1. Reports of Government Curbs on Religion Rise: Pew Research study finds increase in government restrictions as religious tensions grow. 

By Ian Lovett, The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2017, Pg. A6

Government restrictions on religion increased across the globe in 2015, reversing a downward trend—a sign of growing religious tensions in many parts of the world.

In a study from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released on Tuesday, restrictions on religion—resulting either from government policies or social hostility—were rated “high” or “very high” in 40% of countries world-wide in 2015, up from 34% in 2014.

Government harassment of religious groups remained most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where religious hostilities are currently fueling armed conflicts.


2. Spanish Court Clears Priest After Pope Sets Case in Motion.

By Raphael Minder, The New York Times, April 12, 2017, Pg. A6

Ending a sexual abuse case in which Pope Francis intervened three years ago, a Spanish court on Tuesday cleared a parish priest in Granada who had been accused of molesting an altar boy.

The court found no evidence that the Rev. Román Martínez had sexually abused one of his former altar boys more than a decade ago.

An investigation began after David Ramírez Castillo wrote to Pope Francis in 2014, detailing the sexual abuse that he said he and others suffered repeatedly when they were teenagers at the hands of a group of priests led by Father Martínez.

Pope Francis phoned Mr. Ramírez Castillo and urged him to pursue his complaints. The pope also ordered a church investigation into the case, demanding complete transparency.

In an 81-page ruling, the court said it had exonerated Father Martínez not only because of the lack of evidence against him but also because the testimony of Mr. Ramírez Castillo included elements that were “completely implausible.”

The court listed several events and details provided by Mr. Ramírez Castillo that could not be corroborated or proved false. For instance, there was no birthmark on Father Martínez’s genitals, contrary to what Mr. Ramírez Castillo had claimed.

The priest’s lawyer, Javier Muriel, said the verdict showed the case was based on lies.

3. A convert looks at Pope Francis and Church unity. 

By Christopher White, Crux, April 12, 2017

In a way that would have been entirely unacceptable in the previous two pontificates – pontificates that first drew me and so many into communion with the Church – it now seems that questioning Peter is fair game.

In recent years it seems that many of Francis’s sharpest critics have been fellow converts who perhaps now find themselves uncomfortable with what they perceive to be a change of both style and substance that has rattled the certainty they once had. Yet it’s one thing to seek certainty, and it’s another to seek unity.

The first is an individual project more focused on one’s own judgments and feelings while the latter is an act of faith and humble trust in Christ and his Church.

Pope Francis continually repeats that Jesus’ most important message is mercy. It’s a central theme of his papacy. This renewed emphasis on mercy is not a departure from his predecessors, but an amplification of the truths they proclaimed, presented to the world anew.

I take great solace in the affirmation of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” that we profess at each Mass. That was true when I was first confirmed and it remains just as true today.

This doesn’t mean we’re a homogenous institution without different ideas and opinions. As Pope Francis has reminded us, the only place you won’t find disagreement is in a cemetery.

But it should mean that Catholics of all stripes should welcome this time of mercy that we are blessed to live in and seek to promote it rather than be polarized. For if we sincerely hope to heal a broken world, a unified Church is a necessary starting place.


4. Why Venezuela’s Bishops Believe Time Is Running Out for Their Country. 

By Alejandro Bermudez, National Catholic Register, April 11, 2017

[T]he Catholic Church, seen as the last institution that can prevent a violent confrontation between the opposition and the government of President Nicolás Maduro, has been moving from a politically neutral position to the support of what it believes to be “the cry of the Venezuelan people against the revolution.”

The political opposition, who won two-thirds of the seats of Venezuela’s congress (known as the National Assembly) in December 2015, technically has the power to call a referendum to unseat Maduro — a move supported by the vast majority of Venezuelans. But the Maduro government has been able to throw numerous procedural roadblocks through the Supreme Court, which has struck down almost every measure the lawmakers have passed.

Late last month, after lawmakers tried again to push for free elections, the Supreme Court stripped the legislature of all of its powers, a move that sparked such an internal and international outrage that the members of the top court decided to walk back their decision only two days later.

But both the opposition and Church leaders denounced the reversal as “too little, too late.” For them, recent events prove there is no longer a real separation of powers in Venezuela and that the National Assembly is in reality powerless.

“The complete block of the National Assembly is a fact, and the totally abnormal situation of the economy clearly questions the idea that we are living in a democracy,” said the archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, in statements given to the only remaining independent newspaper, El Nacional.

In the meantime, the shortages have forced the government to ration every possible good, from electricity to food, medicines and toilet paper, while the opposition claims that government officials and their cronies have stolen more than $200 billion in food-import scams since 2003. The country’s inflation rate is expected to hit a crippling 1,600% this year.

“If this continues, it can be an invitation to chaos and disorder and provoke an unnecessary bloodbath,” warned Cardinal Porras. He fears fatigued and economically strapped Venezuelans, who expend their energies vying for subsidized products or struggling to find other ways to get by, may turn violently against a regime that seems already to be in survival mode.

According to the cardinal, “We have barely enough time to let the people decide their political future before things get really out of hand.”


5. Q&A: How Democrats Can Stop Being Perceived as the Abortion Party.

By Thomas Groome and Steven A. Krueger, The New York Times, April 11, 2017

Thomas Groome’s op-ed, “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party,” argued that Hillary Clinton lost the Catholic vote in part because of her stance on abortion, which did not do enough to address moral and religious concerns. “If Democrats want to regain the Catholic vote, they must treat abortion as a moral issue, work for its continued reduction and articulate a more nuanced message than, ‘We support Roe v. Wade,’ ” Groome wrote.

More than 2,500 people commented on the op-ed. Groome and Steven Krueger, president of Catholic Democrats, are addressing some of the most popular comments and questions, edited for length and clarity:

Krueger: Yes, her loss was attributable to other factors as well. However, we estimate that Secretary Clinton received about 1.5 million fewer votes from Catholics than President Obama did in 2012 — a continuation of a long-term trend of Catholics (mostly white) defecting to the GOP since 2009. She used more one-sided rhetoric than he did at the expense of the moral dimension of this issue — as well as proposing to repeal the Hyde Amendment. This cost her with many Catholic voters and in all likelihood did not win one additional vote for her.

Krueger: The issue of abortion does not “make or break elections” but it can be a significant contributing factor in determining the outcome of a close election, particularly in battleground states with a significant Catholic vote (e.g., Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin).

Regarding “women of faith,” as a man, I believe that it is vitally important to listen carefully to all women on this issue.

However, I should add that the United States remains a religious country. As our national per capita GDP has increased, we have not experienced the commensurate decline in religious metrics experienced by other developed nations. Even those who see no place for faith in politics should recognize that faith is still important to most Americans and therefore an important consideration in the political framing of issues.

Stephen: The abortion issue is killing the Democratic party, not because the majority of Americans oppose all abortion, but because the Dems are allowing the Republicans to control the issue. Hillary’s response to Trump’s ripping the baby out of the mother comment was weak and ineffective (as was much of her campaign). He won the debate on that single topic.

Groome: Trump may have won the election on this very exchange. She should have come back and identified his description as a caricature — which it was. But, the image that many people have, rightly or wrongly, is that Roe v Wade allows unlimited and unconditional abortion.

Thomas Groome is a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. Steven A. Krueger is the president of Catholic Democrats, an advocacy organization.