1. China Insists on Control of Religion, Dimming Hope of Imminent Vatican Deal. 

By Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times, April 3, 2018

China will not allow any foreign interference in religious affairs in the country, a senior official said on Tuesday, dousing expectations of an imminent deal with the Vatican over control of the Roman Catholic Church here.

“I think there is no religion in human society that is above the state,” the official, Chen Zongrong, said during a briefing on religious affairs in China, underscoring the government’s intention to maintain strict control over all religious organizations and their believers.

Mr. Chen’s remarks came amid reports that the Vatican was prepared to make concessions to Beijing in the appointment of the church’s bishops — including by asking two “underground” bishops to step aside — in exchange for retaining some influence over those who are chosen in the future.


2. Is it a crime to worship God? According to Russia, yes. 

By The Washington Post, April 3, 2018, Pg. A14, Editorial

IS IT a crime to worship God? Does government have any business dictating the answer? Those who take religious freedom seriously should pay close attention to the trial of Dennis Christensen, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Orel, Russia, where belief and practice of a religion are being criminalized.

Mr. Christensen, 46, a citizen of Denmark, has been held in pretrial detention for 11 months and is about to be tried on charges of organizing the activities of an “extremist organization,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses. If convicted, he could face 10 years in prison. Last year, the Russian Supreme Court declared the group “extremist ” and banned it from operating on Russian territory; there were 170,000 members in 395 branches at the time. The forthcoming trial of Mr. Christensen is the latest result of the court ruling. The Justice Ministry had earlier called the group “a threat to the rights of citizens, public order and public security.”

In fact, the worship services of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are no more “extremist” than those performed by the Russian Orthodox Church, now closely aligned with President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses eschew subservience to the state; they refuse military service, do not vote and view God as the only true leader. Members of the group also suffered decades of persecution and stigmatization in the Soviet Union.


3. Liberals just can’t leave pro-life pregnancy centers alone. 

By Nicole Russell, Contributor, The Washington Examiner, April 3, 2018, 12:00 AM

For the last five years or so, pregnancy clinics have been growing in number around the country even as abortion clinics have been shutting down.

Naturally, abortion advocates started fighting back, this time against the pregnancy clinics themselves. Just consider Becerra v. National Institute of Family Life Advocates, NIFLA.

Even though the Left doesn’t exactly appear to be winning these battles, it costs pregnancy clinics precious time and resources. Still, the very skirmishes themselves, whether they’re litigated and settled or fought all the way to the Supreme Court, show just how much the nation is still divided on abortion rights. At the same time, pregnancy clinics are often private organizations and should be left alone as much as any other. In fact, if statistics show anything, it’s that pregnancy centers are the new cake bakers — their goals, livelihood, and intentions are all up for misinterpretation and outright maligning. After so many cases that have popped up this year, it’s time to press the Left: For the love of God, can’t we leave pregnancy clinics alone?

In preparation for the above-referenced NIFLA case, the Catholic Association filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief that interviewed 13 women about the lifelong impact pregnancy clinics

“My Body, My Choice,” should apply to all women, not just the ones who want abortions. If the Left really believed that, they would stop trying to essentially pillage the very places that help women make choices about their bodies, at a rate far beyond that which abortion clinics provide.


4. Vatican Deal Would Keep China in Charge of Church, Beijing Says: ‘China’s constitution is clear,’ senior official says: no interference by ‘foreign forces’ in religious affairs. 

By Eva Dou, The Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2018, 6:12 AM

A senior Chinese religious-affairs official signaled that the pope’s authority in China will be limited even if the Vatican and Beijing reach a landmark compromise on the appointment of bishops.

Chen Zongrong told reporters Tuesday that the Chinese government is making concerted efforts to conclude the agreement, which would end a decadeslong rift. Under the compromise, China would select bishop candidates, but the pope would have veto power—an arrangement meant to end the appointment of rival clerics.

Asked at a news conference whether the agreement infringes on religious freedom by limiting the pope’s authority to appoint bishops, Mr. Chen said, “I cannot agree with such an opinion.”

“China’s constitution is clear.… Foreign forces cannot be allowed to interfere with China’s religious environment and religious affairs,” he said.


5. China says bishop selection does not breach religious rights. 

By Yanan Wang, Associated Press, April 3, 2018, 6:57 AM

Restricting the Vatican’s control over the appointment of bishops in China does not infringe on religious freedom, a Chinese official said Tuesday, amid historic negotiations between Beijing and the Holy See aimed at healing divisions.

Chen Zongrong, an official overseeing religious affairs, said Beijing would not allow “foreign forces” to govern the country’s faith groups.

“The Chinese constitution clearly states that China’s religious groups and religious affairs cannot be controlled by foreign forces, and (the foreign forces) should not interfere in Chinese religious affairs in any way,”

“I disagree with the view that preventing Rome from having full control over the selection of bishops hinders religious freedom,” Chen said.

Speaking at a State Council briefing, the former vice administrator for the recently dissolved State Administration for Religious Affairs emphasized a need for faiths in China to “adapt to socialist society” and “develop religions in the Chinese context.”

“Actively guiding religions in adapting to the socialist society means guiding religious believers to … be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people,” said a white paper released Tuesday.

“It also means guiding religious groups to support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system,” the document said.

“I believe there is no religion in human society that transcends nations,” Chen said.


6. In Holy Week 2018, Francis was the great Catholic iconoclast. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, April 3, 2018

Although a mini-tempest about Pope Francis’s conversation with an Italian journalist and what he did, or didn’t, say about Hell likely will be remembered as the biggest news cycle of Holy Week 2018, the pontiff said plenty of other things over the last week too, and it’s worth sorting through and pondering what to make of it all.

In total, Francis delivered six cornerstone addresses:

A homily for the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass
A homily for the Lord’s Supper Mass
Prayers for the Good Friday Via Crucis procession
A homily for the Easter Vigil
A homily for the Easter Morning Mass
The Easter Day Urbi et Orbi address

In sum, what we got was a clear indication that Pope Francis is not backing off his cautious opening to Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics expressed in Amoris Laetitia, and, beyond that, a fairly comprehensive statement of his broad vision and agenda.

Along the way, several of the pope’s key recurring themes came up, such as the importance of priests being close to their people at the Chrism Mass. We got blunt political commentary, such as the pontiff repeating his opposition to the death penalty while visiting Rome’s Regina Coeli prison to wash the feet of 12 inmates on Holy Thursday, calling it “neither human nor Christian.”

We heard echoes of Francis’s spirituality, such as his call for “holy shame” in the Good Friday meditation. As he often does, Francis also offered a personal revelation, telling the prisoners that next year he’s planning to have eye surgery to correct a problem with cataracts.

However, if we’re looking for the one speech that seemed to best capture the spirit and overall vision of Francis’s papacy – perhaps the speech that best reflects what kind of “reform” Francis is trying to deliver – it came in Holy Week’s opening act, the traditional Chrism Mass commemorating the institution of the priesthood by Christ.

Francis is not contemplating any revision of the position taken in a now-famous footnote to Amoris Laetitia.

More broadly, what we get is a full-blown, oracular statement of Francis’s underlying aim: He’s determined to smash the “truth-idols” he believes have taken hold of both the Church and the wider world, fueling a judgmental “culture of the adjective” that always leads with someone’s failures rather their underlying “faithful truth.”

This idol-smashing drive accounts not only for Amoris, but so much else about this papacy – from the kinds of bishops Francis is appointing, to why he keeps talking to an Italian journalist with a history of playing fast and loose with his words, to his sidelining of Vatican departments which, over the years, have seen their roles precisely as defending “abstract truths,” such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

There is, of course, a towering irony here, which is that in Christian history, the iconoclasts generally have been the very fundamentalists and literalists Francis sees as the problem. What we have in Francis instead is the great Catholic iconoclast, not trying to tear down images from church walls, but abstractions from people’s minds.

Perhaps the central drama of his papacy, then, is whether the Christian appetite for abstraction will prove as surprisingly durable as icons have.