1. ‘11th hour power grab’: Obama mandates state funding for Planned Parenthood, By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, December 15, 2016, Pg. A1.

President Obama is delivering a generous parting gift to Planned Parenthood in the form of a rule prohibiting states from divesting millions of dollars from the nation’s largest abortion provider.

The final version of the rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, requires states to distribute dollars from Title X of the Public Health Service Act without taking into account whether recipient clinics perform abortions.

Rep. Diane Black, a Tennessee Republican who sits on the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said the Obama administration “will not have the last word” on the rule.

“We should not be surprised that his administration would lash out with this eleventh hour power grab on the way out the door, but I am certain this rule will not stand for long,” Ms. Black said in a statement. “Come next year, our pro-life majorities in Congress will be positioned to work with President Elect Trump and pro-life nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, to not only roll back this latest overreach but also to enact new legal protections for these most vulnerable members of our society.”

At least 14 states have taken action to cut Planned Parenthood’s share of Title X funding in recent years, often allocating those dollars to family planning clinics that do not perform abortions.

According to annual reports released by Planned Parenthood, the number of health care services its clinics provided from 2012 to 2014 dropped by 10 percent, from approximately 10.6 million to 9.5 million. Although nearly 3 million patients visited Planned Parenthood clinics in 2012, that number fell to 2.5 million in 2014.

Despite a nationwide abortion downtrend, the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood clinics has remained steady or increased. Planned Parenthood performed just under 200,000 abortions in 2001, and that number ballooned to more than 333,000 by 2011.


2. Major religious freedom law might get a Christmas upgrade, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, December 14, 2016, 4:03 PM.

After almost 20 years, a landmark religious freedom bill may finally be getting a big upgrade.

The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act passed the House on Tuesday afternoon and will be heading to the president’s desk to be signed. It is bipartisan, with Rep. Smith, chair of the House Global Human Rights subcommittee, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) as the co-sponsors.

The legislation upgrades the original 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which helped make promotion of religious freedom a larger part of stated U.S. foreign policy.

The original law created the office of Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department to push other countries to honor freedom of religion, and monitor human rights abuses that are related to religious freedom. The new bill ensures that the ambassador reports directly to the Secretary of State.

The State Department since then has also published an annual report on the state of religious freedom by country. It deems certain countries “countries of particular concern,” (CPC) where the worst abuses of religious freedom are perpetrated by the government or without the government stopping them.

The new bill adds to this CPC list, creating a lower-tier “Special Watch List” for countries with poor records on respecting religious freedom.

Also, given that recent reports have emphasized the rise of “non-state actors” like terrorist groups, they get a special designation “Entity of Particular Concern.”

The new bill also mandates creation of a “comprehensive religious prisoners list.”


3. Why are Catholic Academics Supporting the Four Cardinals?, By Joseph Shaw, First Things, December 15, 2016.

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a score of Catholic academics and pastors—of whom I am one—spoke out, in an open letter, in support of the “Four Cardinals” who submitted and then made public five “dubia” (doubts or questions) to Pope Francis on issues raised by his post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The four cardinals—Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller, and Joachim Meisner—have taken a step that has few, if any, precedents.

As canonist Edward Peters has noted, the Four Cardinals’ letter is a “textbook” example of what one should do when in a state of perplexity about serious matters, according to Canon 212. What is unprecedented is that the problem should have escalated to this point, and have continued to escalate thereafter. That the pope should have declined—and made clear that he was declining—to answer such eminent petitioners, is extraordinary. That the Four Cardinals should have felt it necessary to go public is, in terms of the political expectations of the Roman Curia, little short of the nuclear option—even if the biblical, as well as the canonical, textbook would say it was their right and perhaps duty to do so (Matthew 18:15-17; Canon 212 §3). A group of academics and pastors weighing in on the Four Cardinals’ side, as certain bishops have, with a number of clerical and lay supporters of Pope Francis attacking them, would seem to be adding fuel to the flames.

The seriousness of these questions, and the depth of the division over them which is present in the Church at this moment, seem to have escaped many of the pope’s self-described supporters. … In short, there is no confusion: Everything is already perfectly clear.

By contrast, Fr. Spadaro and others have accused those who ask questions of bad faith, heresy, being under demonic influence, or attempting to strong-arm the magisterium in the manner of supporters of female ordination, often without addressing the substantive issues.

The wisdom of the name-calling line of defense is demonstrated by the difficulties experienced by those partisans of Pope Francis who have attempted to descend to details.

This, to repeat, is just a sample of the confusion to be found among liberal interpretations of Amoris. The positions taken by conservative bishops around the world add a vast extra dimension to the range of views. The issue is emphatically not one of differing pastoral conditions or strategies.

There is only one thing that can resolve this crisis: a decisive intervention by the pope. This is what is requested by the Four Cardinals and by those, including the signatories of this latest letter, who support them. It is evident that if this intervention comes only from a future pope, then the crisis will continue until that time. In the meantime, what is at stake is the very fabric of the Church, considered as a human institution.

Joseph Shaw is a senior research fellow at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford University.


4. Chaplains of Death, By R.R. Reno, First Things, December 14, 2016.

It’s an appalling document. In a pastoral letter, ten Catholic Bishops of the Canadian Atlantic Episcopal Assembly shirk their responsibilities as teachers of the faith. The issue is doctor-assisted suicide, which is now legal in Canada.

Readers can’t know to what degree the document’s apparent rubber-stamping of the culture of death was intended by its authors, or to what degree it simply follows from sloppy thinking and careless rhetoric. But the bishops’ failure to condemn suicide in plain terms is unmistakable. What’s more, the bishops adopt the circumlocutions of the Canadian government, which instituted the new suicide regime, along with the antinomian clichés of the current pontificate. One is left with the strong impression that the bishops do not merely wish to avoid condemning the practice of doctor-assisted suicide. They want the Church to accommodate herself, smoothing over any conflicts between Catholic teaching and the culture of death.

The bishops adopt the euphemism “medical assistance in dying,” pronouncing it “a highly complex and intensely emotional issue which profoundly affects us all.” It’s so complex, indeed, that we’re to practice “the art of accompaniment” that Pope Francis recommends, which means “prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit,” and not “judgments about people’s responsibility and culpability.” Suicide? Who am I to judge?

The worst aspect of this document, however, comes in the way the bishops tacitly sanction a grotesque misuse of the sacraments. They observe that a priest administers the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick “for strengthening and accompanying someone in a vulnerable and suffering state.”

The implication is straightforward, even if not explicitly stated: It is permissible, perhaps even desirable, for a priest to anoint a Catholic who is about to receive a deliberate, self-willed, death-dealing dose of medication.

In order to make sure they’re read rightly, the bishops sum up their sacramental theology: “To one and all we wish to say that the pastoral care of souls cannot be reduced to norms for the reception of the sacraments or the celebration of funeral rites.” Which is to say, Catholic moral teaching supplies guidelines, not rules.


5. Religious leaders: sexual orientation laws threaten freedom, By CNA/EWTN News, December 14, 2016, 9:50 AM.

It’s time to end coercion against those who recognize marriage as a union of one man and one woman and see the sexes as male and female, a group of religious and thought leaders has said.

“As Americans, we cherish the freedom to peacefully express and live by our religious, philosophical, and political beliefs – not merely to hold them privately,” said their statement “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion.”

“We believe that it is imperative that our nation preserve the freedoms to speak, teach, and live out these truths in public life without fear of lawsuits or government censorship,” they continued.

The statement, released Dec. 14, drew more than 75 signatures from Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and other leaders. Signers included Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice. They were joined by University of Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley, Princeton law professor Robert P. George, and writer and Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan T. Anderson.

Their statement affirmed that every individual is “created in the image of God and as such should be treated with love, compassion, and respect.” It also affirmed the belief that people are created male and female, saying that this is the basis of the family and the marital union.

For the statement’s signers, there was concern about laws that establish sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as protected classes.

“SOGI laws empower the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions,” the statement continued.

For the statement’s signers, even narrowly crafted SOGI laws threaten “fundamental freedoms” and purported religious liberty protections sometimes included in such laws are “inherently inadequate and unstable.” The statement rejected SOGI laws at federal, state, and local levels.