1. Reading the Tea Leaves on Abortion.

By Louise Melling, The New York Times, December 17, 2018, Pg. A19, Opinion

When the Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear cases brought by Louisiana and Kansas attempting to exclude Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, legal soothsayers were out in full force opining about what it means for the future of abortion rights under the newly constituted court. 

The decision drew a dissent from three conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, who suggested that the court was ducking the cases because they involved Planned Parenthood and touched on abortion. But, intriguingly, the court’s two other conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and the court’s latest member, Brett Kavanaugh, sided with the court’s liberals in rejecting the case. 

The court’s legitimacy, of course, rests on more than unanimity or incremental change. It rests on respect for precedent and the idea that court’s decisions don’t swing with each new president. That means that the court doesn’t lightly upend precedents like Roe v. Wade, now in place for nearly half a century, and already reaffirmed once against a concerted effort to overturn it. And most important, the court ought to be especially careful about upending settled expectations about core constitutional rights — such as the right to choose an abortion — that have played a central role in the ongoing struggle by women for equal status.

The question now is not what the Supreme Court soothsayers will tell us, but whether Chief Justice Roberts and his fellow conservatives uphold the integrity of the court, or use their new majority to deliver on Trump’s promise.

Louise Melling is a deputy legal director of the A.C.L.U., where she oversees the organization’s work on reproductive freedom.


2. A Trek for Days, on Foot and on Knee, to Honor ‘the No. 1 Mother’.

By Kirk Semple, The New York Times, December 16, 2018, Pg. A9

Over the course of several days this month, an estimated nine million people visited the basilica, with some seven million of them filing through the building between Tuesday and Wednesday, to celebrate what believers say was the appearance of the Virgin Mary before an indigenous Mexican peasant named Juan Diego in 1531.

It is hard to overstate the singular importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the Mexican identity.

She serves as a binding force that transcends the country’s varied and dramatic sociodemographic divisions, and her image is ubiquitous — in portraits hanging on the walls of homes; in small shrines found in shops, gas stations and parking lots; and on objects as varied as kitchenware, jewelry, lamps, satchels, refrigerator magnets and bottle openers.

“She’s everywhere,” said Davíd Carrasco, a professor of Latin American studies at Harvard Divinity School. “She’s everybody’s mother in Mexico. My daughter calls her ‘the No. 1 Mother.’ ”

“The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of hope and peace: Whatever happens, she’s going to be here,” said Gabriela Treviño, head of the basilica’s guided tour department. “The harder the situation, the stronger the devotion.”

At midnight, the main Mass celebrating the Virgin’s appearance began, and the plaza and the surrounding neighborhood lifted with the sound of pilgrims singing Las Mañanitas, a traditional Mexican birthday song.

Adherents consider Dec. 12, when the Virgin is said to have imprinted herself on Juan Diego’s cloak, as her birthday.

And still they came through the night and into the following day, thousands upon thousands carrying their artifacts of devotion, the conveyor belts churning away without stop.


3. To Expand Access to Emergency Contraception, Some Colleges Try Vending Machines, Students seek convenience, discretion when buying Plan B.

By Melissa Korn and Melanie Grayce West, Wall Street Journal Online, December 16, 2017, 7:00 AM

Some universities are installing vending machines where students can purchase emergency contraception, an effort to remove barriers to and anxiety surrounding products like Plan B.

Barnard College in New York said it would soon install a vending machine, months after Columbia University did. Stanford University, Dartmouth College and a few University of California campuses have added vending machines with Plan B or its generic alternative in recent years. Yale University students have pushed for one, and the student council at Miami University in Ohio voted last month in support of selling emergency contraception in campus markets as well.

Access to emergency contraception has grown significantly since Plan B, sometimes called the morning-after pill, came to market in 1999. It is now sold over the counter to customers, regardless of age.

Many schools offer free or reduced-cost emergency contraception in their student health centers.


4. Pope hopes new UN global pact sparks compassion for migrants.

By The Associated Press, December 16, 2018, 7:22 AM

Pope Francis is expressing hope that the new U.N. global pact on safe, orderly migration spurs solidarity toward migrants.

The U.N. General Assembly meets this week to approve the accord. Last week at a gathering in Morocco, nearly 85 percent of U.N. member states agreed to the pact.


5. Kids at a Vatican charity give Pope Francis a birthday cake.

By The Associated Press, December 16, 2018, 9:25 AM

Children who frequent a Vatican pediatric dispensary have given Pope Francis a birthday cake, a day before he turns 82.

Francis joked with them Sunday, saying he hoped “such a big cake doesn’t give indigestion” and blew out a candle atop the treat decorated in the Vatican’s yellow-and-white official colors.

He said children are good at teaching grown-ups to be humble, to better understand life and people.


6. Why drive for independence of Ukraine’s church matters to Rome too.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 16, 2018,

Let’s make one thing clear at the outset: It takes a special kind of chutzpah for the Patriarch of Moscow to complain that his bishops and clergy are being subjected to pressure, intimidation and even “persecution” from the state in today’s Ukraine.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow recently made precisely that appeal in letters to Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, the World Council of Churches, the Secretary General of the UN and the governments of France and Germany, and pretty much anyone else who might listen. The content of the letters was released through official Russian news channels.

The Vatican has studiously stayed out of the fray, despite the fact that the Greek Catholic Church is broadly supportive of the independence campaign and that Francis clearly prefers Bartholomew as his privileged interlocutor in the Orthodox world. However, there’s no doubt that net-net, the Vatican’s global interests would probably be strengthened if the Patriarchate of Moscow’s stranglehold on the Orthodox world were weakened.

For decades, the greatest asset Christianity in Ukraine possessed was its moral authority as a church of martyrs, which was enough to fire imaginations and win sympathy all across the world.

It would be tragic if, now that Ukraine appears to be on the brink of finally achieving a hard-won degree of independence, that achievement were to be marred by perceptions that it, too, was achieved with the help of force and political collusion.


7. Pope Francis: Rejoice! God hears your prayers.

By Hannah Brockhaus, Catholic News Agency, December 16, 2018, 6:47 AM

God’s loving care for his children – listening to their cares, answering their prayers and petitions – is a cause for rejoicing, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday.

“The awareness that in difficulties we can always turn to the Lord, and that he never rejects our invocations, is a great reason for joy,” the pope said Dec. 16. “Shout with joy, rejoice, rejoice: this is the invitation of this Sunday.”

“No worries, no fear, will ever take away the serenity that does not come from human things, from human consolations, no, the serenity that comes from God, from knowing that God lovingly guides our life, and always does.”

Speaking on the third Sunday of Advent, known as “Gaudete Sunday,” Pope Francis reflected on the peace, hope, and joy Christ brought into the world at his birth. 


8. Lists of Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse Are Spilling Out Across the Country.

By Campbell Robertson, The New York Times, December 15, 2018, Pg. A21

As the Catholic Church faces a wave of federal and state attorney general investigations into its handling of sex abuse, bishops around the country have struggled with how to react. Some have locked down defensively. Others are waiting on guidance from the Vatican, which instructed American bishops last month to wait on taking any collective action until the new year.

But dozens of bishops have decided to take action by releasing lists of the priests in their dioceses who were credibly accused of abuse. And they are being released at an unprecedented pace.

Many of the priests named on the lists are dead, but not all. Many had already been known as abusers, but scores of names are new, even to activists who have been closely following the church abuse scandals for years. Among the known allegations, many of the cases date back generations.

But few of the lists provide details about the allegations themselves, including when they occurred or how many victims were affected.

Still, if releasing the lists was meant to defuse the anger of the church’s critics, there is little evidence it has done that.

Yet civil authorities have limits, too, as was made clear in a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In a Dec. 3 opinion, the court agreed with a group of unnamed priests who argued that the grand jury report did not allow them their right of due process to submit evidence and arguments in their defense. Their names remain redacted in the report.


9. In France, Strasbourg Christmas market reopens as attack toll rises to 4.

By Reuters, The Washington Post, December 15, 2018, Pg.  A11

Strasbourg reopened its traditional Christmas market under heavy security Friday, the morning after French police fatally shot a gunman suspected of killing four people in the heart of the historic city. 

Cherif Chekatt, 29, was killed in the Neudorf neighborhood of Strasbourg after firing on police, ending a two-day manhunt that involved more than 700 members of the security forces. 

The fourth victim, an Italian national, was named Friday. 

The attack on Strasbourg’s cherished Christmas market, a target full of religious symbolism, evoked France’s difficulties in integrating Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority and dealing with homegrown militants inspired by the Islamic State. 


10. Why US forces must step in to save Iraqi Christians from extinction.

By Kenneth R. Timmerman, New York Post, December 15, 2018, 12:16 PM

Most Americans have had enough of our 15-year effort to bring peace, stability and, yes, some modicum of representative government to Iraq. President Trump repeatedly blasted President George W. Bush for going to war in 2003, calling it “the single worst decision ever made.”

And yet, the United States does have lasting interests in Iraq beyond eradicating weapons of mass destruction. Prime among them is one that until now we have neglected: ensuring the survival of Iraq’s Christian minority and, more generally, the Christians of the East.

Why should we care? America is fundamentally a Judeo-Christian nation. More than 70 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians, and if that statistic has any meaning, then we must take seriously the passage of St. Paul in I Corinthians 12:26, when he describes the body of Christ. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

There can be no doubt: The Body of Christ in northern Iraq is suffering. It has been suffering for the past 15 years in ways never before imaginable. And until recently, Americans and the US government have done little to help.

These are our people. This is our duty.

Through 1,400 years of Muslim domination, these communities have remained faithful, their monasteries and ancient churches largely intact. Until ISIS. Today, 150,000 Christians at most remain in Iraq, a scant 10 percent of the community that once thrived before 2003. And every day brings them closer to extinction.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the best-selling author of “ISIS Begins: A Novel of the Iraq War” (Post Hill Press), out now. He lectured on Iran at the Pentagon’s Joint Counter-Intelligence Training Academy from 2010-2016.


11. President Trump Nominates William Barr as Attorney General, The veteran Catholic lawyer’s résumé of government service includes a previous two-year stint as U.S. attorney general.

By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register, December 14, 2018

When President Trump named William Barr as his nominee for U.S. attorney general, the news brought a sense of relief to Republican lawmakers eager for a seasoned leader at the helm of a troubled Justice Department.

Barr, 68, is an experienced corporate lawyer and a committed Catholic who served from 1991 to 93 as U.S. attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. Earlier in his government career, he worked on domestic-policy issues for the Reagan White House, and then, under President Bush, he led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, before moving up the chain of command to deputy attorney general and then the top job in the department.

“Barr is a person of tremendous distinction and accomplishment,” said Leonard Leo, the executive vice president for the Federalist Society, the legal organization that has played a major role in the Trump White House’s recruitment of originalist jurists to the federal bench.

As a former U.S. attorney general, Barr “will enter the Justice Department with an awful lot of credibility and respect for the role he previously played,” Leo told the Register.

“He has a candid and no-nonsense management style, which is something the department could benefit from.”

Gerard Bradley, a professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Law, told the Register that Barr’s nomination was “welcome news,” and he singled out a key speech he gave two decades ago that “spoke frankly about matters of culture, morality and law.”

Barr “criticized the Supreme Court’s ‘wall of separation’ as a judge-made doctrine tantamount to secularism. He was quite right,” said Bradley.

“Barr also criticized the ‘wall’ as a departure from the Founders’ constitutional design, which was to promote religion in order to help the churches cultivate in citizens the virtue necessary to sustain a free society.”

Groups opposing his nomination believe that Barr should “repudiate” his unfashionable opinions, said Bradley, but he hopes that Barr will retain his clear-eyed diagnosis of the problems that beset American culture and the rule of law.

Said Bradley: “It is precisely because he sees so clearly the decay in our culture and the distortions in much of our law that he will make a fine attorney general.” 


12. After guilty verdict, questions raised about Pell trial. 

By Ed Condon, Catholic News Agency, December 14, 2018, 4:00 PM

After reports of a guilty verdict emerged in the trial of Australian Cardinal George Pell, some in Australia have questioned the integrity of a process undertaken under the veil of a media blackout.

The guilty verdict comes ahead of a second trial, scheduled for February 2019, in which Pell will face further accusations of abuse dating back to the 1970s, during which time he served as a priest in Ballarat.

Reporting restrictions imposed by the County Court of Victoria mean that the progress or outcomes of the trial cannot be covered by local media or broadcast electronically into Australia. No media discussion of the accusations or Pell’s defense is permitted in the country.

Those who violate the gag order could be subject to contempt of court charges by Victoria prosecutors.

Nevertheless, CNA has spoken to several sources familiar with the Pell case, all of whom expressed disbelief at the verdict. The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the legal gag order imposed by the court.

“They have convicted an innocent man,” one source directly familiar with the evidence told CNA. “What’s worse is that they know they have.”

An individual who attended the entire trial in person but is unconnected with Pell’s legal team, told CNA that Pell’s lawyers had made an “unanswerable defense.” 

“It was absolutely clear to everyone in that court that the accusations were baseless. It wasn’t that Pell didn’t do what he’s accused of – he clearly couldn’t have done it.”