1. Argentine abortion bill loses momentum after senator pulls support.

By Hugh Bronstein, Reuters, August 6, 2018, 6:11 AM

Prospects faded over the weekend for a bill that would legalize abortion in Argentina, when an opposition senator said she had changed her mind and would vote against the measure when it is brought to the floor on Wednesday.

The proposal, which would expand abortion rights beyond current laws that allow the procedure only in cases of rape or when the mother’s health is at risk, passed the lower house last month by 129 votes to 125.

Since then religious activists, particularly in rural parts of the country, have pushed back against the measure, which is backed by feminists and rights groups galvanized in recent years by efforts to stop violence against women.

The bill would make Argentina the third country in Latin American to broadly legalize abortion, after Uruguay and Cuba.

The about-face by Senator Silvina García Larraburu brought to 37 the number of expected no votes, amounting to a majority in Argentina’s 72-member Senate.


2. Department of Justice Steps Up to Protect Religious Liberty.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation, Real Clear Religion, August 6, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Session’s Department of Justice has assumed an important leadership role in protecting and promoting religious freedom here at home, giving the cause for religious liberty renewed vigor. 

Last October, in response to an executive order on religious liberty, the Department issued a “20 principles” guidance to all executive departments and agencies setting forth federal legal protections for religious liberty.

According to this guidance:

[“]Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice. Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law.[”]

The guidance highlights a variety of protections provided by federal laws including the strict scrutiny over federal actions that substantially burdens religious observance as well as workplace accommodations for religious practice. 

But if the laws are so clear, why is there a need for executive orders and Justice Department involvement?

According to Sessions, “A dangerous movement, undetected by many, but real, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.” 

The nation’s top law enforcement officer understands that fundamental rights must be safeguarded. Earlier this week, at the Religious Liberty Summit sponsored by the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a religious freedom task force. The task force, according to Sessions, is charged with ensuring the Justice Department is upholding the administration’s guidance “in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.”

Such attention to religion freedom is a boon for the civil rights community. The Justice Department’s criminal prosecution of perpetrators of hate crimes against centers of worship or people of faith, civil suits against zoning authorities trying to prevent the construction of houses of worship, “friend of the court” briefs in support of individuals and religious groups suffering discrimination — all of these actions serve to vindicate one of America’s most precious freedoms.

In closing remarks at the summit, Oklahoma Senator James Lankford applauded their work, noting: “You are not creating new policy for Americans.  You are protecting a very old policy.” Defending and promoting religious liberty is an essential American ideal; thankfully for all Americans, Jeff Sessions and his Justice Department are committed to safeguarding our country’s first freedom.


3. D.C. Catholics conflicted on support for archdiocese.

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, August 6, 2018, Pg. A1

Catholics in the District of Columbia are conflicted about how to continue to support the church after the resignation of former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick over reports of sexual abuse.

The former archbishop of Washington stepped down from the College of Cardinals one month after a church panel substantiated a report that, as a priest in New York, he sexually abused a teenage altar boy more than 45 years ago. Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Saturday and ordered him to serve a “life of prayer and penance.”

Scotty O’Connell, who attends the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Northwest Washington, and other members of the diocese are calling for a boycott until Archbishop McCarrick’s enablers are removed from the church. Ms. O’Connell said she had discontinued her weekly offerings at her parish because a percentage of all contributions are given to the archdiocese.

A New York Times investigation last month found that multiple reports about Archbishop McCarrick’s transgressions were made known from 1994 to 2008 to high-ranking church officials, including American bishops and Pope Benedict XVI.

The investigation also found that two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in 2005 and 2007 to two men who said they were sexually assaulted by Archbishop McCarrick when he was a bishop in New Jersey in the 1980s.

Archbishop McCarrick served as the archbishop of Washington, one of the most prominent Catholic leadership positions in the country, from 2001 to 2006. He was succeeded as archbishop by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said Cardinal Wuerl had no knowledge of the New Jersey settlements before they were made public.

“When the first claim against Archbishop McCarrick was filed in the Archdiocese of New York, the Archdiocese of Washington reviewed its own files and found no complaints of any kind made against Archbishop McCarrick,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “Further, the confidential settlements involving acts by Archbishop McCarrick in the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark were not known previously to Cardinal Wuerl or the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Given the long paper trail documenting Archbishop McCarrick’s transgressions, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said church leaders need to be held accountable for their “moral failures.”

“These failures raise serious questions,” Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. “Why weren’t these allegations of sins against chastity and human dignity disclosed when they were first brought to Church officials? Why wasn’t this egregious situation addressed decades sooner and with justice? What must our seminaries do to protect the freedom to discern a priestly vocation without being subject to misuse of power?”


4. Chinese Catholic Church demolition is latest in series of church bulldozings. 

By Catholic News Agency, August 5, 2018

A Catholic church in Jinan province, China, has been demolished by government agents, the latest in a series of church demolitions in China.

About 40 police and government workers entered Liangwang Catholic Church on the morning of July 17, ejecting three women who had been acting as caretakers. Gao Rongli, Zhang Siling and Li Xiangmei were thrown out of the building, searched, and had their cellular phones taken from them and smashed, Asia News reported.

Later in the day, a further 30 men arrived later, along with bulldozers, and proceeded to knock down the building, destroying the altar and church furnishings along with the church.

The action is reportedly linked to a local development plan for a new residential area and railway station. Discussions with the local Religious Affairs Office for the relocation of the church had been taking place, but there was no prior warning that the demolition would take place, nor has any agreement been reached on a new site for a church.

The church, which was in the village of Liangwang, had been originally built during the 1920s and designated as a “private house” during the cultural revolution. More recently, it had been granted a government permit to operate legally, according to UCANews.


5. USCCB: We ‘encourage and welcome’ family leave bills. 

By Christine Rousselle, Catholic News Agnecy, August 5, 2018

The U.S. bishops’ conference praised legislative efforts to secure family leave policies, after a Senate bill was introduced that would allow new parents to draw two months of Social Security benefits while they care for their new child.

The bill, titled the “Economic Security for New Parents Act,” was introduced to the Senate on Thursday by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Dominic Lombardi, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, told CNA that “the principle of family leave is an important one,” and that new parents “ought to be supported in their calling to raise the next generation.”

“We encourage and welcome the ideas of lawmakers such as Senator Rubio in exploring effective ways on how best to provide paid leave policies for new parents.”

If Rubio’s bill were to pass, it would be the first law concerning family leave since the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA provides a 12-week period of unpaid time off for qualified employees who are caring for a relative.


6. How an American Catholic organization has helped persecuted Middle East Christians.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation, Washington Examiner, August 4, 2018, Opinion

Most people know that Christians in the Middle East have recently endured severe persecution at the hands of ISIS. But most people don’t know that, for years, a brotherhood of men have been quietly and vigilantly working behind the scenes on behalf of those Christians. These men are the Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world.

The Knights were among the principle organizations to shed light on the gruesome realities of life for Middle Eastern Christians and have effectively led efforts to come to their aid.

In March of 2016, they produced a nearly 300-page report documenting ISIS’ atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities. The report details how ISIS has executed thousands of Christians by crucifixions and beheadings and engaged in mass deportations of Christians from their ancestral homelands. Over 140,000 signatures supported the Knights’ petition calling for a formal declaration of the genocide based on the findings of the report. These efforts were decisive in the decision of former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to declare as genocide the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities in the region, a designation reaffirmed by the current administration.

The Knights have most recently encouraged the U.S. government to more effectively direct relief funds to those communities in need. The Knights saw firsthand that U.N. relief efforts were not adequately aiding genocide-targeted areas and urged that persecuted Christians not be overlooked. The current administration’s redirection of U.S. relief aid through USAID came in no small part because of the Knights.

The group has also become a key source of support and on-the-ground relief as well, having launched in 2014 the Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund, which has committed more than $17 million to aid persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria, and the surrounding region. One hundred percent of all donations to the fund directly benefit persecuted Christians and those in their care, especially in the Middle East; not one penny is spent on operating and administration costs.

This fund is an impressive response to such a devastating reality. In Iraq alone, it has enabled food programs, new housing construction and rental assistance for those displaced, and the resettlement of the entire town of Karamles, a project that exemplifies the Knight’s long-standing tradition of caring for vulnerable families.

The Knights’ rebuilding effort entailed moving hundreds of families from around Iraq back to the homes from which they were evicted by ISIS in the summer of 2014. To fund such a massive endeavor requiring a financial commitment of $2 million dollars, the Knights mobilized councils, Catholic parishes, and other groups and individuals each to donate $2,000 — the cost to resettle one family.

Such vital work of rebuilding doesn’t just help affected families; it is an integral part of reestablishing civil society in the region. As Anderson explained, resettlement and rebuilding will “help to ensure a pluralistic future for Iraq.”

Pope Francis poignantly observed in a greeting sent last year to the Knights’ members, “The Knights of Columbus Refugee Relief Fund is an eloquent sign of your Order’s firm commitment to solidarity and communion with our fellow Christians.”

Anderson explains his organization’s motivation to address the needs of Christians enduring persecution in the Middle East as a reflection of faith and expression of charity. As he put it, “Whether at home or abroad, charity is our Order’s first principle and the basis for all we do as brother Knights. It is the tangible way that we live out that spirit of fraternity and ‘missionary discipleship’ to which Pope Francis has called us.”


7. The Limits of Confession. 

By Rob Taylor and Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2018, Pg. C4

The continuing international scandal over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church brought down two more high-ranking clerics in recent weeks. Amid allegations of decades of abuse by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., Pope Francis accepted his resignation on July 28, and just days later, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, in Australia, also stepped down. Archbishop Wilson was convicted in May of failing to tell police about another priest who molested altar boys in the 1970s.

Archbishop Wilson’s downfall comes after the publication last year of a five-year-long Australian judicial inquiry that documented widespread abuse of children in the country’s Catholic institutions, sometimes stretching back decades. Among the report’s recommendations was one especially controversial measure: the removal in such cases of the church’s “seal of confession,” which requires priests to keep secret anything that they learn while administering the sacrament.

Since then, several Australian jurisdictions have passed laws that will soon require Catholic priests to break that seal. “Make no mistake, priests who have knowledge or suspicion of child sex abuse should report that to police, and failure to do so must be treated as a crime,” said Simone McGurk, minister for child protection in the state of Western Australia.

The Catholic Church has traditionally taught that the seal of confession is absolutely inviolable under all circumstances.

The state government of South Australia argues that its law, which imposes fines of up to US$7,500 for the failure to report abuse, will bring priests into line with teachers, doctors and child-care workers, who have professional rather than pastoral authority over children. But leaders of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference argue that mandatory reporting is counterproductive and will make children less safe by discouraging offenders from admitting their crimes.

Others argue that the new laws will be impractical, if not impossible, to enforce.

The current struggle over the laws in Australia might seem like a low point in the history of confession. But it could also serve as an occasion to enhance the sacrament’s diminished prestige—assuming that clergy choose their religious duties over their obligations under secular law. As the Rev. Roger Landry, an official at the Vatican’s mission to the United Nations, wrote in June: “If a priest loves [Catholics] enough to go to jail and die for them and to protect what they confess to God, might they take the sacrament more seriously and receive it more frequently?”


8. On death penalty, pope diverges from his U.S. flock. 

By Bonnie Berkowitz, Joe Fox and Madison Walls, The Washington Post, August 3, 2018

The pope’s official opposition to the death penalty in all cases, which was announced August 2, pits the Catholic Church’s stance against the laws and practices of several dozen countries, including the United States.

It also differs from the views of more than half of U.S. Catholics — and Americans in general — according to a recent survey.

Catholics account for about 21 percent of the U.S. population, according to Pew Research Center. Some areas with the largest Catholic populations are in the 31 states that have the death penalty, most notably Texas, which has carried out more than a third of U.S. executions since 1976.

Of those 31 states, only 10 have executed anyone in the past five years.

So far this year, 14 people have been executed in Texas (8), Georgia and Alabama (2 each), and Ohio and Florida (1 each).

Despite a long-term downward trend in support for the death penalty, the United States may be on a different philosophical wavelength from the pope at the moment.

Support for capital punishment rose a bit this year after decades of decline, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted this spring. And it went up among U.S. Catholics more than among the nation in general, from 43 percent in 2016 to 53 percent this year.


9. Attorney general seeks to preserve cross-shaped memorial. 

By Associated Press, August 3, 2018

Maryland’s attorney general is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to preserve a cross-shaped memorial on public land which serves to honor the men killed in World War I.

The Washington Post reports Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a brief in the case, which challenges the constitutionality of the 40-foot-tall (12-meter) cross in Prince George’s County. The cross sits in a median at an intersection in Bladensburg and is maintained with taxpayer funds.

The court has not decided whether to take the case.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan wrote a letter Friday saying the brief moves the state one step closer to “having the wrongs of lower court decisions righted by the Supreme Court.”