1. Have the Culture Wars Killed Christian Unity?, Pope Francis will address the World Council of Churches this week amid diminished expectations for ecumenism, By Francis X. Rocca, Columnist, The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2018, 8:00 AM, Opinion

No modern pontiff has more zealously pursued unity with non-Catholic Christians than the man who currently holds the office.

Pope Francis made an ecumenical breakthrough in 2016 by holding the first meeting in history between a pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch. He has apologized to Italian Pentecostals for their mistreatment by Catholics under the fascist regime. And last year, the Vatican even issued a commemorative postage stamp honoring Martin Luther, father of the Protestant Reformation.

On Thursday, Pope Francis will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, to address the World Council of Churches, which includes representatives of 350 Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches, marking the organization’s 70th anniversary.

The pope’s efforts reflect his avowed agenda of building bridges, not only with other religious communities but with those who have felt marginalized in society, including refugees and the poor, and in the church, such as gay people and divorced Catholics in second marriages.

Yet Thursday’s WCC event will unfold against a background of diminished expectations. Ecumenical enthusiasm, which peaked in the 1960s, has succumbed to realism about the theological barriers separating Christian denominations. At the same time, the culture wars and the growth of newer Christian churches have made the ecumenical movement’s oft-stated goal of “full, visible unity” an even more distant prospect.

The papacy’s traditional claim to leadership of all Christians is also a major point of contention, which explains why the Catholic Church has so far declined to become a formal member of the WCC, where it would have merely one vote alongside those of 350 others.

Adding to these theological obstacles, the last half-century has witnessed sociological and cultural trends unfavorable to the ecumenical movement.


2. Young to Vatican: Let’s talk about gay and gender issues, By Associated Press, June 19, 2018, 8:10 AM

Young people have told the Vatican in a survey that they want the church to concretely discuss gay and gender issues.

The Vatican had solicited input from the young regardless of their religious views to help prepare for a gathering of bishops in Rome in October. The monthlong gathering will be held to better understand how to pastorally care for Catholic youths among its worldwide flock.

The Holy See on Tuesday presented the survey’s findings, which included eroded credibility in the eyes of young people toward the church because of sex abuse scandals involving pedophile priests, cover-ups by hierarchy and financial scandals.


3. Church suspends talks to ease Nicaragua political crisis, By Associated Press, June 18, 2018, 8:52 PM

Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic hierarchy has suspended a dialogue with the government aimed at ending a two-month political crisis.

The Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua says the government has not met an agreed requirement to formally invite the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union to observe the situation.

It says government representatives said they had not been able to ready the invitations.


4. Nearly 500 British priests sign statement in support of ‘Humanae Vitae’, By Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service, June 19, 2018

Nearly 500 British priests have signed a statement in support of the papal encyclical that forbade married couples from using contraception.

They said the prophetic warnings contained within Humane Vitae (Of Human Life), published by Blessed Pope Paul VI July 25 1968, have proved to be accurate.

“We propose discovering anew the message of Humanae Vitae, not only in fidelity to the Gospel, but as a key to the healing and true development of our society,” they said in the statement sent to the London-based Catholic Herald magazine June 14, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the encyclical’s publication.

The statement said Humanae Vitae represented a “re-affirmation of central aspects of the church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality,” including that the conjugal act was “always open to procreation and always unitive.”

The 462 signatories represent about one in 13 of all of the priests in England, Wales and Scotland.


5. Bishops’ youth summit to deal with sex, war, porn, LGBT issues and more, By Inés San Martín, Crux, June 19, 2018

Sexuality, death, corruption, drug-trafficking, porn, video-games, migration, war, friendship and disabilities are only some of the issues that bishops from all over the world are planning to discuss in a summit in Rome this October, which will focus on youth, their faith and vocation.

“Young people feel a lack of harmony with the Church,” says the document released on Tuesday, ahead of the Synod of Bishops on youth. “It seems that we don’t understand the vocabulary, and therefore also the needs, of the young.”

The instrumentum laboris, or working document, presented in Rome on Tuesday is the result of several previous steps, including an online questionnaire answered by thousands of young people from around the world, as well as a gathering of the youth that took place in Rome earlier this year. The document will serve as the basis for the discussions the bishops will have in October.

The document was released with a press conference in Rome, led by Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod.

The text is meant to serve as an overview of the reality of youth today, addressing various situations, from migration and its impact on young people to the impact of fake news and LGBT issues.


6. Federal judge again blocks Arkansas medication abortion law, By Kelly P. Kissel, Associated Press, June 18, 2018, 7:52 PM

A federal judge on Monday again blocked Arkansas from enforcing a law that critics say makes the state the first in the nation to effectively ban abortion pills.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a 14-day temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from enforcing the restriction on how abortion pills are administered. The law says doctors who provide the pills must hold a contract with a physician with admitting privileges at a hospital who agrees to handle any complications.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected Planned Parenthood’s appeal to reinstate Baker’s earlier order blocking the law.

Even with justices saying as recently as three weeks ago that Arkansas could enforce the law, Baker said Monday that circumstances have changed since her initial ruling.

“The last time this Court examined the facts of this dispute was on March 14, 2016, over two years ago,” Baker wrote. She said that, with a request for a temporary restraining order, she had to weigh the circumstances at the time the request was made.

The Arkansas attorney general’s office said the ruling is inconsistent with an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that blocked Baker’s initial order.


7. Why Be (or Continue to Be) Catholic?, By Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years, Crisis Magazine, June 19, 2018

On a recent book review TV interview program called Q/A, Ross Douthat, author of To Change the Church, was asked about his own beliefs. He responded quite frankly that he was a Catholic. When asked why, Douthat replied that, as far as he could see, a divine intervention did take place in this world around the time and appearance of Christ. He added that the essence of this intervention has been best preserved down the subsequent ages by the Catholic Church. This sensible view is one that many Catholics would also accept as valid for them. Indeed, probably the best way to see this view of the divine intervention spelled out step by step is in Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth. After reviewing most of the scholarly literature on this topic, Benedict concluded that the evidence seems to show that Christ was “who He said He was.”

But few are much concerned with the intellectual facts of the matter. Something else is going on. Not many really seem to worry about the truth of these issues, though that is where the real drama lies. Freely to assent to truth is the heart of what it means to be civilized. In a way, however, our culture is beyond truth. We make up our own universe. The Supreme Court tells us it is our “right.” Such a development, wherein we impose our ideas on reality rather than let reality instruct us about what it is, usually means to opt for one or other current fantasy or ideology that is custom-designed to explain away things that we choose not to accept, no matter what evidence can be given for them.

In the past several years, I have perceived a noticeable loss of intellectual acumen that the Church gained with John Paul II and Benedict. Many are upset by this lack of depth, especially more recent converts who came into the Church with the help of the vigorous thinking we still see in these two popes. But the main reason for the decline of Church membership is the desire to be like others in modern society. Many want Catholic teaching to be viewed and interpreted through a modern lens.

In the light of these comments, in spite of scandals and confusions in Rome, we still need to ask: “Why should we continue to be Catholic?” Much of the controversy that swirls around the Holy Father has, at its origin, the feeling that certain basic—once-thought non-negotiable—principles and practices have been denied or at least implicitly allowed to pass away. Under the aegis of finely tuned “mercy” and “discernment,” a method has been developed that would justify this accommodation of the Church to that modernity and its principles that everyone seems eager to embrace.

Recent remarks and decisions, often coming from Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the current Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, however, have been more careful. We have seen a firm statement that women cannot be priests. The German formula for the interfaith communion at a wedding is set aside. A renewed interest in the centrality of doctrine appears in CDF documents. These are welcome signs. The dubia are still not answered. Good Catholics are still seen as rigid. The papacy often appears to act in the public eye like a political party of the left. Christianity is seen as a force to lead sundry crusades over ecology, poverty, or immigration. Such initiatives are difficult to square with good economics, science, and politics.

Not a few have also pointed out that an indirect papal input in the various pro-abortion and gay marriage votes in Ireland and Portugal occurred when Catholics were advised to deal with more “important” things. Their enemies, to give them credit, do not think these issues are among the lesser important things. Many wonder whether the Church does not now see itself as simply a this-worldly socio-political movement instrumental primarily in curing our temporal ills. The irony is that the methods recommended in these areas have almost invariably, when tried, made things worse. We do find considerable talk of sanctity and holiness but again this is often of an activist kind. The contemplative life, the life that is needed to keep our souls in touch with the transcendent, seems to be minimized.

To many, both inside and outside the Church, there seems to be much ecclesiastical confusion. Upsetting new interpretations constantly appear. Previously, many considered the Church wrong, but no one thought it did not hold or articulate what it affirmed on basic points of practice and doctrine. The primary argument that the Church teaches the same things over time does not seem valid for many any longer. The same things do not seem to be taught and affirmed in its many dioceses, schools, seminaries, and institutions. Various attempts have been made to explain how the Church can be both loyal to its tradition and, without contradiction, accept the basic premises of modernity.

What is new is the worry that radical changes have been made in an official way that would cause us to doubt the integrity of the original revelation. At least some of us can still affirm with Douthat that a divine intervention did take place in Christ and that it is best preserved in the Catholic Church. The same intervention also gives us the criterion for judging when it is itself not credible—namely when the Church as guardian of revelation clearly changes its own truths and does not uphold them before the nations down the ages. This is why contemporary writers like Douthat carefully watch for changes that take place in Roman.