1. Post-Bannon, do Catholics have sway in the Trump White House?

By Christopher White, National Correspondent, Crux, August 25, 2017

Last week’s departure of Stephen K. Bannon, chief strategist of the Trump administration, marked the loss of the most visible Catholic in the White House. While evangelicals have recently boasted of being on the president’s speed dial, some Catholics are questioning what influence, if any, they hold with this administration.

Early months brought reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy (a ban on federal aid to non-governmental agencies providing abortion services) along with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Both were viewed as victories for Catholics, some of whom supported the president based on promises to end abortion funding and to appoint a pro-life justice.

Recently, however, the U.S. bishops have been at odds with the administration over its proposed healthcare reforms, deportation plans for immigrants, withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, race relations, and even religious liberty measures. Such conflicts have led some to wonder whether the Trump administration is listening to Catholics, if Catholics who once supported Trump are souring, and which Catholics have the ear of this administration.

“The challenge for religious leaders is to be engaged, but not used, to seek a principled relationship on issues, but not become chaplains for any president or apologist for any administration,” said John Carr, Director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and a former senior policy official for the U.S. bishops.

“It’s not yet clear the Trump Administration wants this kind of relationship with institutional Catholic leaders who will not serve as cheerleaders for its agenda,” said Carr.

Carrie Severino, a Catholic who serves as chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), told Crux, “There are lots of Catholics that are well-placed in this administration.

JCN was one of the leading groups supporting the Gorsuch nomination, leading a $10 million campaign to promote it.  According to Severino there is at least one Catholic able to move the ball in this White House.

“One of the key advisers that we’ve seen is Leonard Leo,” she said. “He’s one of the leading figures in the conservative legal movement, and a faithful Catholic.”

Leo is the Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization. He did not respond to an interview request from Crux. 

“You couldn’t overstate his influence over the excellent choice of the Gorsuch nomination, and that’s been one of the most lauded accomplishments of this administration thus far,” Severino told Crux.

Brian Burch, President of CatholicVote.org, echoed Severino’s assessment of Leo. He told Crux that Leo is “one of the most effective Catholic voices that is having an important impact on the administration, particularly the process of judicial nominations.”

The relationship between Catholics and presidential administrations has long been a complicated one.

George W. Bush relied heavily on the thought of Catholic figures such as Princeton legal scholar Robert P. George (who co-authored the aforementioned National Review statement) and Father Richard John Neuhaus, founder of the influential religion journal First Things.

When the Obama administration looked for support from U.S. Catholics, it appeared that Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association, Stephen Schneck, formerly of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, and Sister Simone Campbell, who led the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, all had influence on issues related to social justice.

“In past years, the White House sometimes sought advice and input from the bishops’ conference, and understood there would inevitably be areas of agreement and disagreement,” Carr said.

“Too often, though, the White House seeks not advice or input, but approval and public support on policies that have already been decided,” he said.

Carr told Crux, “The current administration seems to welcome religious leaders who will defend the president and his agenda, and to avoid those who may challenge some of his priorities and policies. It’s another reflection of the polarization of American life.”


2. Why the Vatican has set its sights on Moscow and Beijing: The Holy See is turning to the East. But the move could be very risky.

By Michael Davis, freelance writer, Catholic Herald, August 25, 2017

Cardinal Pietro Parolin has been in Moscow this week, and Russia’s ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, is absolutely delighted. The two nations, he told La Stampa, share “a high level of mutual trust and a great harmony on many issues”. The Holy Father, he explained, is “very esteemed and loved by the citizens of my country”.

Parolin himself was notably more reserved. He told Corriere della Sera: “After the period of ideological opposition, which obviously can’t entirely fade from today to tomorrow, and in the new scenarios that have opened up since the end of the Cold War, it’s important to take advantage of every occasion to encourage respect, dialogue and mutual collaboration in a view to promoting peace.”

The Vatican is finding that to be true more and more often as its attentions turn East. Yet reconciliation with one’s enemies always runs the risk of alienating one’s friends. Former Soviet states like Russia and the Ukraine, as well as nominally Marxist ones like China and Vietnam, are home to millions of Catholics. Most live as second-class citizens, if not outlaws. The governments are generally willing to negotiate for Catholics’ (and the Church’s) rights. But any dialogue is built on decades of repression, intrigue and a lingering mistrust of “Western agents” – usually, by definition, anyone who falls under the authority of Rome.

This is the minefield that Parolin entered when he arrived in Moscow on Monday: a world where religion and geopolitics are inextricably bound together. When dealing with Putin and his underlings, the cardinal won’t have been able to say exactly whose interests were being represented: the Russian government’s or the Moscow patriarchate’s? The answer, very probably, was both.

The Holy See has been anxious to restore ties with China and bring the estimated four million Catholics worshipping in secret – the so-called “Catacombs Church” – back into the light. For its part, China is happy to negotiate. But it has set terms that previous papacies would have considered untenable.

Of course, this is primarily a question of religion. The premises for rapprochement seem dubious if Ukrainian and Chinese Catholics won’t accept a peace brokered with the regimes that have terrorised them for generations. But as the Church has decided to play arbitrator, it’s also a question of politics. And if the Holy See really does seek peace between the West and East, it won’t achieve it by alienating the United States, Britain and their allies.

While the Vatican’s goals are noble, they are perhaps too ambitious for such a small sovereign state.

The status quo certainly isn’t ideal, but the Vatican could easily make things much worse. If Cardinal Parolin returns to Rome promising “peace in our time”, we can be fairly certain that it is doing just that.


3. Cutting Young Girls Isn’t Religious Freedom: The First Amendment doesn’t protect the barbaric act of female genital mutilation.

By Kristina Arriaga, contributor at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, The Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2017, Pg. A13

Female genital mutilation has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996. Yet a 2012 study in the journal Public Health Reports estimates that more than 500,000 girls in the U.S. have undergone the procedure or are at risk. These girls live all over the country, with larger concentrations in California, New York and Minnesota. Most go through this process in secret, and only 25 states have laws that criminalize the procedure. In Maine, the American Civil Liberties Union has opposed a bill to do so on the ground that “the risk of mutilation isn’t worth expanding Maine’s criminal code.”

Female genital mutilation, most often performed on girls under 13, has serious medical and psychological repercussions. The cutting ranges from a clitoridectomy, partial to total removal of the clitoris, to infibulation, removal of all the external genitalia. The latter is so severe that “healing” often involves binding the girl from ankle to waist until the scar tissue closes.

In 2015 a U.N. official estimated that 20% of parents take their daughters to physicians but the rest use improvised sharp objects…. report from Unicef suggests at least 200 million girls and women alive today, in 30 countries, have undergone some form of it. (The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which I am vice chairwoman, does not take an official position on female genital mutilation.)

Whether this practice is religious or cultural is debatable. In the Michigan case, the victims belong to an Indian Shiite Muslim sect called the Dawoodi Bohra, whose members refer to the clitoris as a sinful lump of flesh. The cutting, khatna, is considered a religious observance to prevent girls from becoming promiscuous. Yet female genital mutilation predates Christianity and Islam. No religious text requires it. Many imams have issued fatwas against the practice and Christian leaders like Pope Francis have denounced it.

The physician’s lawyers announced they will craft a religious-freedom defense. And they may be astute enough to get away with it. The all-star team includes constitutional law scholar and O.J. Simpson lawyer Alan Dershowitz, along with Mayer Morganroth, who represented assisted-suicide champion Dr. Jack Kevorkian for more than 15 years. They are funded by an international Muslim organization called Dawat-e-Hadiyah.

The physician’s lawyers have not only put these girls at even greater risk, they have tainted the religious freedom of all Americans with their specious arguments. Religious freedom is a bedrock right that ensures all can live according to their convictions. It also allows for the existence of charities providing Americans with an equivalent of $1.2 trillion annually in food, shelter, medical care and more. It is not a tool to protect harmful practices like female genital mutilation.

These girls are among the most vulnerable in society. For their sake, Americans must raise their voices against this detestable practice. Doing what is right may also yield an important social good: the restoration of religious freedom to its proper place in American culture and jurisprudence.


4. I Worship Jesus, Not Xi Jinping.

By Derek Lam, member of the democratic political party Demosisto and is studying theology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, The New York Times, August 25, 2017, Pg. A27

Since I was 16 years old, I have wanted to be a pastor. I was raised in a Christian family in Hong Kong that urged me to live by biblical principles. I was taught to love my neighbor as myself and that all human beings are created in the image of God.

Those teachings about love and equality are what inspired me to study theology at Chinese University of Hong Kong. They have also informed my democratic activism for the past six years — and it is for that reason that I am likely to be jailed next month and that I will be barred from ever becoming a pastor.

My personal plight is inconsequential, but it aptly illustrates how the freedoms granted under “One Country, Two Systems” are being dismantled by the Chinese Communist Party. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, Beijing is encroaching not only on Hong Kong’s political freedoms but also on the most personal ones, such as religious beliefs, as part of a larger strategy to shut down any kind of organizing outside of the party.

Of Hong Kong’s six major religions, five are already firmly under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. Judging by recent events, the party is very close to completing its mission of bringing Christianity under its thumb.

Although there is nothing I would love more than to become a pastor and preach the gospel in Hong Kong, I will never do so if it means making Jesus subservient to Xi Jinping. Instead, I will continue to fight for religious freedom in Hong Kong, even if I have to do it from behind bars.

What I ask of you is to keep Hong Kong in your prayers as we seek to find light amid the sea of darkness descending upon us.


5. After Barcelona, terrorists name Rome, the Vatican as their next target. 

By Claire Giangravè, Crux, August 25, 2017

Terrorists once again threatened Italy and the Vatican with violence not long after jihadists in Barcelona, Spain, orchestrated a series of attacks that left 15 people dead and many more wounded.

“We will have our vengeance,” “We will arrive in Rome,” an Islamic terrorist said in a new video called ‘The Islamic State – Inside the Caliphate’ that was filmed in Marawi, Philippines, and distributed by al-Hayat, the pro-ISIS mediaorganization.

In the video ISIS-sympathizers threaten the Vatican while destroying images of saints and the Virgin Mary as well as crucifixes. One man in the video rips a poster of Pope Francis in half.

Since the attacks in Barcelona, security has been tight in Rome and the Vatican. More snipers and armed policemen can be seen on Via della Conciliazione, the main artery that leads to St. Peter’s square, and many roads have been closed to traffic.


6. Parolin presses Russia to give back churches taken by the Soviets. 

By Inés San Martín, Crux, August 25, 2017

Upon returning from his four-day trip to Russia, the pope’s right-hand man defined the outing as “useful, interesting and constructive,” also said that during his meetings with civil and religious authorities, he brought up the restitution of Catholic churches expropriated during the Communist era.

Yet the encounters Parolin had with the local Catholic community gave him some of the talking points for those meetings. During the interview released by the Vatican’s press office on Friday, he said said that after meeting with Catholics to hear about their “joys, hopes, but also challenges and difficulties,” he had taken some of this input to his meetings with the authorities.

“I mention only one: the issue of the restitution of some churches that had been confiscated during the Communist period,” Parolin said, adding that no plan for restoring those properties to the Catholic community, despite “their needs for adequate places of worship,” is currently in place.


7. The Epidemic of Hate and Its Cure: The reason the Church names anger as one of the seven ‘deadly’ sins is because it’s simultaneously so poisonous, so delicious and so addictive. 

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, National Catholic Register, August 24, 2017

Hate does have a home here. It’s welcome and very well-fed in a lot of our hearts, regardless of our political allegiances. And our refusal to admit that is part of the problem.

When an organization like the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a mainstream religious-liberty advocate like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as a “hate group” it’s simply betraying its own bitter contempt for the people and convictions the ADF defends. So, yes, hate has a home here all right: not just among white nationalists, immigrant-haters and neo-Nazis, as loathsome as their ideas are, but also among the “progressive” and educated elites who have the power to insulate themselves from the consequences of their own delusions and bigotries.

The reason the Church names anger as one of the seven “deadly” sins is because it’s simultaneously so poisonous, so delicious and so addictive. Anger congeals quite comfortably into hatred. In C.S. Lewis’ novel The Great Divorce, the damned cling jealously to their anger (among other sins) because it’s so reassuring; so satisfying and self-justifying. The point is: People easily begin to like being angry. Wrath feels good, especially when the ugliness of the habit can be dressed in a struggle against real or perceived evils.

We’re a culture addicted to anger. And we’re relentlessly reinforced in it by mass media that compulsively feed our emotions and starve our reason.

Here’s a final thought from Seneca:

“Human life rests upon kindness and concord; bound together, not by terror, but by love reciprocated, it becomes a bond of mutual assistance.”

Those are beautiful words, and true. They’re not far from the deeper truths of the Gospel. But they’re also empty words unless we live them. That will demand from us a holy skepticism about the bad things we hear and see and assume about our perceived enemies. Our “enemies” are people like us, whatever their ideas and identities. And they have a right to our patience, restraint and respect, whatever the cost — just as we have a right to demand the same from them.

It’s not easy work, but it needs to start somewhere. It should start with us.