1. Abortion Foes, Emboldened by Trump, Promise ‘Onslaught’ of Tough Restrictions, By Sabrina Tavernise and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times, December 12, 2016, Pg. A1.

The effects of Mr. Trump’s victory are only beginning to be felt. But one of the biggest changes is playing out in abortion politics. From the composition of the Supreme Court (Mr. Trump has promised to nominate staunchly anti-abortion justices), to efforts on Capitol Hill to enact a permanent ban on taxpayer-financed abortions, to emboldened Republican statehouses like the one in Ohio, combatants on both sides see legalized abortion imperiled as it has not been for decades.

That includes, they agree, the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion decision, during the Trump presidency.

On Monday, the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life is scheduled to release a 135-page report describing what it calls “horrific abortion clinic conditions” in 32 states. Clarke Forsythe, the group’s acting president, said the report was intended to be “an inspiration to state legislators” to enact new restrictions, and as a “rebuke to the Supreme Court’s tragic decision” to strike down a far-reaching Texas anti-abortion law in June.

Mr. Trump’s emergence as a potent ally of the anti-abortion movement is a surprise. Ms. Dannenfelser [the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, and the chairwoman of a coalition of abortion opponents that worked to elect Mr. Trump] said she opposed him during the Republican primaries, but mobilized 800 volunteers to work for Mr. Trump in the general election after he committed in writing to her group’s four top priorities — a letter she called “probably the most valuable piece of paper we’ll ever have.”

Those priorities include putting anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court; passing a national 20-week ban like Ohio’s; eliminating federal money for Planned Parenthood as long as its clinics perform abortions; and making permanent the Hyde Amendment, passed annually by Congress to ban taxpayer-funded abortions.


2. Pope urges new culture of nonviolence for world politics, By The Associated Press, December 12, 2016, 6:24 AM.

Pope Francis is calling for a renewed culture of nonviolence to inform global politics today, saying military responses to conflicts only breed more violence.

In the message released Monday, Francis said: “Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering.”

Earlier this year, the Vatican hosted a conference of peace activists who called on the Catholic Church to renounce its “just war” doctrine, which condones force to stop an unjust aggression under certain conditions. The activists urged a new peacemaking framework based on Gospel-mandated nonviolence.


3. Conservative Christians See Opening, By Ian Lovett, The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2016, Pg. A6.

After nearly a decade, the Christian right is emerging from the political wilderness.

They are pressing for a ban on late-term abortions; expanded accommodation for religion in the workplace, at hospitals and elsewhere; and, above all, the appointment of conservative judges.
Already, social conservatives are taking up positions in Mr. Trump’s cabinet. Tom Price, a forceful voice for expanding religious liberty and a vehement opponent of the Obamacare contraception mandates, was tapped last week to become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Ben Carson, a Christian who has frequently spoken out against gay and transgender rightswas chosen to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Despite these expectations, the religious right’s goals have shifted since the last time Republicans were in power—reflecting the difficulty of reversing social changes that occurred during the Obama years. Few conservative Christians are calling for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as they did during President George W. Bush’s tenure. Instead, their immediate goals are more incremental. In interviews, social conservatives said they expect Mr. Trump to promptly rescind an Obama administration executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian and transgender people. They also anticipate that health-care regulations that require employers including some religiously affiliated charities to cover contraception in workers’ plans will be reversed, something Vice President-elect Mike Pence, a staunch social conservative, promised during the campaign.


4. As anti-Amoris critics cross into dissent, the Church must move on, By Austen Ivereigh, Crux, December 11, 2016, Opinion.

By rejecting the process of the synod and its fruits, the critics of Amoris Laetitia, led by four protesting cardinals, have crossed a line, and look increasingly like the dissenting lobbies under John Paul II who accused him of betraying Vatican II. Meanwhile, the Church is moving on.

I don’t just mean the line of good manners and respect. That was crossed some time ago, when the four cardinals made public their letter challenging Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and threatened him with a kind of public censure. Since then the tone of disrespect and contempt of some writers who back them has plumbed shocking new lows.

But far more important than tone, the critiques have crossed a frontier into a territory marked “dissent”.

Dissent, to be clear, is not the same as disagreement. Catholics often disagree with this or that decision or statement of a pope, object to his theology, or don’t share his priorities. And pope Francis is not only relaxed about disagreement, but positively encourages it.

Dissent is different. Dissent is to disagreement what disbelief is to doubt.

Dissent is, essentially, to question the legitimacy of a pope’s rule.

The synod decided, by a two-thirds majority, that they wanted both to preserve the doctrine of indissolubility in the current discipline of the Eucharist while at the same time creating sufficient pastoral latitude in the application of the Church’s law to allow pastors to respond to situations where there was a subjective lack of culpability.

Which situations? AL doesn’t specify, which has allowed the four cardinals and their supporters to claim the document is ambiguous and confusing.

The synod kept the law – how could it not? It’s the law of Jesus – but defended a latitude in its application, recognizing, as did Jesus, that the law is necessary but insufficient, and has to be applied in such a way that respects the particularity of each person’s story.

And it is not easily grasped by those Pope Francis calls the “doctors of the law” in whom fear of being swamped or contaminated by a world of relativism and sin is so great that it becomes the single driving focus of their attention.

They suspect that Amoris undermines the affirmation of objective truth in Veritatis Splendor (which it doesn’t, but it certainly shifts the focus away from the defense of truth to the defense of the way Grace works in a soul.)

Many are good people, clever people, faithful Catholics, who want to defend the Church and
promote the Good and the True. Some I consider friends. And as their friend, I have to tell them that in their anxiety and fear they have been tempted down the road of dissent, rejecting a Spirit-filled process of ecclesial discernment.

Francis expected protest, especially from this quartet of red hats, and is saddened by it.

He knows that the dissenters have dug their trench, and many will stay firmly in it, glowering while the rest of the Church develops a new pastoral strategy for marriage and family. But Francis also knows that this is their choice, which is the choice of every dissenter.

And he knows that, in order to be faithful to the Holy Spirit’s action, his own choice can only be to ignore the cardinals and press on.


5. Two Leading Philosophers: Errors Derived from Amoris Laetitia Could Do Grave Harm to Many Souls, By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, December 10, 2016.

Professors Germain Grisez and John Finnis warn that to promote such errors in order to “realistically” deal with Catholics influenced by secularised culture is setting aside the Church’s tradition and mission.

Two leading Catholic philosophers have written an open letter to Pope Francis — not to criticize his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, but rather to ask him to condemn eight “erroneous positions” some have drawn from the document.
John Finnis, emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy at the University of Oxford and Biolchini Family Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, and Germain Grisez, emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Mount St. Mary’s University, have also asked that all bishops issue their own condemnations of the eight positions they identify.

The 8 erroneous positions in full are:

Position A: A priest administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation may sometimes absolve a penitent who lacks a purpose of amendment with respect to a sin in grave matter that either pertains to his or her ongoing form of life or is habitually repetitive.

Position B: Some of the faithful are too weak to keep God’s commandments; though resigned to committing ongoing and habitual sins in grave matter, they can live in grace.

Position C: No general moral rule is exceptionless. Even divine commandments forbidding specific kinds of actions are subject to exceptions in some situations.

Position D: While some of God’s commandments or precepts seem to require that one never choose an act of one of the kinds to which they refer, those commandments and precepts actually are rules that express ideals and identify goods that one should always serve and strive after as best one can, given one’s weaknesses and one’s complex, concrete situation, which may require one to choose an act at odds with the letter of the rule.

Position E: If one bears in mind one’s concrete situation and personal limitations, one’s conscience may at times discern that doing an act of a kind contrary even to divine commandment will be doing one’s best to respond to God, which is all that he asks, and then one ought to choose to do that act but also be ready to conform fully to the divine commandment if and when one can do so.

Position F: Choosing to bring about one’s own, another’s, or others’ sexual arousal and/or satisfaction is morally acceptable provided only that (1) no adult has bodily contact with a child; (2) no participant’s body is contacted without his or her free and clear consent to both the mode and the extent of contact; (3) nothing done knowingly brings about or unduly risks significant physical harm, disease transmission, or unwanted pregnancy; and (4) no moral norm governing behavior in general is violated.

Position G: A consummated, sacramental marriage is indissoluble in the sense that spouses ought always to foster marital love and ought never to choose to dissolve their marriage. But by causes beyond the spouses’ control and/or by grave faults of at least one of them, their human relationship as a married couple sometimes deteriorates until it ceases to exist. When a couple’s marriage relationship no longer exists, their marriage has dissolved, and at least one of the parties may rightly obtain a divorce and remarry.

Position H: A Catholic need not believe that many human beings will end in hell.

They conclude in their introduction to the letter by warning how promoting any of these 8 positions can do “grave harm to many souls”, and point out “some ways in which this may happen.” They also note the “grave damage these errors do to marriage and to young people who otherwise might have entered into authentic married life with good hearts and been signs of Christ’s covenantal love for his Church.”


6. Rather than pulling a nail, Pope Francis finds another tool, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, December 8, 2016, Editor.

In a nutshell, Pope Francis’s approach to difficult personnel choices is to keep people in place, while entrusting the real responsibility to somebody else and thus rendering the original official, if not quite irrelevant, certainly less consequential.

Personnel is key in the Church, in part because of the wide latitude bishops and Vatican officials enjoy, and also because of their longevity. The pope gives a press conference, and the echo of it may be over tomorrow; he names a bishop, and that person will be exercising influence for the next quarter-century.

The question put to Francis was how he handles Church officials who may not be fully on the same page, or simply not his kind of man.

“Nails are removed by applying pressure to the top,” the pope said, “or, you set them aside to rest when the age of retirement arrives.”

In other words, sometimes Francis removes someone directly – the best known for-instance being American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who lost his position as head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court in November 2014.

More often, Francis appeared to suggest, he prefers to wait it out, holding on until the person in question reaches the normal retirement age and then making a natural transition.

In a nutshell, it means formally keeping people in place while entrusting the real responsibility to somebody else and thus rendering the original official, if not quite irrelevant, certainly less consequential.

On his much-vaunted financial reform, for instance, Francis clearly has shifted the center of gravity in terms of policy-setting away from the new Secretariat for the Economy led by Australian Cardinal George Pell to others, especially the Secretariat of State under Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Francis had a natural opportunity to replace Pell, who turned 75 in June, but instead confirmed him in office while clearly trimming his sails in terms of Pell’s original vision for what a revamped and more 21st century Vatican financial operation would look like.

One could go down the line citing examples, but the point is clear: Once in a while, to use the pope’s own phrase, he’ll pull a nail out by the head. More often, however, he’ll simply find another tool.