1. Federal appeals court upholds Metro’s ban on Christmas-themed ad, at least for now.

By Martine Powers, The Washington Post, December 21, 2017, Pg. B1

A federal appeals court on Wednesday denied a request from the Archdiocese of Washington to temporarily block a lower-court ruling that has kept its Christmas ads off the sides of Metro buses this holiday season.

The advertisements in question featured an image of three people walking with sheep and holding shepherd’s staffs — assumed to depict a scene from the biblical story of Christmas — and included a tagline, “Find the Perfect Gift,” which referred to an archdiocese-sponsored website that encourages people to attend Catholic Mass or donate to charitable organizations during the holidays.

But it does mean that the Archdiocese will not be able to place its ads before Christmas. The court said oral argument in the case would be set sometime after mid-February.

“If Christmas comes from a store . . . then it seems [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] approves,” archdiocese spokesman Ed McFadden said at the time of the original lawsuit. “But if Christmas means a little bit more, WMATA plays Grinch.”

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision to not provide an emergency injunction, but will review next steps to ensure that regardless of the season, the Archdiocese of Washington can share and express our faith and serve the most vulnerable among us in the public square,” McFadden said.


2. Pope denounces ‘cancer’ of cliques, ambition in Vatican.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, December 21, 2017, 7:32 AM

Pope Francis once again used a Christmas greeting to dress down Vatican officials Thursday, denouncing the “cancer” of cliques and how bureaucrats can become “corrupted” by ambition and vanity.

In a somber speech in the Apostolic Palace, Francis acknowledged that there were plenty of competent, loyal and even saintly people who work in the Holy See. But he also said there were others who were chosen to help him reform the Vatican’s inefficient and outdated bureaucracy that were clearly not up to the task.

When these people are then “delicately” removed, Francis said “they falsely declare themselves martyrs of the system, of an ‘uninformed pope’ or the ‘old guard,’ when in fact they should have done a mea culpa.”

Francis didn’t name names, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he was referring some of the mysterious exits of top Vatican officials in 2017.


3. Pope to Curia: ‘Betrayers of trust’ are frustrating Vatican reform. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 21, 2017

From the beginning, Pope Francis has been a maverick leader, running against “the system” and making it clear he’s got no special loyalty to the Roman Curia, meaning the ecclesiastical bureaucracy in the Vatican. As a result, his annual Christmas speech to the curia has become an anxiety-inducing event for many, wondering what new ways the boss might find this time to excoriate and cajole them.

This year, however, Francis didn’t seem to have the curia tout court in his sights, so much as elements within it that he seems to believe are creating obstacles to his desired reforms.

At the moment, two of the three key agencies created by Francis in 2014 to lead his financial reform, the Secretariat for the Economy and the independent Auditor General’s office, are without their senior leadership, while real power had steadily re-accumulated in the Secretariat of State.

On those departures of Vatican officials, Francis was even more blunt than usual in denouncing former employees who’ve been ousted and who’ve gone on to charge that they fell victim to an anti-reform “old guard.”

Speaking of people who allow themselves to be corrupted, Francis then said with some evident bitterness: “When they are delicately removed, they erroneously declare themselves martyrs of the system, of a ‘non-informed Pope,’ of the ‘old guard’ … instead of reciting the mea culpa.”

Where does Francis put the blame for the slow-down in reform? Apparently, “small circles” within the system seeking patronage and influence.

Francis organized his remarks to the curia this year in terms of its ad extra mission, meaning to the outside world, rather than its ad intra dimension, meaning its internal dynamics. He spoke in Italian, and certainly can’t be accused of phoning it in – the speech ran to 4,300 words, with 28 footnotes.

In terms of that ad extra mission, Francis highlighted five aspects:

-Papal diplomacy and relations with nations
-Relations with local churches
-Relations with Eastern churches
-Dialogue with Judaism, Islam, and other religions


4. ‘Problematic’ or ‘prudential judgment’?: U.S. tax reform debated by Catholics.

By Christopher White, Crux, December 21, 2017

The implications of the Republican led tax reform has dominated much of the work of the U.S. bishops in recent months – second only to perhaps immigration in terms of the bishops’ conference’s focus.

After its final passage on Wednesday, the U.S. bishops released a statement labeling the bill as “problematic, especially for the poor,” and called on President Donald Trump to work with Congress to produce a more acceptable bill.

Yet while the bishops have been adamant in their concerns, some groups are declaring this bill a triumph for American Catholics.

“We view this broad-based tax bill as a tremendous victory for every American,” said Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org.

“In particular, we believe the provisions of the bill aimed at helping families, in particular, the increase in the child tax credit and the refundable portions of that credit for working class families is of particular importance to Catholics,” Burch told Crux.

The bill is being heralded as Trump’s first major legislative victory and the first major overhaul of the tax code since 1986. Once enacted, it will double the standard deduction and increase child tax credits, measures that have been lauded by the U.S. bishops. However, it will also create a larger budget deficit and is estimated to lead to a significant decrease in annual charitable giving, which the bishops have sharply criticized.

Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, a think-tank focused on free-market ideas and religious principles, said that the bishops are right to teach on the broad principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, but that the implementation of those principles should be left up to experts and politicians.

“Anything the bishops’ conference might say is not magisterial but simply a prudential application,” Sirico told Crux. “We can disagree on those prudential applications, and I do. The social teaching of the Church is not like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity that is at the core of Catholic belief.”

“From [the bishops’] perspective, the concerns of the poor and the vulnerable require direct subsidies and set-asides to assist them, which means higher levels of taxation as a percentage of higher-income earners so that money can be redistributed and adjudicated according to needs,” said Sirico.

“That’s the perspective of the bishops’ conference as well as the perspective of many economic progressives and soft socialists in the United States. That is not my approach, nor the approach of many faithful Catholics.”

According to Burch … Catholics should applaud the bill for granting greater economic liberty to individuals, which “recognizes the potential of the human person to create economic growth.”

Burch told Crux he doesn’t believe this is a matter of letting the wealthy off the hook for caring for the poor, but rather creating an opportunity for individual stewardship.

“To the extent the benefits of this reform put more money in people’s pockets, including the wealthy, it is incumbent upon the beneficiaries of this reform to be good stewards of that wealth and use it to improve not only their individual lives but also those around them,” said Burch.