1. Pope Lifts Secrecy for Abuse Cases.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2019, Pg. A10

Pope Francis has lifted the secrecy requirement for Catholic Church documents related to priests’ sexual abuse of minors, granting a longstanding demand from activists who say it will help civil authorities gather evidence against abusers in the church.

In a decree published by the Vatican on Tuesday, the pope ruled that the “pontifical secret” binding church officials to confidentiality doesn’t apply to evidence and legal proceedings regarding clerical sex abuse or its coverup.

In an explanatory note, the president of the Vatican City State court, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, said that the lifting of the secrecy requirement applied both to the Vatican itself and to local church authorities handling abuse cases around the world.


2. Institutional Religion’s Role Is Declining in the U.S., More than one in four adults say they don’t identify with any religious group, and young people are the least religious of any cohort.

By Ian Lovett, Wall Street Journal Online, December 17, 2019, 8:48 PM

Institutional religion declined this decade, while secularism continued to rise—as did conflicts between two.

Protestant denominations were hardest hit. At the start of the 2010s, 51% of American adults identified as Protestant, according to the Pew Research Center. Now, the number sits at 43%, based on telephone surveys in 2018 and 2019.

The latest number is in keeping with a trend line for Christianity in the U.S. that has pointed sharply downward over the past 10 years. Christians make up 65% of the adult population, according to Pew, down from 76% at the start of the decade. Regular church attendance has taken a similar dive.

Meanwhile, the percentage of adults who don’t identify with any religious group has risen to 26% today from 17% in 2010. Young people are the least religious of any cohort.

In recent decades, mainline Protestantism had steeply fallen, but Catholicism and evangelical Christianity held relatively steady.

The later years of the decade also brought a renewed focus on sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church, following a Pennsylvania grand-jury report in 2018 that detailed more than half a century of abuse by clergy in the state. Since that report, attorneys general in more than a dozen other states have opened investigations into Catholic dioceses.


3. Online Sex Trafficking Law Shows Difficulty of Reining In Big Tech.

By David McCabe and Kate Conger, The New York Times, December 18, 2019, Pg. B4

To combat the ills of the internet, federal lawmakers have increasingly focused on a decades-old law that shields tech companies like Facebook and YouTube from liability for content posted by their users.

Last year, lawmakers approved chipping away at the law, voting overwhelmingly to hold tech platforms accountable when people use their sites for sex-trafficking schemes.

When lawmakers approved the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act last year, it was hailed as a way to catch up to the reality that the bartering of children and adults had moved from the streets to the web. It came after alarming allegations emerged about how Backpage, a classifieds site, may have been playing a role in trafficking.

Advocates for sex workers warned ahead of the vote in Washington about some of the potential downsides of the law. But they struggled to break through to lawmakers, who were hearing testimony from groups representing trafficking survivors.

“It misunderstands the way that trafficking works, if you think that making it less visible reduces the occurrence,” said Kate D’Adamo, an advocate for sex workers’ rights.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut who sponsored the 2018 law, said in a statement that the sex trafficking carve-out was written to “change tech industry practices,” and that it had succeeded.


4. Ending pontifical secret a milestone, but there’s accountability beyond law.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 18, 2019

Tuesday’s news that Pope Francis essentially has abolished the requirement of pontifical secrecy for clerical sexual abuse cases means that robust cooperation with civil authorities is now a cornerstone not only of Church practice, but also Church law.

That’s an important distinction, because in the U.S. and some other parts of the Catholic world, the pontifical secret had already been reinterpreted by bishops and canon lawyers to permit such cooperation, seen as essential not merely in the interests of justice but also to prevent the Church from being exposed to both civil and criminal liability.

As a result, while Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna was, in a sense, right in calling Tuesday’s moves “epochal,” they won’t change much operationally in the American Church.

For most American Catholics, the unfinished business of the abuse scandals isn’t cooperation with civil authorities, which, for the most part, has been a given for a couple of decades. It’s accountability for the cover-up as well as the crime, meaning sanctions for officials who were in a position to prevent abuse, or to punish abusers, and who failed to act.


5. Aleppo priest says dire Christmas awaits Christians trapped by Syria’s civil war.

By Inés San Martín, Crux, December 18, 2019

It’s been almost nine years since the beginning of the war in Syria, and a local priest says the situation in the war-torn city of Aleppo continues to worsen, becoming ever more “dramatic.”

In a letter sent to a group of his Italian contributors- one of whom forwarded it to Crux – Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh said that he is beginning to feel like “there is no future for the Middle East,” because “the interests of the powerful are obvious, and Syria continues to be the battleground of the great nations.”

“I apologize, I know it’s been a long time since the last time I wrote, the motive is very simple: I don’t know where to begin,” wrote the priest, from the Latin Parish of St. Francis in Aleppo. “In the west side of the city the bombing continues, and they once again approach our region. There are still many civilians dying.”

“But it is the people who continue to pay in all this, who continue to suffer, infinitely,” Alsabagh wrote, while denouncing the “normalization” in weapons sales, the destruction of countries and foreigners seizing the natural resources of Syria.

“This world is not good,” he wrote.

He didn’t mention any specific “foreign powers,” but it’s long been alleged that the war in Syria is not only a war against the terrorist organization known as ISIS, but also a proxy war for Russia and Iran, both supporting Bashar al-Assad Assad, against the United States and Turkey, both supporting various rebel groups.


6. Pope Francis: Nativity scenes show a ‘domestic Gospel’

By Hannah Brockhaus, Catholic News Agency, December 18, 2019, 3:12 AM

Pope Francis Wednesday called Christmas nativity scenes a “domestic Gospel,” which helps to make the Holy Family present in one’s home.

He also encouraged every family to have one in their home at Christmas time.

During his last general audience of 2019, Francis said Dec. 18 that gazing at the nativity, with the baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph “we can imagine the thoughts they had while the Child was born in poverty: joy but also shock.”

“And we can also invite the Holy Family to our home, where there are joys and worries, where every day we wake up, get food and sleep close to our loved ones,” he said. “The nativity is a domestic Gospel.”


7. Vatican’s investment funds were vehicles for Italian bank fraud.

By Ed Condon and Matthew O’Brien, Catholic News Agency, December 17, 2019, 1:50 PM

Two investment funds used by Vatican dicasteries were also used by a major Italian bank to conceal illegal investments for which the bank was eventually closed.

On Friday, Maltese media reported that the IOR, or Vatican Bank, is being sued in turn by Optimum for breach of contract; the firm claims the Vatican’s bank owes an additional 24 million euros as an already agreed-upon investment in one of its funds. The IOR has itself sued Optimum Asset Management; trying to recover millions it invested in an Optimum fund alleged to have lost 230 million euros.

Optimum was in 2015 identified by Italian authorities as a fund manager through which Banca Popolare di Vincenza fraudulently funneled money meant for outside investments back into investment in the bank itself.

While the bank was required by European law to maintain a diversified investment portfolio as a hedge against risk, it was found to have used Optimum to fraudulently invest in itself instead, leaving the accounts and investments of customers at a high degree of risk.


Subscribe to the TCA podcast!
“Conversations with Consequences” is a new audio program from The Catholic Association. We’ll bring you thoughtful dialogue with the leading thinkers of our time on the most consequential issues of our day. Subscribe today or listen online and enjoy our entertaining and informative weekly episodes.