1. New wave of abuse suits could hit church like never before.

By Bernard Condon and Jim Mustian, The Associated Press, December 2, 2019, 1:14 AM

A wave of new laws in 15 states that allow people to make claims of sexual abuse going back decades could bring a deluge of lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church that could surpass anything seen so far in its clergy abuse crisis.

Associated Press reporting found it could result in thousands of new cases against the church and more than $4 billion in payouts.

Church leaders who had for years lobbied statehouses against loosening statute-of-limitations laws say this is exactly the kind of feeding frenzy they were worried about. And some have bemoaned the difficulty of trying to counter accusations of abuse that happened so long ago that most witnesses have scattered and many of the accused priests are long dead.

“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” said Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


2. A Fractured Coalition Loses Ground on Abortion.

By Elizabeth Dias and Lisa Lerer, The New York Times, December 2, 2019, Pg. A1

For years, abortion rights supporters like Ms. Wood believed the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling had delivered their ultimate goal, the right to reproductive choice. Now, they are grappling with a new reality: Nationwide access to abortion is more vulnerable than it has been in decades.

A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.

In a six-month period this year, states across the South and Midwest passed 58 abortion restrictions. Alabama banned the procedure almost entirely. Lawmakers in Ohio introduced a similar bill shortly before Thanksgiving. And in March, the Supreme Court will hear its first major abortion case since President Trump added two conservative justices and shifted the court to the right; how it rules could reshape the constitutional principles governing abortion rights.


3. Pope says Nativity scenes should go in town squares, schools.

By Alessandra Tarantino and Frances D’emilio, The Associated Press, December 1, 2019, 7:29 AM

Pope Francis on Sunday hailed Nativity scenes as “simple and admirable” signs of Christian faith and encouraged their placement in workplaces, schools and town squares, as he bolstered a Christmas tradition that has at times triggered bitter legal battles in the United States.

Francis visited a hill town, Greccio, where St. Francis of Assisi, the pontiff’s namesake, re-enacted the first creche scene, using living persons instead of statues, likely in 1223, during a return journey from the Holy Land.

In Greccio, in the countryside outside Rome, Francis signed a document, known as an apostolic letter, stressing the importance of creche scenes to popular faith.


4. Pennsylvania bill would require burials, cremation for fetal remains after abortion, miscarriage.

By Aris Folley, The Hill Online, December 1, 2019, 11:00 AM

A bill being considered by state legislators in Pennsylvania would require health care facilities to bury or cremate fetal remains after an abortion or miscarriage.

House Bill 1890, which was introduced by predominantly Republican group of lawmakers in September and passed by the GOP-led state House last week, is now being considered in the state Senate.

The bill, also known the Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act, seeks to require health care facilities to bury or cremate the remains of a fetus after an abortion or miscarriage if they are not claimed by a parent for disposition.

State Rep. Frank Ryan, who sponsored the legislation, told The Associated Press that “wanted to craft something that was voluntary, that provided the family with the ability for closure, the ability to understand that a human life was lost, their life, that they’d been striving for for so long.”

However, a number of Democratic legislators have come out against the legislation.


5. Pan-African summit to tell Africa’s “Best of Times, Worst of Times” tale.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 1, 2019

So far in 2019, nine Catholic priests have been kidnapped in Enugu state, the most recent of whom was taken Nov. 25 and freed two days later. Most are released unharmed, presumably after a ransom has been paid, though at least two have been killed.

Things have become so bad that in August, more than 200 priests of the Enugu diocese staged a public protest, marching to the state government house and police headquarters to demand stronger security measures after Father Paul Offu was kidnapped and shot to death.

As they wove through the streets, the priests chanted, “God save Enugu people from murderous Fulani herdsmen, enough is enough, the government should do something and save us.”

The same cannot necessarily be said for some of the priests White is likely to meet while he’s in town, covering the very first Pan-African Catholic Congress on Theology, Society and Pastoral Life, taking place at Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu, one of the world’s largest Catholic seminaries, Dec. 5-8.

The event is a co-project of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul, run by Nigerian Father Stan Ilo; the Association of African Theologians; a committee of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM); and all the Catholic universities and seminaries in Africa. More than 80 African theologians, bishops, priests, religious and laity make up the program, and some 650 people are expected to attend.


6. German Catholic Church Plans 2-Year Debate on Issues, Unnerving Traditionalists.

By Liam Stack, The New York Times, November 30, 2019, Pg. A8

The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has a split identity. At home, attendance is falling and many Germans say they regard the church’s teaching on social issues as hopelessly out of touch.

But globally, the German church is one of the most powerful — and liberal — regions of the Catholic world, a player whose wealth and theological influence are now creating a challenge for the entire church.

On Dec. 1, the German church’s international influence will be on display when its bishops begin a two-year-long series of meetings with lay leaders that will allow debate on hot-button issues that in many other corners of the church would be off limits, such as whether to accept homosexuality, end clerical celibacy and ordain women as priests.


7. 2007 claim of cleric’s prior abuse foretold of scandal, Church officials quietly absolved W.VA. bishop of ex-student’s allegations.

By Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg, The Washington Post, November 30, 2019, Pg. A1

Michael J. Bransfield was just a couple of years into his tenure as West Virginia’s bishop in 2007 when one of his former students called a church sexual abuse hotline. Decades earlier, at a Catholic high school, Bransfield had repeatedly summoned him from class, escorted him to a private room and fondled his buttocks and genitals, the caller said.

The former student’s allegation, first reported to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Bransfield taught, was eventually referred to the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church and the Vatican, as well as to the police, according to the findings of a recent church investigation obtained by The Washington Post.

But no action was taken against Bransfield — and the church’s own investigators now say the allegation may warrant further examination.


8. CDC: U.S. birthrate declines; fewest abortions since Roe.

By Marisa Iati, The Washington Post, November 30, 2019, Pg. A16

Rates of births and abortions in the United States again declined in the most recent years for which data is available, as women experience fewer pregnancies, according to analyses released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The birthrate reached its lowest point in more than three decades, with 3,791,712 births registered in 2018. That total is 2 percent below the total reported in 2017, marking the fourth year in a row that births have declined.

The CDC received reports of 623,471 abortions in 2016, down 2 percent from the prior year. The figure represents the lowest number of abortions reported since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, as well as the lowest rate.

Decreases in births and abortions over the past several years have been linked to fewer millennials having children than previous generations and a decline in teenage pregnancy. Experts have said the latter trend is probably due to teens having less sex and better access to effective and long lasting forms of contraception.


9. Celebrating the Novus Ordo as It Ought to Be.

By Father Roger Landry, National Catholic Register, November 30, 2019
Fr. Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts and the National Chaplain of Catholic Voices USA.

As the Roman Catholic Church marks the golden jubilee, it is a good time to separate the ‘substance’ of its reforms from the ‘accidents’ of its historical context and implementation.

On Nov. 30, the Church marks the 50th anniversary of when the Novus Ordo, or “Mass of Paul VI,” made its debut as the ordinary form of the Roman Rite of the sacred liturgy.

St. Paul VI had promulgated the new Roman Missal eight months earlier, but, by the time the First Sunday of Advent came around, the new liturgical books were not yet ready, and so the rollout was rather bungled and confusing, for priests and people alike.

In many places, that disarray continued, as some thought that the “new Mass” not only allowed for but demanded creativity. This led to a period of sweeping liturgical instability and experimentation that dramatically impacted Church prayer, architecture, art and music. It also led to a more generalized ecclesial chaos: If something like the Mass could be altered so significantly and often in seemingly arbitrary ways, why could the same spirit of “renewal” not be extended to Church sexual teachings, the nature of religious life, priestly celibacy and more?

Because of the centrality of the Mass in Catholic life, the way the changes were haphazardly enacted, the frequency of deviations and abuses surrounding its celebration, and the wider struggles of the Church in the years following its implementation, the Novus Ordo soon became the icon and symbol for all the changes in the Church after the Second Vatican Council — those intended by the Council, those never considered, and those absolutely unintended.

To support the Novus Ordo therefore came to mean approving not only the substantive changes it contained but also what it didn’t: the “renovation” of sanctuaries; the moving of tabernacles to the side or another room altogether; hymns of inconsistent quality; vestments, banners and liturgical appointments of variable beauty; a ministerialization of the laity; an exaggerated emphasis of banquet over sacrifice; a focus on priest and community over a theocentric sense of the sacred; Communion in the hands; priests celebrating Mass in bathing suits on the beach; and more.

To celebrate the Novus Ordo “as it ought to be” means ensuring always and everywhere that the liturgy conveys a profound sense that one is in God’s presence, facilitates loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and opens us up so that God can transform us by this encounter to love our neighbor as he loves us.

This not only can happen, but does, when the celebration of the Novus Ordo takes place with proper preparation, beauty and reverence.

That’s what every Catholic has a right to. That’s what St. Paul VI intended. That’s what the Church and the world need.


10. Boston Seminary Report Models Key Post-McCarrick Reforms.

National Catholic Register, November 30, 2019, Editorial

The response to allegations has been concrete, transparent and authentically Catholic, in its efforts to discern what is wrong at the seminary and how to rectify those shortcomings.

It would hardly be appropriate to characterize the recently released findings of the independent investigation undertaken at the Archdiocese of Boston’s St. John’s Seminary as “good news,” given that it did confirm that isolated instances of sexual misconduct and excessive alcohol consumption have taken place there in recent years.

But the outcome does appear to be a positive indication that key Church leaders are aiming in a better direction, when it comes to addressing sexual misconduct and other problems in seminaries.

And while it’s always deeply troubling whenever any sexual activity takes place at a Catholic seminary, the fact that the St. John’s investigators found no pervasive subculture of sexual activity, or incidents of sexual misconduct involving the seminary’s formators, is also cause for some measured encouragement.

U.S. Catholics can be excused for fearing that the findings were going to be a lot worse, given that the St. John’s allegations arose in the specific context of last year’s revelations that disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick had engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians with impunity. That disclosure encouraged two former St. John’s seminarians to step forward on social media in August 2018, with credible allegations of sexual and other misconduct.

It should be noted that in the wake of the 2002 clergy-abuse scandal, the Vatican undertook a comprehensive visitation of all U.S. seminaries, a process that yielded a wealth of useful information and guidance.

Given what has already come to light regarding seminary problems over the last 18 months — and what might soon be forthcoming, in light of Cardinal O’Malley’s recent advisory that Pope Francis is about to release the findings of the Vatican investigation into the factors that facilitated McCarrick’s misconduct — now might be a highly appropriate time for another such seminary visitation.


11. ‘Popes’: A Holy Must-See.

By Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2019, Pg. A10, Life & Arts

We’ve been warned about basing judgments on book covers; the same goes for movie titles. “The Two Popes” may sound like something worthy but stuffy, a holiday-season bonbon that humanizes its subjects decorously. Instead, the film is a dramatic and visual feast, one that portrays its adversaries as passionate humans who move us and make us laugh while they’re having at each other in search of common theological ground.

Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis. The director was Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”), working from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten. When a movie flops it can be hard to level specific blame. When the results are this good it’s hard to assign specific praise, although the production has clearly been blessed by the presence of two consummate actors at the top of their games. Watching what they make of the exuberant script with the benefit of supple direction turns out to be profound fun.

For all its substance and verbal elegance, “The Two Popes” is a grand spectacle—the production was designed by Mark Tildesley and photographed by César Charlone— with an expansive world view. That’s echoed by a soundtrack ranging from the Beatles through Thelonious Monk to Mercedes Sosa, with bandoneon voicings at moments of yearning and strains of “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen” accompanying the two men’s visit to an empty Sistine Chapel. It wouldn’t be farfetched to see the whole film as a love story that ends in a tango.


12. Vatican returns relic from Jesus’ manger to Holy Land.

By Joseph Krauss, The Associated Press, November 29, 2019, 4:53 AM

Christians on Friday celebrated the return to the Holy Land of a tiny wooden relic they believe was part of Jesus’ manger nearly 1,400 years after it was sent to Rome as a gift to the pope.

The thumb-sized relic was unveiled to worshippers Friday at the Notre Dame church in Jerusalem for a day of celebrations and prayer.

On Saturday, it will be sent to its permanent home at the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine, next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank holy site where tradition says Jesus was born. Its arrival will coincide with Advent, a four-week period leading up to Christmas.


13. Australia Moves Closer to Compulsory Child Abuse Reporting by Priests.

By Lidia Kelly, Reuters, November 29, 2019, 8:09 PM

Australia’s top attorneys agreed on Friday to standardise laws across the country forcing priests to report child abuse revealed to them during confessions in a move that could widen a schism between the church and the government.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the country’s top Catholic body, said the Catholic Church supports “nationally consistent” reporting regimes to protect children.

However, he said, the church does not consider the removal of the legal protection for the “sacramental seal of confession” helpful or necessary.


14. IDI foundation president gives new detail on Vatican loans for hospital purchase.

Catholic News Agency, November 29, 2019, 3:40 PM

The president of a foundation at the center of a Vatican financial scandal provided new details Thursday on the Vatican central bank loans that funded the purchase of a bankrupt hospital. He also claimed that controversial grants made by the U.S. based Papal Foundation were used to support the hospital’s expenses, not to repay its debts.

Antonio Maria Leozappa, president of the Fondazione Luigi Maria Monti, sent a Nov. 29 letter to Vatican journalist Sandro Magister. The letter aimed to offer “clarification and rectification” on the reported use of funds from APSA, the Vatican’s central bank, in the foundation’s 2015  purchase of the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI).

The letter also addressed the reported misuse of funds from Rome’s Bambino Gesu hospital, and a grant from the U.S. based Papal Foundation.

CNA has reported that the foundation’s purchase of the IDI was partially funded with a 50 million euro loan from APSA. On Nov. 20, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State confirmed to CNA that he had arranged the 50 million euro APSA loan.


15. Pope’s message of openness to refugees prompts social media backlash in Japan.

By Simon Denyer and Akiko Kashiwagi, Washington Post Online, November 27, 2019, 6:58 AM

A visit to Japan by Pope Francis and his dream of a nuclear-free world drew largely positive headlines this week in Japan. But when he tried to gently encourage the Japanese to extend a hand of friendship to refugees, the backlash on social media was significant.

Japan, among the world’s richest nations, has some of the toughest policies toward refugees and asylum seekers and a reputation for being relatively closed to outsiders. The pope’s effort to preach a more accepting message was not universally welcomed.

“In a special way, I ask you to extend the hand of friendship to those who come here, often after great sufferings, seeking refuge in your country,” he said, in a speech to a group of 900 mostly young people, including some Kurdish refugees.


16. Vatican Posed Security Threat, Says Financial Watchdog After Suspension, Financial watchdog network, Egmont Group, suspended the Vatican from access to its network earlier this month.

By Francis X. Rocca, Wall Street Journal Online, November 27, 2019, 1:07 PM

An international network of financial watchdogs said the Vatican’s handling of confidential information posed “an evident security threat to our organization,” in a statement explaining why it suspended the Vatican from access to its information earlier this month.

The Egmont Group, a Toronto-based network of more than 160 national financial intelligence units around the world, suspended the Vatican watchdog’s access to its secure web system on Nov. 13, Egmont Chairman Mariano Federici told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The suspension is a blow to the Vatican’s financial credibility under Pope Francis, and comes at a delicate moment, ahead of an on-site evaluation of the papal state early next year by the official pan-European money-laundering watchdog Moneyval.


17. November is National Adoption Month: Bill McGurn shares his family’s story.

Fox News, November 27, 2019

Fox News contributor Bill McGurn, Wall Street Journal ‘Main Street’ columnist, on the importance of adoption.


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