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Victims' rights group names 'dirty dozen' papal candidates

The Vatican's ongoing sexual abuse scandal and the Catholic Church's often stumbling response is expected to play a major role in the coming papal conclave, and today the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) fired a major shot at the cardinals gathered in the Vatican. The group, which has played a major role in exposing abuse and advocating on behalf victims, released a list of 12 papal candidates that it is calling the "dirty dozen" for their alleged roles in sex crimes and cover-ups.

The 12 prelates have all been identified as serious candidates to succeed Pope Benedict XVI and include several of the frontrunners: Angelo Scola, Marc Ouellet, Leonardo Sandri, Peter Turkson, and Timothy Dolan. While it is difficult to predict the dynamics of a papal election, being slapped with membership in the "dirty dozen" doesn't bode well for these cardinals at a time when the church is looking to clean up its image.

Several of the candidates on the list also represent important regional ambitions within the church. Dolan, for example, is the only viable American candidate. The selection of Sandri, an Argentinean, would cater to a growing Catholic population in Latin America. If selected, Turkson, who is from Ghana, would be the church's first black pope. His selection would also acknowledge the church's growing influence in Africa.

SNAP argues that the 12  prelates represent the "worst choices in terms of protecting kids, healing victims, and exposing corruption." Whether the list will have any lasting impact remains to be seen, but efforts by groups like SNAP are important in shaping public perception of the papal candidates and also affect internal jockeying in the lead-up to the conclave.

In the case of Scola, an Italian cardinal who has been called the "crown prince of Catholicism," SNAP argues that he failed to take the sex abuse scandal seriously when, in 2010, during the scandal's peak, he said that media attacks on Benedict were an "iniquitous humiliation." A conservative close to both Benedict and John Paul II, Scola currently serves as the archbishop of Milan, which in the past has served as a stepping stone to the papacy. But at 71, he's far from a model of youth and vigor.

Ouellet, a Canadian, lands on the list because while he issued apologies to many victims of abuse, he reportedly refused to meet with those victims. 

Sandri, the Argentinean, comes under criticism from SNAP for his ties to the disgraced Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, who was convicted of a range of sexual abuses. Sandri was asked in 2004 to read a letter from John Paul II in praise of Maciel and, as the National Catholic Reporter puts it, "few cardinals will probably be excited about the prospect of TV packages on the new pope featuring video of him extolling an abuser priest (though admittedly, the words were not his own)."

Turkson, the Ghanaian, finds himself under fire from SNAP for comments he made about the possibility of the church's sex scandal spreading to Africa, which he deemed unlikely since gays are not tolerated in Africa. "African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency,” he said in an interview with Christiane Amanpour. "Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society."

Lastly, SNAP objects to Dolan's candidacy on the grounds that he allegedly paid abusive priests to leave the church in silence, in addition to claims that he kept silent in the case of a teacher at a Catholic school in possession of child pornography.

If these are the top candidates to succeed Benedict, it makes you wonder: Will the church ever find someone clean enough to take over?

VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

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The CIA didn't give Chávez cancer, but crazier things have happened

There is absolutely zero evidence to suggest the United States had a hand in the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, but that hasn't put a stop to a cascade of conspiracy theories about U.S. agents somehow infecting the charismatic leader with cancer.

The best evidence the CIA wasn't involved? Logic. "It's just not effective," Kel McClanahan, a D.C.-based national security lawyer who has studied CIA habits for years, told Foreign Policy. "While some cancers can be intentionally induced, they take years to kill you. If an intelligence agency wants you dead, it wants you dead now so that you'll stop doing whatever it is that you're doing that makes them need to kill you." Still, keeping all that in mind, it's fair to say one thing about these CIA conspiracy theories: Crazier assassination attempts have been plotted. Over the years, the CIA has hatched some pretty creative ways of killing off foreign leaders. Below is a brief list:

The ridiculous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro In 2007, the CIA released hundreds of documents detailing a range of Cold War-era intelligence abuses. Particularly revealing were the various methods drummed up to take out Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including a poisonous wetsuit, a ballpoint hypodermic syringe, an exploding cigar, and a handkerchief loaded with lethal bacteria. Here's one operation highlighted by Greg Miller, then of the Los Angeles Times.

[It] was a plot to enlist known organized-crime figures to assassinate Castro in the early 1960s. According to a five-page memo, a private investigator contracted by the CIA worked directly with Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana to come up with the assassination plan. In an almost comical aside, the CIA realized it was dealing with Giancana after seeing his photo in a most-wanted listing in Parade magazine.

The plot to poison Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba A few years ago, the Washington Post's Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus uncovered a particularly interesting CIA memo:

A one-paragraph memo recounts planning for a "project involving the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, then premier of the Republic of Congo. According to [name deleted], poison was to have been the vehicle . . ." A Belgian commission later attributed Lumumba's 1961 death to local rivals who had imprisoned him.

For more on the CIA's involvement with Lumumba, read the Guardian's unpacking of the incident from 2011.

The death of Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo

Minutes obtained by the National Security Archive, an organization within George Washington University, reveal some rather morbid remarks made during a meeting with former CIA chief William Colby and pertaining to the death of Trujillo in 1961.

The minutes state that the CIA "plotted the assassination of some foreign leaders including ... [Rafael] Trujillo [Dominican Republic]." They go on: "With respect to Trujillo's assassination on May 30 1961, the CIA had 'no active part' but had a 'faint connection' with the groups that in fact did it."

Elsewhere in the world of CIA assassination plots, some have alleged the agency had a role in the death of Chilean Gen. René Schneider in 1970, but there has yet to be conclusive proof. It's worth noting that most of these allegations surfaced as a result of the 1975 Church Committee investigation into intelligence abuses. That investigation precipated a ban on CIA assassinations of foreign leaders, which means targeting Chavez would be a major no-no. Still, even if the assassination ban didn't exist today, cancer really isn't the CIA's style.