1. A Vatican Shot Across the Bow for Hard-Line U.S. Catholics.

By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times, August 3, 2017, Pg. A12

Two close associates of Pope Francis have accused American Catholic ultraconservatives of making an alliance of “hate” with evangelical Christians to back President Trump, further alienating a group already out of the Vatican’s good graces.

The article warns that conservative American Catholics have strayed dangerously into the deepening political polarization in the United States. The writers even declare that the worldview of American evangelical and hard-line Catholics, which is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, is “not too far apart’’ from jihadists.

It is not clear if the article, appearing in La Civiltà Cattolica, received the pope’s direct blessing, but it was extraordinary coming from a journal that carries the Holy See’s seal of approval. There has apparently been no reprimand from the pope, who is not shy about disciplining dissenters, and La Civiltà Cattolica’s editor has promoted the article nearly every day since it was published in July.

The article and the backlash to it — accusations of anti-Americanism have been rife, and one prominent American prelate likened the authors to “useful idiots” — have highlighted the widening distance between Francis and American Catholic conservatives.

Father Spadaro would not say whether he had received Francis’ approval, or whether he had spoken with the pope since the essay’s publication.


2. Progressives issue ‘statement of principles’ on abortion rights after Democratic leaders hint at softer stance.

By David Weigel, The Washington Post, August 2, 2017, 3:12 PM

A coalition of pro-abortion-rights and progressive groups is uniting behind a “statement of principles” to push back against Democratic leaders who say they would welcome antiabortion candidates in 2018. It’s the latest response to an issue that has repeatedly sparked infighting among progressives since the start of the year, with a new round of recriminations after Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said there was “no litmus test” to run as a Democrat.

In 2016, Democrats amended their platform to endorse more abortion rights positions than ever. For the first time, the party went on record against the Hyde Amendment, which Republicans and antiabortion Democrats pass every year to bar federal funding for abortion. But according to the only polling on the “litmus test,” few Democrats say they’re interested in a fight over whether individual candidates can hold antiabortion views. In a May poll conducted by YouGov, just 28 percent of Democrats said the party should back only candidates who support abortion rights.


3. Knights of Columbus Pledge to Save Iraqi Christian Town Decimated by ISIS: The $2m initiative will give new hope to the citizens of Karemlash on the Nineveh Plain after they were evicted by ISIS in 2014. 

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, August 2, 2017

The Knights of Columbus are to raise and donate $2 million to help save Karemlash, a predominantly Christian town on Iraq’s Nineveh Plain that was invaded and ransacked by ISIS before being liberated by coalition forces last November.

In a statement, the Knights said the move, which aims to resettle hundreds of families after they were evicted when ISIS took over the town in 2014, “will give many Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq hope for the future.”

In addition to helping Karemlash, the Knights of Columbus also announced it had partnered with the U.S. bishops conference to hold a “Week of Awareness” for persecuted Christians beginning Nov. 26.

Pope Francis has praised the Knights especially for its help on behalf of persecuted Christians, as well as for defending and promoting the sanctity of marriage and the dignity and beauty of family life. 

In a message to its annual convention this week, the Holy Father expressed his “gratitude” for the Knights’ commitment to persecuted Christians, and commended the Knights of Columbus Refugee Relief Fund as “an eloquent sign of your order’s firm commitment to solidarity and communion with our fellow Christians.”

Since 2014, the fund has donated more than $13 million for humanitarian assistance primarily in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.


4. Fixing the HHS Mandate: Analysts Weigh US Attorney General’s Options: Observers expect Jeff Sessions’ office to offer a stringent interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and emphasize conscience rights. 

By Brian Fraga, National Catholic Register, August 2, 2017

Attorneys who specialize in religious-freedom cases and scholars who study the issue are trying to anticipate what the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will do in its upcoming guidance for interpreting religious-liberty protections in federal law.

Observers expect the DOJ will offer a stringent interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and also emphasize the need for the federal government to respect conscience rights. But as to what exactly the document may contain remains to be seen.

In a July 11 closed-door speech to Alliance Defending Freedom, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice was finalizing its guidance and that he would “soon” be issuing it.

“Under this administration, religious Americans will be treated neither as an afterthought nor as a problem to be managed,” said Sessions, who added that the guidance will help federal agencies apply the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, RFRA requires the federal government to use the least burdensome measure on religious practice when pursuing a compelling government interest.

“That is a demanding standard, and it’s the law of the land. We will follow it just as faithfully as we follow every other federal law,” Sessions said.

As of Aug. 1, the U.S. Department of Justice had not yet released its guidance. The department declined to answer questions from the Register seeking more information on the upcoming document.


5. Vatican grants permission for nun to officiate at wedding. 

By Catholic News Service, August 2, 2017

When no priests were available, the bishop of the Quebec Diocese of Rouyn-Noranda sought and received Vatican permission for a local nun to officiate at a recent wedding.

While the story has been portrayed around the world as a sign that Pope Francis is changing the role of women in the church, Bishop Dorylas Moreau said the wedding was carried out according to a long-established provision of canon law.

It allows an exception for a layperson to be permitted to officiate at a wedding when a bishop, priest or deacon is unavailable. That layperson can be a man or a woman.

“It is an exceptional situation, not something habitual,” Bishop Moreau said in French.