1. For God or party? China’s Christians face test of faith. 

By Yanan Wang, Associated Press, August 7, 2018, 6:46 AM

The 62-year-old Chinese shopkeeper had waited nearly his entire adult life to see his dream of building a church come true — a brick house with a sunny courtyard and spacious hall with room for 200 believers.

But in March, about a dozen police officers and local officials suddenly showed up at the church on his property and made the frightened congregants disperse. They ordered that the cross, a painting of the Last Supper and Bible verse calligraphy be taken down. And they demanded that all services stop until each person, along with the church itself, was registered with the government, said the shopkeeper, Guo.

Without warning, Guo and his neighbors in China’s Christian heartland province of Henan had found themselves on the front lines of an ambitious new effort by the officially atheist ruling Communist Party to dictate — and in some cases displace — the practice of faith in the country.

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious revival. Experts and activists say that as he consolidates his power, Xi is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.

The crackdown on Christianity is part of a broader push by Xi to “Sinicize” all the nation’s religions by infusing them with “Chinese characteristics” such as loyalty to the Communist Party.

This spring, a five-year plan to “Sinicize” Christianity in particular was introduced, along with new rules on religious affairs. Over the last several months, local governments across the country have shut down hundreds of private Christian “house churches.” A statement last week from 47 in Beijing alone said they had faced “unprecedented” harassment since February.

Authorities have also seized Bibles, while major e-commerce retailers JD.com and Taobao pulled them off their sites. Children and party members are banned from churches in some areas, and at least one township has encouraged Christians to replace posters of Jesus with portraits of Xi. Some Christians have resorted to holding services in secret.

A dozen Chinese Protestants interviewed by the Associated Press described gatherings that were raided, interrogations and surveillance, and one pastor said hundreds of his congregants were questioned individually about their faith. Like Guo, the majority requested that their names be partly or fully withheld because they feared punishment from authorities. After reporters visited Henan in June, some interviewees said they were contacted by police or local officials who urged them not to discuss any new measures around Christianity.


2. The ‘strong right arm’ of the Catholic Church, How the Knights of Columbus put faith and charity into action for 130 years.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal adviser for The Catholic Association Foundation, The Washington Times, August 7, 2018, Pg. B4, Opinion

“Faith and charity in action” is the best way to describe what the Knights of Columbus have been committed to since their inception more than 130 years ago. As the organization prepares for its annual conference this week, a look at their influence around the globe reveals that they are the Catholic Church’s modern-day knights in shining armor.

The impact of the Knights reaches far beyond America’s borders. Consistent with their tradition of defending religious liberty and diversity, the Knights are widely regarded for their recent work on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

In 2016, the Knights led a major advocacy and awareness campaign encouraging the U.S. State Department to formally declare as genocide the atrocities committed by ISIS. The Knights produced a 300-page report on the persecution against Middle Eastern Christians, which ultimately helped redirect U.S. government relief funds to communities targeted by ISIS. For their part, the Knights distributed more than $16 million in food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care to those suffering persecution.

From the beginning, the Knights of Columbus has provided strength and support to the Catholic Church in its mission to spread the Gospel and care for those in need. And their impact will only grow, as this year’s annual conference promises to inform and energize the members of this fraternity of Catholic gentlemen as they spread the faith and live charity both at home and abroad.


3. The Pro-life Work of the Knights of Columbus. 

By Grazie Pozo Christie, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association, TownHall, August 7, 2018, 12:01 AM, Opinion

I don’t think it’s possible to estimate with any certainty how many lives have been saved by the hundreds of ultrasound machines the Knights have donated to centers like ours. 

This ultrasound machine program is only a tiny part of the life-saving work of the Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882 by Father McGivney. The pro-life work of the Knights would make a lot of sense to a priest who felt so deeply for the struggles of the Irish immigrants with their large, cheerful families and their empty cupboards. His idea was to form a lay organization of Catholic men who could help each other and the poor of the parish, as well as provide for the families of deceased members.

The mutual-aid organization he founded at a small parish has grown to be enormously influential on a global level. Comprising a handful of men at the beginning, the Knights now number nearly 2 million and are active in many countries. They are one of the most generous charities in the country, having donated $1.62 billion to various causes over the past decade. In fact, 2017 was a record-setting year for the Knights, who donated $185.6 million and over 75 million hours of service worldwide. They support the Special Olympics, provide wheelchairs for the disabled, coats for poor children, and contribute heavily after natural disasters across the world, just to name a few of their many charitable initiatives.

Recently the Knights of Columbus have been pouring their time and assets into helping the victims of Christian genocide in the Middle East. 

The insurance system established by Father McGivney in 1882 is now a top-rated insurance program that provides a safety net for members and their families. 

Considering all this, ultrasound machines may seem like small stuff.  But every time I get my weekly stack of ultrasound images and imagine the lovely babies that will be coming into the world in a few short months, I think gratefully of the Knights for lending life a hand.  After all, lending life a hand is what the Knights do better than anyone.


4. What Priests Do.

By Tom Piatak, Tom Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Crisis Magazine, August 7, 2018, Opinion

The most recent annual audit by the USCCB, covering the period from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, recorded 24 allegations of clerical sexual abuse involving children who were minors during that time period. Six of the allegations were deemed substantiated, with three of those involving a single priest. In other words, 0.008 percent of the 37,181 American priests were credibly accused of sexually abusing someone who was 17 or younger in the last reporting year. Under the norms of the Dallas Charter, in place since 2002, priests credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor are to be removed from ministry. The incidence of sexual abuse of minors is far less clear in other professions, but approximately 20 percent of adult females and 5 to 10 percent of adult males indicate that they were subject to childhood sexual abuse, according to the National Center of Victims of Crime. No reasonable observer could look at these numbers and conclude that Catholic priests are characterized as a group by the abuse of the children put in their care, much less that priests in active ministry today are abusing the children in their charge.

None of this is meant to suggest that there is not a profound crisis in the Church. I was a charter subscriber to this publication in 1982 when it was called Catholicism in Crisis, a title I felt was appropriate. The McCarrick scandal highlights important aspects of that crisis: seminarians should not be subjected to predatory homosexuals like McCarrick, there is no place for homosexual activity in the seminary or the rectory, and men who are not committed to celibacy should never be ordained, much less advanced to the episcopacy or the cardinalate, as McCarrick mindlessly was. The abuses brought to light by the McCarrick scandal must end. Nor do I mean to suggest that priests are incapable of committing profound, even grotesque injustices. Sadly, far too many people, including some I know, have experienced such injustices.

What I do mean to suggest is that the wrong response to the McCarrick scandal is to castigate priests as a class, to give up on the Church, or, God forbid, to leave her. My sincere advice is this: if you are a Catholic, stay. If you are not a Catholic, join. You may not find three good parishes within walking distance, as I did, but there are many good parishes out there. When you find one, join, and immerse yourself in its life. I am convinced you will find, as I did, good people sincerely trying to please God. Even in these dark times, there is much good in the Church.


5. With death penalty change, Francis builds on John Paul II’s teaching.

By Michael Sean Winters, Columnist, National Catholic Reporter, August 6, 2018, Opinion

Pope Francis’ decision to complete the development of doctrine regarding the death penalty begun by St. Pope John Paul II has caused quite a stir among those already opposed to this pope. But who can reasonably doubt that this development is legitimate?

The key shift in Catholic doctrine was effected by John Paul II. First, the text of the catechism approved in 1992 shifted away from a focus on just punishment and, instead, permitted the death penalty only in those circumstances in which there was no other way to protect society from further violence. “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” the catechism stated.

Instead of relying on the traditional teaching that some crimes warranted the punishment of death, a teaching that was explicitly acknowledged in the Bible, John Paul II built on the teaching of previous popes and especially the Second Vatican Council, and saw the inviolable dignity of the human person as the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching, not the legitimate authority of the state in exercising the divine mandate to enforce justice. That was the key shift in doctrine.

The only change Pope Francis affected last week was to say that the limited exception John Paul II allowed, namely protecting society from further violence by a person whose guilt has been determined beyond doubt, no longer exists; that we Catholics must now work to abolish the death penalty as an affront to human dignity; and that its application by the state is deemed morally “inadmissible.”

And let Catholics further hope that our witness on behalf of human dignity will extend to the most vulnerable in our midst, whether the unborn child in the womb, the refugee at our border, or the prisoner on death row. What Francis is telling us is what the Gospels tell us: We humans are all sinners, all in need of the mercy of God, but that we possess an inalienable dignity that not even a heinous crime can take away. A culture that grasps that and takes steps for its laws to conform to that vision will be a more humane and civilized society.


6. Pope praises Chile bishops for reflecting on their failures. 

By Associated Press, August 6, 2018, 7:43 PM

Pope Francis has praised Chilean bishops for reflecting on their failure to listen to victims of clerical sex abuse.

The pontiff said in a letter to the Chilean church’s Episcopal Conference that he is “impressed by the reflection, discernment and decisions” taken by bishops when they met last week.

“May the Lord reward you abundantly for this communal and pastoral effort,” the pope said in the letter, which is dated Aug. 5. “The decisions (of the bishops) are realistic and concrete. I’m sure that they will decidedly help on this process.”


7. Off the Shelf: One Last Thing, The pope’s rewriting of the Catechism on the death penalty undermines the Church’s claim to authority on other matters. 

By Michael Brendan Dougherty, Michael Brendan Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review Online, National Review, August 3, 2018, 6:11 AM, Opinion

I agree that the test of one’s obedience to authority is whether you submit when you don’t agree. And if you had asked me point-blank about my opinion on the death penalty when I joined the Church, I would have said I thought it necessarily cruel and unjust, but that I defer to the Church. Gradually I did my homework and came to accept and appreciate how the Church’s thought on this fit with its other propositions. However, I never really thought it a pressing topic. 

But, for whatever reason, the pope decided to bring this up this very week. This means that in the lifetime of someone like my father-in-law, the Roman Catholic Church has taught three different things on the death penalty.

1) Before the 1980s, the Church held that the death penalty is just and occasionally necessary, consonant with natural law, restorative of the common good broken by a heinous crime, and potentially redeeming of the offender, alerting him to the depravity of his crime, and giving him a chance for expiation of his guilt, before he meets the Judge of us all. The God that we meet in Scripture imposes the death penalty and directs others to do so. However, following the counsel of earlier Church Fathers and the precepts of mercy, clergy and religious ought not to participate as executioners, or to deliver death sentences as judges.

2) During and after John Paull II’s papacy, the Church held that the death penalty can be legitimately and justly applied by public authority, but depriving a man of his life may rob him of a chance to repent later. Because society can reliably deprive violent criminals of the freedom to hurt others, the use of the death penalty is harder to justify in many cases, and ought to be increasingly rare.

Now Pope Francis inserts his own opinion into the Catechism, which was immediately hailed in certain circles as a bold “development” of Catholic teaching. We’ll call this 3). And it reads this way:

[“]Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.[”]

The first thing to say is that progressive Catholics have been saying for years that the papacy was overstepping its bounds, exercising its authority too harshly in condemning individual theologians who were just issuing speculations and opinions. … But, this week, they welcomed the papal fiat, a simple thunderbolt from Rome. Done without consultation or collegial input. Funny how that works.

The second thing to say about these three different positions is that each revision drains the previous one of more of its supernatural content. The first presumes and has confidence in a living and just Judge that greets human souls after death, one capable of saving any soul He desires to see in heaven no matter what we do with the convict’s life on earth. Whereas the first position offers assertions about God, the last one offers assertions about the current social conditions. 

The third thing to say is that the Church’s factual assertions about the conditions of society are more easily challenged than its traditional exegesis of Scripture. In its new Catechism, the Catholic Church simply ignores the argument that retribution may be just, and even redemptive. It then gestures at a new modern context and says that this now makes the death penalty inadmissible. But the Church doesn’t describe these conditions with any rigor. And the proposition is not very believable on its face. Were prisons so much more ineffective during the reign of Pope Pius XII who taught something quite different about the death penalty? Are prisons the world over effective enough to protect citizens? Prisoners are citizens too, and some murderers are of the type that continue to assault and murder their fellow prisoners. Is the Church endorsing the psychological torture of indefinite solitary confinement? It is hard to believe so, given Pope Francis’s occasional opinions in his homilies about how life imprisonment also offends human dignity.

Does the Church propose that, if living standards or standards of penal corruption reach a certain rate, the death penalty becomes admissible again? We’re left only to guess.

The fourth thing to say about the new Catechism, and the one that probably explains the level of anger and resistance to this teaching, is the way it smuggles a Whig interpretation of history and morality into a document that is supposed to expound upon the faith once delivered to the saints. “Recourse to the death penalty . . . was long considered an appropriate response,” it asserts. Notice the passive voice and the lack of subject. Are we talking about previous popes and church authorities? Are we talking about the men and women of the Bible? Or just human society in a long epoch before today? Then the next paragraph: “Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.” Whose awareness is increased? Are we saying that the world or the Church only recently stumbled on the idea of human dignity? Also, the previous teaching never held that by committing serious crimes, criminals lost all their human dignity. They were still owed justice. It was still impermissible to carry out their sentences in a spirit of vindictiveness and bloodlust. Their salvation was still to be sought. And, in fact, many of the Church’s theologians believed that a criminal’s acceptance of his just punishment conduced to his salvation.

That formulation — “It was long considered to be thus, but now there is an increased awareness of something else” — is a kind of rhetorical acid that must inevitably eat away at the Church’s claims to be an institution trustworthy to teach authoritatively on faith and morals. 

By doing this, the pope has declared open season on the Church’s moral teaching. Hunt and fire away with new “awareness” that descends from . . . somewhere.

This sudden eruption of a new understanding comes across as an attempt to distract us from scandal. 

But even if it is not an attempt to distract us from scandal, it is an act of vandalism. … The pope’s job description is to hand down what has been given to him, to safeguard the deposit of faith. That may involve risk, and it does frequently involve some kind of change. But it does not involve disclosing to us, like an oracle, some new understanding that condemns all of his predecessors, or telling us on an emotive whim that the Church has been misleading humanity for two millennia.


8. Nearly half say that America is less friendly to religious people than it used to be.

By Jamie Ballard, YouGov, August 2, 2018, 10:00 AM

Three-fourths (74%) of Republicans agreed that American culture has become “less hospitable to people of faith.”

At a recent summit, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that American culture has become “less hospitable to people of faith.” Close to half (45%) of Americans agree with his statement, according to new data from YouGov Omnibus.

About one in five (21%) people said they “strongly agreed” with Sessions’ characterization, while another 24% said they “somewhat agreed.” Meanwhile, 37% of people “strongly” or “somewhat” disagree with this statement.

Approximately three-fourths (74%) of Republicans agreed with Sessions, while only 30% of Democrats did. People who identify as politically independent were also more likely to agree (47%) than to disagree (37%). About four in ten Democrats “strongly” disagree, while another 12% “somewhat” disagree.