1. US Catholic leadership foresees challenges after repeated election defeats for abortion opponents, By David Crary, Associated Press, December 20, 2023, 8:04 AM  Repeatedly in recent years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has stipulated that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority.” In the face of recent election setbacks for abortion opponents, leading bishops and their lay allies are reassessing how to move forward with that stance.  “Today is a tragic day for women, children, and families in Ohio,” the state’s Catholic bishops said in a joint statement as the outcome became clear. “We must look ahead,” the bishops added. “Despite the obstacles this amendment presents, the Catholic Church in Ohio will continue to work for policies that defend the most vulnerable, strengthen the child-parent relationship, and support women in need.” Brian Hickey, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, noted that support for the abortion-rights amendment was particularly strong among younger voters, signaling that it could take many years to build an anti-abortion majority in the state’s electorate. Exit polls suggested that more than 75% of voters aged 18 to 29 backed the amendment. “How do we reach this next generation of Ohioans?” Hickey asked during an interview with The Associated Press. “We know there is a lot of work to do.” The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, recalled how he and his colleagues celebrated 18 months ago after the Supreme Court — in its so-called Dobbs decision — struck down the much-debated Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973. The result was to end the nationwide right to abortion, and leave it to individual states to decide whether to ban it or allow it. “There was a moment to celebrate, but we also knew it was only a brief moment, because rightfully this issue is back in the states,” Burbidge said. “These ballot-measure results are very unsettling.” Burbidge said the Catholic leadership needed to convey more clearly that it is “pro-women” — even as it supports state legislation aimed at limiting their options regarding unwanted pregnancies.  “The church will never compromise, it cannot compromise. It will always stand for the truth that every single human life is sacred,” said Brian Burch, president of the conservative advocacy group CatholicVote. “But it’s very clear the public is completely divided on this,” he added. “Recent trends show the public is not willing to go where many pro-life entities had hoped to go in the wake of Dobbs.” Burch said state legislatures with anti-abortion majorities should avoid punishing women who get abortions. But he approves of penalties against medical personnel who provide abortions, and favors new laws that could punish people for pressuring a woman to get an abortion. “The abortion divide has become more heightened because of Dobbs,” he said. “There is no question the Democrats will use the issue next year. It’s a political gamble and I hope they’re wrong.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/12/20/catholic-bishops-abortion-rights-ballot-measures/4766ecd4-9f38-11ee-9e0f-972979a6c22b_story.html__________________________________________________________ 2. Christian group and family raise outcry over detention of another ‘house church’ elder in China, By Huizhong Wu, Associated Press, December 20, 2023, 8:57 AM Ding Zhongfu was awakened by loud pounding on his door. Five policemen greeted Ding, an elder in a Chinese church. The officers pinned him to the wall that Thursday morning in November and interrogated him while searching the apartment he shared with his wife, Ge Yunxia, and their 6-year old daughter. Ding’s family now pleads for his release after he was taken from his home in China’s central Anhui province on suspicion of fraud. In their first public comments on the case, the family denies that Ding committed any fraud. Instead, they told The Associated Press in an interview, it is part of a wider crackdown on religious freedoms in China.  Police have started using fraud charges in recent years against leaders of what are known as house churches, or informal churches not registered with the government in China. While China allows the practice of Christianity, it can only legally be done at churches registered with the state. Many who choose to worship in house churches say that joining a state church means worshiping the supremacy of the government and Communist Party over God, which they reject.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/20/china-house-church-ding-zhongfu-arrest-crackdown/debfb04a-9f3b-11ee-9e0f-972979a6c22b_story.html __________________________________________________________ 3. Pro-life pregnancy center sues to derail New Jersey AG’s ‘unjustified’ investigation, Democratic state legal boss accused of targeting Christian pregnancy center over religion, politics, By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, December 20, 2023 Pro-life pregnancy centers targeted by Democratic state attorneys general are fighting back. First Choice Women’s Resource Centers filed a lawsuit to block a subpoena issued by New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin as part of his consumer-fraud probe, accusing him of singling out the Christian ministry “based on its religious speech and pro-life views.” “It’s unlawful for New Jersey’s attorney general to use the authority of his office to harm those with whom he disagrees,” said Lincoln Wilson, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel, in a Monday statement.  The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for New Jersey, Trenton Vicinage, comes three weeks after ADF attorneys sued Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on behalf of a chain of pro-life clinics to block his investigation into their business practices. Like Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Platkin is an outspoken abortion-rights supporter who zeroed in on pro-life pregnancy centers in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent policymaking on abortion back to the states.  The filing included emails showing that the attorney general’s office sought input from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union in drafting the alert, which includes contact information for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. “WARNING: Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) do NOT provide abortion care,” the alert said. “CPCs are organizations that seek to prevent people from accessing comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care and contraception.” First Choice offers a host of free services under the direction of a licensed physician, including limited obstetric ultrasounds, pregnancy testing, sexually transmitted disease testing, parent education, and products such as diapers and maternity clothes, but not abortions. “First Choice does not perform or refer for abortions, which it states on its websites and in its welcome forms to clients; but it does provide medically accurate information about abortion procedures and risks,” the lawsuit states. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2023/dec/18/first-choice-womens-resource-centers-sues-matthew-/ __________________________________________________________ 4. Seeing is believing: How understanding fetal development can protect life, It’s crucial to humanize the unborn, By Lila Rose, The Washington Times, December 20, 2023, Opinion When does human life begin? Science is crystal clear: Human life begins at the moment of fertilization. For centuries, the development of human life within the womb was instinctively understood but mysterious. Today, with modern technology, we have the opportunity to understand the miraculous journey of human life’s beginnings in intimate detail. Every person should know and understand the science of when life begins. Imagine how many problems we would solve if we could all acknowledge this reality. If our laws acknowledged when human life begins, we would not discriminate against and kill our youngest children through abortion. Sadly, the abortion industry pulls out all the stops to muddy the water around what science tells us about life. One of the industry’s tactics is to keep a pregnant woman from seeing an image of the baby developing in her womb. As a matter of policy, Planned Parenthood lobbies against any law that would ensure abortion providers show mothers an ultrasound image of their child before they perform the lethal “procedure.” They know the truth: Information is power. If a woman is empowered with the information about the human life that is inside her, she is less likely to choose the violence of abortion. The heartbeat of my mission is the belief that when we learn, we change.  For women facing an unplanned pregnancy, the image of their child can be a guiding light — a beacon that illuminates the intricate beauty of the life growing within them. Not only that but understanding the biological reality of the developing life enables women to make informed decisions that resonate with the reality of their child’s existence. There is no better way to expose the reality of life in the womb than to show a woman the life in her womb. As we strive for a culture that cherishes and protects the vulnerable, we must remember that information is power. If we can help women see — with technology’s help — their unborn children, we’ll continue to transform perspectives, change laws and save lives. Lila Rose is president of Live Action, a new media nonprofit dedicated to ending abortion and building a culture of life. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2023/dec/19/seeing-is-believing-how-understanding-fetal-develo/__________________________________________________________ 5. Beyond the usual suspects, a growing chorus is questioning papal power, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, December 20, 2023, Opinion A great deal of commentary has been unleashed by the recent denouement of the Vatican’s “Trial of the Century,” which ended with convictions for nine of ten defendants, including five years and six months in prison for Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu. Amid the torrent of reaction, one of the more interesting voices belongs to Cataldo Intrieri, the lawyer who represented Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State who was sentenced to seven years and six months in jail for his role in the complex, and controversial, $400 million purchase of a London property. In a Dec. 19 essay for Linkiesta, an online Italian daily, Intrieri asserted that despite the good will of the three judges who presided over the trial, “the standard of the investigation and of the trial itself remained far below that of a state based on the rule of law.” Among other things, Intrieri pointed out that defense attorneys had wanted to question both Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, regarding their roles in the London affair, given that evidence suggests both were actively involved at key stages of the transactions. Those requests, however, were denied.  Most basically, Intrieri argued that the trial revealed a structural problem with the Vatican’s system of criminal justice, which lacks a genuine separation of powers. Among other things, Intrieri said that in order to claim to uphold the rule of law, at a minimum the Vatican requires a professional judiciary selected through an open competition and, once appointed, incapable of being removed, “autonomous and separate from the executive branch of government.” The fact that judges in the Vatican system are directly appointed by the pope and subject to his authority, Intrieri said, not only creates practical problems, such as artificially limiting the talent pool to people a given pope may know and trust, but more deeply it creates obvious conflicts of interest “which can damage the image of impartiality of the judicial body.” (Though Intrieri did not make the point, it’s worth observing that on Dec. 4, twelve days before the tribunal delivered its verdicts, Pope Francis signed a motu proprio which, among other things, conferred a new status including pay raises upon both the prosecutor and the judge – a direct reminder, in effect, that they work for him.)  Intrieri joins figures such as Alberto Melloni, a veteran church historian and exponent of the progressive “Bologna school”; Luis Badilla, a longtime Rome-based journalist born in Chile who cut his teeth supporting the left-wing government of President Salvador Allende and then accompanying the martyred president’s wife and daughter in their efforts to raise money to oppose Chile’s military regime; and Luigi Panella, a lawyer who represented another of the defendants in the Vatican trial, and who’s a protégé of a former Minister of Justice under the center-left government of former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and who himself has represented another former center-left Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. At trial, Panella was especially sharp: “An absolutist conception of power in the temporal sphere and in civil government, dating back to a very different historical and ecclesial context, today seems incompatible with the principles of the rule of law,” he said. In other words, the concerns about papal power circulating today aren’t coming just from the usual suspects.  While no one can question a pope’s capacity to rule on matters of faith and morals, equally no one seriously can argue that conflating executive, legislative and judicial power in the Vatican City State is part of the divine mandate of the church. Such an arrangement can change, and a growing chorus of voices appears to be suggesting perhaps it’s time to do just that. https://cruxnow.com/news-analysis/2023/12/beyond-the-usual-suspects-a-growing-chorus-is-questioning-papal-power__________________________________________________________ 6. Activists hope pope’s approval of same-sex blessings could ease anti-LGBTQ+ bias and repression, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, December 19, 2023, Pg. A13, 3:23 PM Pope Francis’ green light for Catholic priests to offer blessings to same-sex couples is in many ways a recognition of what has been happening in some European parishes for years. But his decision to officially spell out his approval could send a message of tolerance to places where gay rights are far more restricted.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/19/vatican-lgbtq-pope-blessings/8a7d3704-9e83-11ee-9e0f-972979a6c22b_story.html__________________________________________________________ 7. U.S. dioceses respond to Vatican declaration on same-sex couple blessings, By Tyler Arnold, Catholic News Agency, December 19, 2023, 3:30 PM Several American Catholic dioceses have already issued statements on how they intend to implement new Vatican guidelines that permit nonliturgical pastoral blessings of homosexual couples, but it’s still unclear what this will look like in most of the country. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration on Monday titled Fiducia Supplicans, which allows “spontaneous” pastoral blessings for “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations.”  The implementation of the new guidelines could differ from diocese to diocese, as various bishops appear to be emphasizing different parts of the document.  In the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, Bishop Andrew Cozzens emphasized the reaffirmation of the Catholic doctrine that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, which he said “is rooted in the Gospel we have received from Jesus Christ” and, therefore, “is unchangeable.”  Cardinal Seán O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston similarly noted in a statement that priests must be careful to ensure that any pastoral blessing does not resemble a liturgical act, noting that Church teaching on marriage has not changed and that the Vatican document teaches that “all Catholics, including those whose unions are not recognized by the Church, as equally in need of God’s grace and love.”  The Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, issued a statement that also emphasized the unchanging Catholic doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman.“The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives,” the statement read, according to WBAY  Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago also issued a statement, emphasizing different parts of the document, particularly the call for compassion.  “The declaration is a step forward and in keeping not only with Pope Francis’ desire to accompany people pastorally but Jesus’ desire to be present to all people who desire grace and support,” Cupich said. Cupich’s statement cited the document’s distinction between a liturgical blessing and a pastoral blessing. He said the Vatican is calling priests to be available to those who are “not claiming a legitimation of their own status [but] recognize their need for God’s help.”   https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/256321/us-dioceses-respond-to-vatican-declaration-on-same-sex-couple-blessings__________________________________________________________ 8. U.S. religious freedom watchdog urges White House to list India as country of concern, By Daniel Payne, Catholic News Agency, December 19, 2023, 10:45 AM A religious freedom watchdog is urging the Biden administration to add the government of India to a list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said this month in a press release that it was “alarmed by India’s increased transnational targeting of religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf.” “Recent efforts by the Indian government to silence activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad pose a serious threat to religious freedom,” the group said.  USCIRF was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The commission “monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad,” makes “policy recommendations” to the executive branch and to Congress, and “tracks the implementation” of those suggestions, according to its website.  https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/256317/us-religious-freedom-watchdog-urges-white-house-to-list-india-as-country-of-concern__________________________________________________________ 9. Pope Francis Did Not Just Authorize Priests to Bless Same-Sex Unions, Anyone who claims that the Fiducia Supplicans authorizes blessings of same-sex unions has not read the declaration or is intentionally misinterpreting it., By John Bursch, National Catholic Register, December 19, 2023, Opinion For the second time in a month, the media has taken a document from the Vatican and mangled it beyond all recognition. In November, the subject was so-called transgender baptisms. Now, it is the supposed authorization of blessings for same-sex unions. But that’s not what the document says at all. If anything, the document could be understood to encourage blessings so that same-sex-attracted individuals (or any individual in what the document calls an “irregular” relationship) will be encouraged to live out God’s plan for human sexuality rather than their own.  Fiducia Supplicans misses an opportunity when it does not expressly call individuals in same-sex relationships to live chaste lives in conformance with God’s plan for marriage but instead merely insists that blessings bring grace that allow such change to be possible. The declaration also blunders when it does not instruct priests asked to bless the individuals in a same-sex relationship to not only bless but to teach God’s marriage plan and why it is best for human flourishing. The result is predictable. Some are publicly interpreting the declaration as a repudiation of the responsum, which directly contradicts what the document says. Others are publicly suggesting that the declaration means blessing same-sex unions is fine, provided the blessing does not confuse the union with a marriage. Again, that’s the opposite of Fiducia Supplicans’ instruction. Anyone who claims that the Vatican’s document authorizes blessings of same-sex unions has not read it or is intentionally misinterpreting it. Worse, those misinterpreting the document are unlikely to communicate the truth about marriage. In so doing, they are not just allowing a couple to continue sinning, they are complicit in that sin. In addition, they are communicating that God’s grace is insufficient to overcome our human weaknesses and live a life of holiness. If that result is the legacy of Fiducia Supplicans, it will be a sorry one indeed. https://www.ncregister.com/commentaries/did-pope-francis-authorize-priests-to-bless-same-sex-unions __________________________________________________________ 10. Bless this pope for blessing the blessing of same-sex couples, By David Von Drehle, The Washington Post, December 19, 2023, 5:13 PM, Opinion American Catholics, by and large, stopped listening to the pope around 1968. That was the year of “Humanae Vitae,” the encyclical in which Pope Paul VI proved once and for all that popes are as fallible as anyone else. The pope tried to convince couples of the post-pill Western world that birth control is a terrible sin — and by the millions, they ignored his words. Many left the church, but many others stayed to exercise a quiet veto of papal authority, leading to the widespread epithet “cafeteria Catholics,” meaning those who pick and choose the doctrines they will honor. More recent pontiffs attempted to reassert papal authority in the gentle guise of sainted Pope John Paul II and the sterner aspect of his ally and successor, Benedict XVI. Together, they gradually remade the roster of U.S. bishops in their own conservative image — but to little effect in the pews. The percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic is stagnant at best, and of those, the Pew Research Center has found, only a minority say they look to the pope or the church as the moral authority in their lives. Even after the long campaign of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, 3 out of 4 American Catholics in a 2015 Pew survey disagreed with papal teaching on birth control. Roughly 6 in 10 supported married priests and the ordination of women.  This is the proper context for understanding the Vatican announcement Monday on behalf of Pope Francis that priests are now free to offer blessings to same-sex couples. The step followed an unusual gathering in Rome to air a wondrous range of modernizing steps to move the church closer to the wisdom of its people and loosen the grip of its all-male bureaucracy.  Christians — like adherents to many other religions — have continually disagreed over whether religion should properly be a weapon of exclusion or a blanket of inclusion. Francis is inclusive; he would rather discover a person’s virtues than ferret out their vices, appreciating that nearly every one of us is a complex mixture of both. The path of inclusion has led him to a place where American Catholics stand ready to greet him. Support in the pews for same-sex marriage has grown robustly, like the winds of Pentecost, over the past generation. The spirit of tolerance and the sharing of grace are alive among the people of the church, and regardless of whether they are listening to the pope, at last a pope is listening to them. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/12/19/pope-francis-blessing-same-sex-couples/ __________________________________________________________

TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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.