the folks thinking out of the box: there were a lot easier ways to create storage containers than the hard work and decades it must have taken to chip out all of these, and it would have made more sense, if these were to store grain, to build several huge chambers.

Ok, said the archeologists. Perhaps they were used as one-person tombs? Vertical graves of some sort? But no bones, artifacts, scraps, inscriptions, jewelry...not even a tooth or strand of hair has been found in them. They have no covers to seal them as you might a tomb and no sacred history or even myth was passed down to label them as such.

Some sections have holes in rigid and perfect precision; some run in rows that curve up in arches, some staggered lines. They vary in depth to about 6-7 feet deep yet some are merely shallow indents as if not completed - though surrounded by those that are.

To date, no one has a clue why they're here, who made them or what they were.

Satellite photo of the "Band of Holes" near Pisco Valley.
Note: The location of the band of holes is highlighted brown.

Even von Daniken's work begins to take on a realness when one finds an old National Geographic from 1933 corroborating the "Band of Holes," that he personally inspected a few years ago. Each hole is a meter wide and just as deep. There are eight holes spanning 24 meters in width, marching in repetitive uniform fashion, from the Pisco Valley rolling over a mile through mountain terrain -- finally disappearing in the misty mass of Peru. These holes remind this old West Texas boy of the traces left by a massive drilling rig moving along methodically, testing the geology of the Andes for precious metals. Lasers have also left such tracings in the ground. Archaeologists say they represented defensive positions or graves for the ancient ones, except why would you bury anyone on a slope in rocky soil at more than a 45-degree angle?

If you look at the most northern part of the band, you will notice that it ends within unnaturally darkened area (it almost looks like a remnants of an explosion)... see the photo below:

Strangely dark area where the "band of holes" ends.

Few miles east from the band, satellite photo shows structures that look like a remnants of an ancient settlement (these formations do not look natural and there is nothing similar in the entire area): 13 42'36.80" S, 75 51'4.07" W

Remnants of an ancient city?

For the reference here is satellite photo of Machu Picchu:

Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru