1. Pope Says Fighting Poverty Is as Essential as Opposing Abortion: New document reflects Pope Francis’ effort to reduce Catholic Church’s focus on medical ethics. 

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2018, Pg. A16

Pope Francis criticized Christians who emphasize opposition to abortion above social causes such as poverty and migration, in his latest effort to readjust the priorities of Catholic moral teaching from what he has characterized as an overemphasis on sexual and medical ethics.

“Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” the pope wrote in a document released by the Vatican on Monday. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born,” including the neglected elderly and victims of human trafficking.

The pope’s words appeared in “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), a reflection on “holiness in today’s world” that includes advice on resisting the “verbal violence” of social media and achieving spiritual concentration amid a “culture of zapping.”

The document is known technically as an apostolic exhortation, one of the more authoritative forms of papal writing below the level of an encyclical. Pope Francis didn’t invoke papal infallibility in the document but Catholics are generally expected to regard papal teaching at this level with reverence and “submission of mind and will.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for reducing the emphasis on certain moral issues and increasing attention to social and economic justice.

That approach stands in contrast to that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who specified opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage among a handful of “nonnegotiable” values for the church.

In terms of ethical priorities, Pope Francis wrote in the document released Monday that an exclusive focus on abortion reflects a “harmful ideological error” of those who play down the importance of social action or denigrate it as “superficial, worldly, materialist, communist or populist.”


2. Cuomo Loots A Catholic Charity: Fidelis planned to devote billions to health care for the needy. New York’s governor had other ideas. 

By Bill Hammond, Mr. Hammond is director of health policy at the Empire Center, The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2018, Pg. A15, Opinion

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a disturbing new way to raise revenue: using government muscle to squeeze private organizations into “voluntarily” writing billion-dollar checks. That’s what he did to Fidelis Care, a nonprofit health plan affiliated with the Catholic Church, and its would-be buyer, Centene Corp.

In a murky deal announced on Good Friday, Fidelis and Centene agreed to pay the state $2 billion over four years. The payments are not technically required by law. But Fidelis and Centene agreed to them after a three-month pressure campaign by Mr. Cuomo, including overt and implied threats to seize the funds, block the sale or both.

A final disturbing twist is where the state’s $2 billion is destined to go: into a “health care transformation fund,” into which the governor’s budget director can dip without even notifying the Legislature (or the public) for 15 days. So Mr. Cuomo is diverting money otherwise meant for charity to furnish himself with $1.35 billion to spend as he wishes in an election year. What innocent but deep-pocketed organization will be next?


3. Pope Francis Puts Caring for Migrants and Opposing Abortion on Equal Footing. 

By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times, April 10, 2018, Pg. A10

Caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion, Pope Francis declared in a major document issued by the Vatican on Mondaymorning.

Pushing back against conservative critics within the church who argue that the 81-year-old pope’s focus on social issues has led him to lose sight of the true doctrine, Pope Francis again cast himself, and the mission of the Roman Catholic Church, in a more progressive light.

“The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist,” Pope Francis wrote in an apostolic exhortation on the subject of holiness issued Monday morning. “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.”

The pope’s vision of holiness explicitly highlights migrants, whose plight he has sought to elevate to global attention perhaps more than any other issue.

“We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue,” he said.“Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.”

“That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” he continued, adding that welcoming the stranger at the door was fundamental to the faith. “This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad.”

The pope’s 103-page document — an apostolic exhortation titled “Gaudete et Exsultate,” or “Rejoice and Be Glad” — is less authoritative than a papal encyclical, but is nevertheless an important teaching pronouncement. At its outset, Francis makes clear that it is not meant “to be a treatise on holiness” but to “re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.”


4. Pope urges church unity, blames divisions on work of devil. 

By Associated Press, April 10, 2018, 8:21 AM

Pope Francis called Tuesday for unity in the Catholic Church and blamed its divisions on the devil.

It was the second time in as many days that Francis has warned about the destructive work of the devil after making headlines recently by seeming to deny the existence of hell.

In his homily, Francis said the church and the world need mercy today “so that the unity desired by God in Christ prevails over the negative action of the devil, who takes advantage of all means which can divide rather than unite if used badly.”


5. Mixed reaction from U.S. pro-lifers to pope’s latest challenge. 

By Christopher White, Crux, April 10, 2018

While Pope Francis’s new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, is broadly focused on holiness in everyday life, that won’t prevent various constituencies from reading the document through their own specific lens. One group that may feel especially challenged is the pro-life movement, since the pontiff makes a point of saying that the lives of the poor and of immigrants are as “equally sacred” as unborn lives.

In the United States, early reaction among pro-life leaders has been divided, with some seeing the pope’s language as a healthy challenge to a perceived rift between “pro-life” and “peace and justice” Catholics, while others style it as a disappointment.

One of the nation’s largest pro-life advocacy groups, the Susan B. Anthony List, issued a statement Monday saying the exhortation “blurs lines and causes confusion,” insisting on a strong defense of “the primacy of the defense of unborn human life.” Yet according to Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, Francis’s teaching in the exhortation is “certainly nothing new.”

Charles Camosy, a professor of theological ethics at Fordham University and Crux contributor, said Francis was using the exhortation to call out individuals on both sides of the political spectrum, despite what is a very direct condemning of a single-issue engagement.

Maria McFadden Maffucci, editor of the Human Life Review and a long-time Catholic pro-life activist told Crux that pro-life organizations, like her own, have to be limited in their focus, but that in Gaudete et Exsultate, Francis is calling on people to recognize the common thread that links the issues of abortion, poverty, and migration: the dignity of all human life.

Kirsten Powers, CNN political analyst and cohost of the recently launched Faith Angle podcast, echoed similar sentiments.

“There’s nothing wrong with being focused on a single issue in your work,” she told Crux. “If you focus on migrants, it doesn’t mean you don’t care about the other priorities of the Church. …

She said the exhortation is a challenge to all Catholics “to stop and think, do I fully integrate Catholic teaching, or am I leaning to one side or the other because that’s what fits well with my ideology?”


6. Pope’s Vicar of Rome a prelate worth keeping an eye on. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, April 10, 2018

Big moments on the Vatican beat are revealing on multiple levels, and certainly the release of a major new papal document is such a moment. Often, it’s not just what the document says that has something to teach us, but also who helped the pope say it and present it to the world.

On that front, Monday was highly instructive indeed, in that it introduced 64-year-old Italian Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, the pope’s Vicar of Rome, as a rising star in the pope’s personal galaxy.

For a veteran observer of the Vatican scene, the first thing that seemed striking about the news conference held by the Vatican on Monday to present Gaudate et Exsultate, the pope’s new apostolic exhortation on holiness, was the absence of a single official from any Vatican office in the line-up of presenters.

The people charged with presenting Gaudate et Exsultate, in addition to De Donatis, were Paola Bignardi, head of the widespread lay movement Azione Cattolica, and Gianni Valente, a well-known Italian journalist and personal friend of Pope Francis.

In the past, it would have been unthinkable for a major papal teaching document to be released without someone from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, usually its cardinal-prefect, on hand to provide theological context. Generally, the head of the department that most helped the pope in shaping the document would be there too.

Instead of a Vatican heavyweight, there was De Donatis. When he was rather bluntly asked what he was doing there, De Donatis smiled and conceded that “it was a surprise” to him too when Francis called to ask him to deliver the presentation.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke largely brushed off the question about why De Donatis was present, saying, “He is the Vicar of His Holiness, after all.”

That said, it should have been clear by now that Pope Francis likes what he sees in De Donatis, whom he first met early in his papacy during a lunch with ten well-known Roman priests hosted by Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the “substitute,” or number two official, in the Secretariat of State.

An attentive reading of De Donatis’s writings show clear resonance with many of Francis’s key themes. In a 2016 essay on mercy, for instance, De Donatis wrote, “Certain triumphalistic visions of the Church and of God must give way to the courage [of a choice] in favor of weakness and humility.”

In May 2017, Francis once again showed his favor, naming De Donatis to succeed Cardinal Agostino Vallini as Vicar General of Rome.

Although it depends a bit on the occupant, the role of Vicar of Rome can be an important one indeed. When it was held by the legendary Cardinal Camillo Ruini in the St. Pope John Paul II years, the vicar was a key architect of papal strategy, and Ruini dominated the Italian ecclesiastical scene for a generation.

Some Italians today may be wondering if, in De Donatis, Pope Francis has found his Ruini – and, however apples-and-oranges that comparison may seem, the mere fact that question would occur to anyone is proof positive this is one prelate worth keeping an eye on.


7. Top officials at Backpage.com indicted after classifieds site taken offline. 

By Tom Jackman and Mark Berman, The Washington Post, April 10, 2018, Pg. A3

Seven top officials of the website Backpage.com, long accused of facilitating child sex trafficking, have been arrested after a grand jury in Phoenix issued a 93-count indictment alleging conspiracy, facilitating prostitution and money laundering.

The arrests come after the government seized all of Backpage’s websites around the world on Friday.

The indictment was unsealed Monday after all defendants made their first appearances before a magistrate in Phoenix. Among those charged are the site’s founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin. Carl Ferrer, the site’s current owner, was not charged. But the indictment claims the site continued to be financed by Lacey, Larkin and two other co-owners who retained operational control of Backpage.

The indictment accuses Backpage of facilitating prostitution committed by those posting ads on the site, specifically citing 17 victims trafficked on Backpage, some as young as 14. Authorities also allege the company laundered some of the estimated $500 million in prostitution-related revenue the site had generated since its launch in 2004.

Backpage had evaded prosecution, in large part by invoking the Communications Decency Act. Enacted in 1996, the law provides legal immunity for website operators for content posted by third parties, so long as the operators weren’t involved in creating the content. Lawsuits brought by women who had been trafficked on Backpage were dismissed by federal courts in Chicago and Boston because of the immunity granted by Section 230 of the Decency Act, as was a criminal case in California filed by the attorney general there.

Members of the House and Senate launched bills last year to amend Section 230, and a combined version of those passed both houses last month. Nicknamed “FOSTA,” for the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, it would enable victims and state prosecutors to pursue websites in criminal and civil court without being blocked by Section 230. It is awaiting President Trump’s signature or veto.

But opponents of the bill noted that federal prosecutors already had the tools to pursue websites such as Backpage, and the new indictment indeed did not require the new legislation.


8. Trump Administration Allows States to Narrow ACA Coverage: States will have more flexibility to reduce number of guaranteed heath benefits; reflect goal of dismantling health law. 

By Stephanie Armour, The Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2018, 7:28 PM

The Trump administration will give states leeway to winnow down the mandatory health benefits guaranteed to consumers who buy Affordable Care Act insurance plans, under a rule issued Monday.

People who don’t have health coverage will also be able to get more exemptions from ACA penalties for going without insurance, according to guidance provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Congress has repealed the penalty, but the move doesn’t take effect until 2019.

People who are opposed to abortion but can only select from plans that cover the procedure will be able to seek an exception and forego insurance without having to pay the penalty. The broader exemptions will be available immediately.

The changes to the ACA plans reflect the administration’s goal of dismantling former President Barack Obama’s signature health law and transferring more health-policy decisions to the states. Republicans say federal requirements on health policy and benefits have led to rising premium prices for people who buy their own insurance.


9. After ‘No Hell’ Report, Pope Gives the Devil His Due. 

By Reuters, April 9, 2018, 12:15 PM

Pope Francis has put Satan in his place, citing the devil repeatedly in a document published on Monday following a Vatican rebuke last month of a journalist who quoted him as saying hell does not exist.

In the document known as an Apostolic Exhortation called “Gaudete et Exsultate,” (Rejoice and Be Glad), the pope also bewails the amount of defamation and slander spread online by some Roman Catholic bloggers and Twitter users.

Satan gets more than a dozen mentions in the document as Francis talks about how life can be “a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil”.

He continues in the same section: “Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”


10. Pope seeks ‘saints next door’ not doctrinaire perfectionists. 

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, April 9, 2018, 11:27 AM

Pope Francis is calling for ordinary Catholics to live holy lives in whatever they do, stressing that the “saints next door” are more pleasing to God than religious elites who insist on perfect adherence to rules and doctrine.

In a new document released Monday, Francis said defending the poor and migrants is “equally sacred” to defending the unborn — a not-so-veiled critique of the conservative right in the U.S. for whom opposition to abortion trumps the Gospel mandate to love and welcome the stranger.

And he warned that the vitriol that is sometimes spewed online — including by Catholic media — needs to stop since it violates God’s commandment not to bear false witness, lie or “ruthlessly vilify others.”


11. France’s Macron asks Catholics to voice euthanasia concerns. 

By Associated Press, April 9, 2018, 4:26 PM

French President Emmanuel Macron is encouraging religious leaders to voice their concerns ahead of a proposal to change the country’s laws on assisted reproduction and euthanasia.

Speaking to Catholic bishops in Paris —a rare occasion in the historically Catholic country attached to its secular values— Macron evoked Monday the role of religion to enrich “deep ethical, moral debates.”

He said: “Some principles set out by the Church are facing conflicting and complex realities.”

Macron’s government plans to unveil a bill on bioethics by the end of the year.


12. Abortion objectors may get a pass on health law penalty. 

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press, April 9, 2018, 7:42 PM

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced final rules Monday for the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces, and expanded exemptions were part of the package.

Last year’s GOP tax bill repealed the health law’s unpopular requirement to carry health insurance or risk fines from the IRS — but that doesn’t happen until next year.

Officials said expanded hardship exemptions will go into effect immediately. People who object to abortion can get an exemption if all available health plans in their area cover the procedure.

There’s also an exemption for people living in communities that only have one participating ACA insurer, about half of U.S. counties. In 2016 about 6.5 million people paid fines for being uninsured, averaging $470. Penalties have gone up since then.