1. Room at the Inn: For women with no place to turn, today’s Bronx outshines ancient Bethlehem., By William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2016, Pg. A21.

Just a few evenings from now, children badly costumed as shepherds and angels and wise men will appear in nativity pageants the world over. Even the worst of these performances will underscore the hope and humbleness of that first Christmas, when a Jewish woman with child brought forth her son in a stable because there was no room for her at the inn.

More than two millennia later, the Bronx has improved on ancient Bethlehem. Here at Fulton Avenue and 167th Street, in one of New York’s toughest neighborhoods, a pregnant woman with nowhere else to turn will always find what she needs most: an open door and a caring heart.

Welcome to Good Counsel, a network of six homes plus a 24/7 hotline. They are the life’s work of Chris Bell, a lean and gentle 59-year-old husband and father whose story could never be made for the big screen today because only Jimmy Stewart in his prime could do him justice.

There are 15 women in this house, eight of whom are expecting, and 15 children, some born here and others who are siblings. For in addition to helping women keep their babies, Good Counsel lets them stay a year afterward—to finish school, train for a job and learn how to care and provide for their babies.

Make no mistake: No Good Counsel home will ever make it to the cover of House Beautiful. Because Mr. Bell takes no government money, his will always be a shoestring operation. With all those moms and babies, moreover, chaos is a feature, not a bug.

But the homes are warm. They are safe. And the folks who staff them count it a good thing when a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy who prefers to keep her baby actually has the choice to do so.

The good people at Good Counsel do what they do for moms like Monique, Janelle and Jozylyn because they regard every life as unique and precious. They cling happily to their faith. In the dominant script of our day, this oddly makes them part of the war on women.

But up close and personal, this doesn’t look anything like war. It looks like love. For Chris Bell and his merry band, no heavenly choir of angels could ever appear quite as glorious as a Good Counsel mom softly humming a lullaby to the little life in her arms.

Right now we are closing in on Christmas, and here in the Bronx the women have decorated appropriately. Come Sunday morn, they know, there won’t be much for them under the tree.

But there will be joy. Because Good Counsel is about life, and hope, and respect. As well as the promise that, with love and hard work, happy endings are still within reach even for those who have made some bad decisions.

And especially at Christmastime, Good Counsel wants that troubled young pregnant woman who thinks she’s all alone to know: There’s always room at this inn.


2. Amoris Laetitia and Everything After, By Ross Douthat, The New York Times, December 19, 2016, 10:42 AM.

Time for another intervention on matters Catholic, I’m afraid. Last week Austen Ivereigh, author of a very fine Pope Francis biography and frequent defender of the pontiff against conservative critics, wrote a piece for Crux announcing that the debate over “Amoris Laetitia” and communion for the remarried is essentially over, that intransigent conservatives are now as much “dissenters” from the papal magisterium as any liberal agitating for the ordination of women under John Paul II — and that long after the cardinals questioning Francis are no more “than a footnote in the history of this papacy, long after Ross Douthat’s predicted schism from the columns of the New York Times has failed to materialize, the next generation of priests will be applying the magnificent teaching of ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ and the noisy, angry strains of dissent will have faded into a distant memory.”

First, Ivereigh’s insistence on the total clarity of “Amoris” and the Holy Spirit-driven theological consensus it allegedly reflects seems to be shared by relatively few ecclesiastics – which is why the overwhelming episcopal response to the cardinals’ questions, their dubia, has been a circumspect silence rather than a rush to rally ‘round the pope.

Now perhaps some sort of organic bottom-up process will eventually sort all these disagreements out; perhaps every bishop who takes the conservative line will pass away and be replaced by a moderate or liberal, and in fifty years perfect consensus will prevail through a purely biological solution. But more likely Rome will at some point be required to rule more clearly on precisely the issue that Ivereigh asserts is settled, finished, closed, and in need of no further commentary – because until Rome rules, not only surly, noisy lay Catholic scribblers in rich countries (as he, a lay Catholic scribbler from a rich country, describes the pope’s critics) but actual bishops of the church will probably continue treating the questions raised by the dubia as open and debatable, and the answers suggested by the two synods and the papal exhortation as ambiguous in the extreme.

Moreover: if it really is the case (I don’t think it is, but for the sake of argument let’s accept the claim) that so-called dissenters from “Amoris” are in roughly the same position as dissenters on various issues under John Paul II, isn’t the lesson of the Francis era for papal critics precisely the opposite of the “game over, guys” lecture that Ivereigh offers us? Namely, that despite all the official talk about how when Rome speaks the case is closed, what’s declared “over” in the church isn’t actually over if a new pope decides that the Vatican’s answer ought to change.

So if that can happen so easily – if a mattered “settled” by papal authority when Cardinal Kasper raised it twenty or thirty years ago can be reopened and relitigated under Francis, with a novel conclusion that leaves yesterday’s progressive dissenters plainly feeling vindicated and invigorated – then why should conservatives feel particularly concerned about the label of “dissenter” now?

Especially since it is so very obvious that the underlying moral-theological issues in “Amoris Laetitia” are relevant to a host of other controversies, which means that to declare this debate “settled” is to ignore all the other ways it promises to unsettle Catholic discipline and doctrine for many years to come.

None of this means that the ultimate resolution(s) will actually satisfy conservatives. Again, I will make no predictions on that score. But the understandable desire to “turn down the heat” and have things simply go back to semi-normal in the church, which informs Ivereigh’s “the case is closed” case and has informed my own commentary in the past, seems now very unlikely to be satisfied.


3. CRS board chair wants to share agency’s work more widely among Catholics, By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service, December 19, 2016, 3:06 PM.

The humanitarian work of Catholic Relief Services and its partner agencies directed toward refugees in the Middle East deserves far more attention than it has received and Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour says it’s time Catholics in the pew know about it.

The work of feeding, sheltering and providing health care for hundreds of thousands of people who have trekked to safety in Jordan and Lebanon from Iraq and Syria is a story that the mainstream media largely has ignored, much to the chagrin of Bishop Mansour, the incoming chairman of the board at CRS.

Bishop Mansour heads the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, New York, which includes Maronite Catholics in the District of Columbia and 16 states. It is one of two Maronite eparchies in the U.S. The Maronite Catholic Church is a worldwide Eastern Catholic Church that traces its roots to a fourth-century Syrian monk named Maron.

“I think the Middle East has had a story to tell and unfortunately, all you hear about is the rebels and the regime in Syria,” said the bishop, who is succeeding Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City as chair. “You don’t hear about all the humanitarian work that is being done, Christians and Muslims alike in tandem working together.”

The Maronite leader has been an outspoken advocate for persecuted Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East for years. He has visited Lebanon since the 1980s and Jordan and Egypt more recently. At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore in November, he called on his brother bishops to focus greater attention to the plight of persecuted Christians in the region.

Bishop Mansour noted that CRS also receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as other humanitarian and development organizations. He stressed that any work CRS carries out falls in line with Catholic teaching.

He invited the agency’s critics, who have repeatedly accused CRS of violating church teaching on contraception through its collaborations with other humanitarian groups, to “go through the door and really understand what CRS represents.”


4. Can the Catholic Church help an addicted generation?, By Mary Rezac, Catholic News Agency, December 18, 2016.

More than 27 million young adults in the U.S. are dying of the effects of drug overdoses, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide, at a rate 200 percent higher than the 1980s. Only ten percent get meaningful help. How can the Catholic church intervene and help resolve the crisis?

Young Americans are dying at a rate not seen since the Vietnam War.
But they are not dying in combat – they’re dying of the effects of drug overdoses, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide, at a rate 200 percent higher than during the 1980s in much of the United States.

A recent report from the U.S. surgeon general estimates that more than 27 million Americans have problems with prescription drugs, illegal drugs or alcohol. But just a fraction of those people, only 10 percent, get meaningful help.

The biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction can be denial on the part of the individual and a perceived stigma in seeking help. Increased education and understanding from everyone in the Church can help break these barriers, Bottaro [clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Catholic Psych Institute in Connecticut] said.

“It’s important to have support and understanding that there are other ways to fight these battles than just prayer, or just kind of sucking it up and hanging in there and seeing how far you can go before you get help,” he said.

“Once you’re looking for help, there’s a wide spectrum.”