1. An Extraordinary Winning Streak for Religion at the Supreme Court, More broadly, one new study found, “the politicization of religious freedom has infiltrated every level of the federal judiciary.”, By Adam Liptak, The New York Times, April 5, 2021, 5:00 AM
“For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. told the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group, in November. “It pains me to say this, but, in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”
Those quarters do not include the Supreme Court, which has become far more likely to rule in favor of religious rights in recent years, according to a new study that considered 70 years of data.
The study, to be published in The Supreme Court Review, documented a 35-percentage-point increase in the rate of rulings in favor of religion in orally argued cases, culminating in an 81 percent success rate in the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Even putting aside cases concerning the pandemic, a big partisan gap has opened in free exercise cases. Judges appointed by Democrats sided with religion 10 percent of the time in such cases in the last five years, compared with 49 percent for ones appointed by Republicans and 72 percent for ones named by President Donald J. Trump.
The numbers were even starker, Mr. Rothschild wrote, in cases concerning restrictions meant to combat Covid-19. Through the end of last year, not a single judge appointed by Democrats sided with religion in those cases, while 66 percent of judges appointed by Republicans and 82 percent of judges appointed by Mr. Trump did.
2. Vatican can’t blame the media for spin cycles around Becciu, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, April 4, 2021, Opinion
[W]e got the usual PR dance of the Pope Francis era.
Here’s how it goes. The pope does something obviously destined to make waves, but it isn’t announced officially. Instead, it leaks from a journalist who has the pope’s ear, in this case a veteran Italian writer who did a 2017 book rebutting Francis’s traditionalist critics. Vatican spokespersons dodge calls for a while, then issue a nod-and-a-wink, non-confirmation confirmation.

For many observers, especially in the Italian and English-language press, to hear that the pope decided to drop in on Becciu for one of the holiest nights on the Christian calendar couldn’t help but be taken as a show of support, if not an indirect papal mea culpa. (The fact that Francis often visited Becciu’s apartment in years past on Holy Thursday is irrelevant, because Becciu wasn’t facing the Vatican equivalent of indictment before.)

In some Spanish and Portuguese commentary, the opposite conclusion was more instinctive. … The underlying assumption was that the pope has concluded Becciu is guilty and was trying to show him compassion.
These competing interpretations metastasize and go viral, at which point the now-inevitable other shoe drops: Another leak goes out, again from sources close to the pope – in this case, the same journalist who originally broke the story – indicating that Francis is upset that his simple private act has been misunderstood and manipulated, with the pontiff blaming “media instrumentalizations.”
Here’s the thing.
It’s entirely possible the visit was nothing more than a purely pastoral act. Perhaps Francis simply wanted to show gratitude for the long years when Becciu was the pope’s most important aide as the sostituto, “substitute,” in the Secretariat of State, and also, in the spirit of Easter, to offer the consoling idea that no matter how the current legal process shakes out, spiritually there’s always the possibility of rebirth and new life.
Yet from a PR point of view, it doesn’t really matter what the pope’s intentions may have been. Francis and the people around him are anything but naïve about media dynamics, and they knew full well the frenzy the visit to Becciu would trigger. If they didn’t want speculation, they would have put out a version of the statement I sketched above.
The only possible conclusion is that Francis wanted the visit to be open to multiple interpretations, but he didn’t want to own any of them.
In any event, it’s disingenuous to call those interpretations “instrumentalizations.” If you stand on a balcony and chuck a brick over the side, and that brick ends up hitting somebody in the street, it’s no defense to blame the law of gravity. Similarly, if you build a PR bomb and take no steps to defuse it, you don’t get to blame the media for the blast.
If clarification is needed, it’s now on the pope to provide it.
3. What Has the Pro-Life Movement Actually Won?, By Ross Douthat, The New York Times, April 4, 2021, Pg. SR4, Opinion
The pro-life movement’s multidecade strategy, up to and including its fraught bargain with Donald Trump, appears to have succeeded. Thanks to the Trump White House and Mitch McConnell’s Senate, there is now a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, vetted by conservative legal activists and committed to principles of constitutional interpretation that seem to require sweeping Roe v. Wade away, or at least modifying it into obsolescence.
Yet instead of preparing to claim victory, in the last two weeks part of the anti-abortion movement has fallen into an acrimonious debate over a radical proposal — from the Australian philosopher and Notre Dame professor John Finnis, in the journal First Things, arguing that unborn human beings deserve protections under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The political implication of Finnis’s argument is that the pro-life movement’s longtime legal goal, overturning Roe and letting states legislate against abortion, is woefully insufficient, and in fact pro-life activists should be demanding that the Supreme Court declare a fetal right to life.
4. Recovering the Strangeness of Easter, For Christians, the holiday is about recapturing the surprise and excitement that the Resurrection brought to Jesus’ first followers, By Robert Barron, The Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2021, Pg. C1, Opinion
If the grave of a hero is customarily a place of serene contemplation, this one is so disturbing that people run from it in fear—and thereupon hangs the tale of Easter. Especially today, it is imperative that Christians recover the sheer strangeness of the Resurrection of Jesus and stand athwart all attempts to domesticate it. There were a number of prominent theologians during the years that I was going through the seminary who watered down the Resurrection, arguing that it was a symbol for the conviction that the cause of Jesus goes on, or a metaphor for the fact that his followers, even after his horrific death, felt forgiven by their Lord.
But this is utterly incommensurate with the sheer excitement on display in the Resurrection narratives and in the preaching of the first Christians. Can one really imagine St. Paul tearing into Corinth and breathlessly proclaiming that the righteous cause of a crucified criminal endures? Can one credibly hold that the apostles of Jesus went careering around the Mediterranean and to their deaths with the message that they felt forgiven?

Christians have been teasing out the implications of this good news for two millennia, but I will focus on just three themes. First, for believers, the Resurrection means that Jesus is Lord.

A second key implication of the Easter event is that Jesus’ extraordinary claims about himself were ratified.

A third insight that we can derive from the Resurrection is that God’s love is more powerful than anything that is in the world.

In the Resurrection of Jesus, God has won the victory over sin, over corruption and injustice, over death itself. This is the Good News that issued forth from shock of the empty tomb on Easter morning, and that has echoed up and down the last 20 centuries.
Bishop Barron is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of the Catholic ministerial organization Word on Fire.
5. In Easter speech, pope calls wars in pandemic ‘scandalous’, By Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press, April 4, 2021, 10:14 AM
Pope Francis in his traditional Easter Sunday address denounced as “scandalous” how armed conflicts continue to rage even as the coronavirus pandemic has triggered severe social and economic suffering and swollen the ranks of the poor.
Francis tempered his “Urbi et Orbi″ address (Latin for ”To the city and to the world”) wishes of joy on the Christian feast day along with accounts of pain from the globe’s many armed conflicts in Africa, the Mideast, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe.
Describing vaccines as an ”essential tool” in the pandemic battle, Francis called for a “spirit of global responsibility” as he encouraged nations to overcome “delays in the distribution of vaccines” and ensure that the shots reach the poorest nations.
6. Pope on Good Friday hears children tell of pandemic losses, By Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press, April 3, 2021
Pope Francis prayed that people don’t feel lost amid the problems of the pandemic as he listened to children’s poignant accounts of sorrow and loneliness, which provided the motif for an unusual Way of the Cross torch-lit Good Friday procession in St. Peter’s Square.
7. Virginia lawmakers establish more LGBTQ protections, By Cierra Parks, Associated Press, April 2, 2021, 6:37 PM
The Democratic-controlled Virginia General Assembly worked in its second year to establish more protections for LGBTQ people.
Lawmakers tackled LGBTQ inequity in criminal justice and health care, reforming laws that advocates said were rooted in discrimination and could block access to needed services. An advisory board will be established to continue Virginia’s work with the LGBTQ community.

Several LGBTQ-centric bills were introduced this session that did not make it to the governor’s desk.
LGBTQ adoption
Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, introduced HB 1932, to keep foster and adoption agencies from refusing to place children in LGBTQ homes because of religious or moral convictions or policies. Agencies who refuse LGBTQ couples are protected from legal consequences under the state’s “conscience clause.” This law applies to private and state-licensed agencies.

The House narrowly passed the bill, but it was left in a Senate subcommittee.
8. Catholic schools hit unions’ argument, Show teachers they can be safe, By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, April 2, 2021, Pg. A1
If the school officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, need any tips on how to reopen for full-time in-person learning, they need look no further than the Catholic schools in their own neighborhood, including Oakcrest.
The private school for girls in grades 6-12 welcomed students back into the classroom for five-days-a-week instruction on Sept. 9, employing masks and distancing but not COVID-19 vaccines, revamped ventilation or other items being demanded by teachers’ unions.

With its 23-acre campus in Vienna, Virginia, Oakcrest has a unique advantage in terms of space, and yet its refusal to shut down for the pandemic was typical of U.S. Catholic schools.
Between 90% and 92% of Catholic schools reopened for full-time in-person instruction where possible, and hybrid learning where state and county restrictions prevented it, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

They followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, implementing quarantines where needed, offering an online option for students unable or unwilling to return to the classroom, and otherwise navigating the untested coronavirus waters.

Indeed, the success of Catholic schools, as well as other private religious and non-religious elementary and secondary schools, has done more than anything else to undercut teachers’ unions fighting a return to in-person, full-time learning over health-and-safety concerns.
Few have missed the contrast. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker pointed last year to the reopening success of the Boston Catholic schools in arguing for a return to in-person learning in the Boston Public Schools.

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow at the Catholic Association, noted that “Catholic schools in all 50 states opened this fall for in-person learning where the local government officials would allow it. And where they would not, parochial schools fought hard for the right to open.”
“Meanwhile, teachers’ unions have taken the opposite approach,” she said in a Feb. 12 op-ed for USA Today. “They’ve fought every effort to get kids back in school and continually moved the goalposts, despite the facts, science and the increasingly loud and unified voice of the scientific and medical community arguing that kids belong in school.”

Maureen Ferguson, who has a daughter at Oakcrest and two other children in Catholic and Christian schools, called the return to in-person learning “a total success story.”
“I’ve seen it firsthand because I have three kids in three different schools, and they’ve been five days a week, in-person from day one, the day after Labor Day,” Ms. Ferguson said.
“Catholic school teachers deserve so much credit for being brave enough to be the first back in the classroom.”
9. Death and The Archbishop, Things Worth Dying For, By Matthew Hennessey, The Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2021, Pg. A13, Book Review
What, if anything, would you be willing to die for?

Charles J. Chaput, the former Roman Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia, thinks it’s a question that you—that’s right, you—ought to think about. It’s good and right, he contends in “Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living,” to search for someone or something that ranks higher than life itself. “To even pose that question is an act of rebellion against a loveless age,” he writes. “And to answer it with conviction is to become a revolutionary.”
Revolutionaries need a target—the thing against which they revolt. Archbishop Chaput finds his in the abandonment of God, a culture of self-invention, the decline of marriage and the family, a lack of reverence for the past, and the broad tendency toward idolatry in American life—the sins, in short, of the “late-modern West,” a civilization he deems as no longer capable of imagining “anything worth dying for, and thus, in the long run, anything worth living for.”
10. Pope celebrates surprise Holy Thursday with ousted cardinal, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, April 1, 2021, 5:50 AM
Pope Francis celebrated a surprise Holy Thursday Mass with the cardinal he fired last year, extending an extraordinary gesture to Cardinal Angelo Becciu by celebrating the liturgy that commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his apostles before his crucifixion.

The visit carried enormous symbolic weight and could suggest Francis may have come to realize he had erred in his handling of the Becciu dossier. Francis has long prized the Holy Thursday service as a ritual of repentance and service.
Francis forced Becciu’s resignation on Sept. 24 apparently acting on allegations, contained in a yet-to-be-published article in the Italian newsmagazine l’Espresso, that Becciu had sent 100,000 euros in Holy See funds to a diocesan charity controlled by his brother.

TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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