1. How Pope Francis Became the Leader of the Global Left: With the right on the rise, many progressives are looking to a pontiff who campaigns against inequality and climate change, By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2016, 1:39 PM.

When Pope Francis delivers his Christmas message this weekend, he will do so not just as the head of the Catholic Church but as the improbable standard-bearer for many progressives around the world.
With conservative and nationalist forces on the rise in many places and with figures such as U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande on their way out, many on the left—from socialists in Latin America to environmentalists in Europe—are looking to the 80-year-old pontiff for leadership.

Yet the pope’s support for some liberal causes, rooted in traditional Christian concern for the poor and defenseless, has meant joining forces with some partners who reject major Catholic moral teachings. Critics also say that the church’s leader shouldn’t take such strong stands on political questions about which Catholics are allowed to have a range of views.

The pope’s positions follow a longstanding current in Catholic social teachings, started by a late 19th-century encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, which criticized the excesses of the free market and affirmed workers’ rights to organize. “He has not radically changed the mainstream social doctrine of the church,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, an official in the Vatican office on social-justice concerns. But the pontiff has adopted language and priorities that reflect his background in the developing world, the archbishop said.

Critics warn that, by aligning himself too closely with one end of the political spectrum, the pope could alienate more conservative Catholics. In the recent U.S. presidential election, according to exit polls, more than half of Catholic voters chose Mr. Trump. “The global left clearly see an opportunity to appropriate the prestige of the papacy for their causes,” said Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based think tank with a religious, free-market approach. “That introduces polarization in the church about issues that Catholics are free to disagree about.”

The pope has reduced the awkwardness of his progressive alliances by playing down thorny questions of sexual and medical ethics and emphasizing such commonalities as economic justice and environmental protection. Francis’ political relationships lean to the left, says Archbishop Tomasi, “not because he’s a Marxist or because he is a leftist, but because [such groups] represent…the wounds of society.”

2. Coming to Newark Archdiocese: A Different Kind of Cardinal, By Sharon Otterman, The New York Times, December 25, 2016, Pg. MB1.

For about a year, the guys at the gym just called him Joe. He lifted weights in the early mornings wearing a skull-printed do-rag. He worked out on the elliptical, wiping it down when he was done.
Then one day Shaun Yeary, a salesman at a landscape supply company, asked him in the locker room what he did for a living. “I used to be a priest,” Joe recalled telling him. “And now,” he said, his voice growing quieter so as not to scare anyone in earshot, “I’m the archbishop of Indianapolis.”
“I was like, for real?” Mr. Yeary recalled. “This guy is benching two and a quarter!” — gymspeak for 225 pounds.
Joe, also known as Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, recently became one of the 120 men in the world who will choose the next pope. But he wants to be judged by his actions, not his lofty position in the Roman Catholic Church.
Though he has led the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2012, a status that usually comes with perks like a driver, he drives himself around in a Chevy Tahoe and helps with the dishes after lunch meetings. He introduces himself simply as Padre José to the children at a local Catholic school. He showers and shaves at the Community Healthplex gym like any other member, and calls his workout buddies his Band of Brothers.
In short, he is just the kind of leader Pope Francis is elevating to realign the church in the United States with his priorities.

3. ‘Underground’ Catholics Pose Challenge for Pope’s Hopes of Better Relations With China, By Reuters, December 23, 2016, 8:18 AM.

Every winter Sunday in the Chinese village of Youtong, hundreds of Catholic faithful brave subzero temperatures to meet in a makeshift, tin-roofed church. Tucked away in a back alley in a rural area of Hebei, the province with China’s biggest Catholic community, the gatherings are tolerated – but are illegal in the eyes of the local authorities.
These worshippers are among the millions of “underground” Catholics in China who reject the leadership of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which proclaims itself independent of Rome. The underground Catholics are solely loyal to Pope Francis.
The Vatican, though, is currently seeking better relations with communist China – which is making some underground Catholics wary and concerned. Some are not ready to accept reconciliation with a Chinese government that has persecuted them for years. They now represent the biggest challenge to Francis’ hopes of developing a long-lasting entente with Beijing, according to Catholic Church officials and scholars.

The pope is keen to heal a rift that dates back to 1949 when the communists took power in China, subsequently expelling foreign Christian missionaries and repressing religious activities. Since then, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has refused to submit the local Catholic Church to Vatican authority, and the Vatican has refused to recognize the PRC.

A draft agreement on the thorny issue of how to ordain bishops in China is already on the table, as Reuters has previously reported. The Vatican is keen to prevent Beijing from appointing new bishops who have not been recognized by the pope. There are about 110 bishops in China. About 70 are recognized by both sides; 30 just by the Vatican; and eight just by Chinese authorities.
The negotiations do not at present focus on whether Beijing should recognize the 30 or so underground bishops who have been approved by Rome but not by the Chinese government, according to Church officials, Vatican officials and Chinese sources familiar with the talks. Nor do they focus on the role of the CCPA, a political body that was created in the 1950s to supervise Catholic activities in China and is considered illegitimate by the Vatican because it runs counter to the belief that the Church is one and universal.
“The biggest problem is still ahead. And this is the Catholic Patriotic Association,” said father Jeroom Heyndrickx, a Belgian missionary and member of the Vatican Commission for the Church in China who closely follows the negotiations. “I have no impression at all that China is willing to give in.”

4. From Silent Night to Silence, By Fr. Roger J. Landry, The Anchor, December 23, 2016.

The most abrupt and shocking transition in the Church’s liturgical calendar occurs from December 25th to 26th, when the Church pivots from celebrating the birth of Jesus and with it “joy to the world” and “peace on earth to those of good will” to marking the brutal stoning of St. Stephen and, at least at first glance, the ugly and unsettling refutation of joy and peace. 
It is nevertheless disconcerting to come to realize, through daily life and Christian history, that this contradiction is more the rule than the exception.
That’s why it’s both superficially strange and profoundly fitting that Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited and critically-acclaimed movie Silence is being released the Friday before Christmas.

Endo’s novel and Scorsese’s film show us the types of torture to which the Japanese Christians were subjected:

The story also shows us their faith. Many could have totally avoided their fate simply by stepping on an image of Jesus, spitting on a Crucifix, calling the Blessed Virgin a whore, or revealing for enormous compensation the identity of “hidden Christians” or priests. Some capitulated under the pressure; multitudes refused. One of the work’s most gripping themes is betrayal and forgiveness, the recapitulation in time of the choice of Judas and whether Judas can become a Peter through the exodus from remorse to repentance, from treachery to rediscovered faith.

What I would like to focus on most, however, is what may leave many viewers the most challenged and confused, the theme of what could be called “loving apostasy.” The sadists of the Shogunate eventually realized that while priests were prepared personally to endure every form of torture faithfully until the end, their one point of vulnerability was when their love for Christ was put into direct competition with their love for others: how the Japanese faithful would be tortured to death until and unless the priest apostatized.

In the climactic scene of the work, the priest is tempted to “fulfill the most painful act of love that has ever been performed” by stepping on an image of Christ, whom the missionary in his moment of distress seems to hear breaking the divine silence and crying out, “Trample! Trample! … It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world.”
The unspoken question of the work is whether that voice, and the whole logic of denying Christ to fulfill his will and imitate his saving love, comes from Christ or from the one Christ dubbed the “father of lies.”
Would the same Christ who told us that what happened to him would happen to us, who promised that we would be hated, persecuted, and even some put to death, who told us that we who acknowledge him before others he would acknowledge before the Father, say “Step on me” to save others from martyrdom? And if one would be willing to step on an image of Christ to save others’ lives, would the same principle of compromise then be able to be applied to save others from pain or even from hurt feelings? Is apostasy an intrinsically evil breaking of our covenant with God, or merely a venial sin, or even a virtuous act under some circumstances?
These are the questions that echo loudly in Silence and make the novel and the movie so gripping.

5. The risks of Pope Francis’s never-ending Vatican reform, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, December 22, 2016.

Talk to many Vatican personnel today, and they’ll tell you that they’ve been living in a state of low-level anxiety for the past two years or so. Many don’t know if their jobs will still be there when the music stops, and in the meantime, it’s extremely difficult to think ahead or plan long-term projects.
Let’s begin by acknowledging two truths about the Catholic Church.
The first is that everyone loves complaining about the Vatican. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, from the First World or the Third, no matter what kind of Catholic you are, griping about the slowness, arrogance and dysfunction of the bureaucracy in Rome is a favorite indoor sport.
The second truth about Catholicism is that if we didn’t have the Roman Curia, meaning the central administrative bureaucracy of the Vatican, we’d have to invent it.
Somebody has to codify the teaching, promulgate the laws, develop the policies and issue the guidelines to hold such a far-flung global community together, and obviously no pope can do that all by himself.
All this comes to mind in light of Pope Francis’s annual speech to the cardinals and other heavyweights who make up the leadership of the Roman Curia, which the pontiff delivered on Thursday.
Perhaps most importantly, Francis also sent clear signals that the reform is not over.
Yet there’s a real and present danger to a never-ending cycle of reform, one that Pope Francis and his “C9” council of cardinal advisers will probably have to confront head-on in the not-too-distant future, which is demoralization and paralysis within a workforce that doesn’t know when the next shock to the system may arrive.

6. Why The Left Can’t Handle Lena Dunham, By Kelly Thomas, The New Boston Post, December 22, 2016, 8:23 AM.

Dunham, whose main claim to fame is the rather sad social commentary sitcom Girls, told an interviewer on the “Woman of the Hour” podcast Tuesday that she was once approached by a young girl doing a project on women who have had abortions. Dunham said she told the girl she’d never had an abortion. It was (perhaps) a refreshing moment of honesty for Dunham, who in the past has had few qualms in laying claim to traumatic experiences, including accounts that were later found to be largely fabricated – I refer to the bizarre tales of sexual assault in her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl.
However, instead of simply stopping the vignette there, Dunham went so far as to say that though she had not had an abortion, she wished she had.
“And I realized then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue.” Dunham said, adding: “Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”
Well. The floodgates opened. But this time, it was not conservatives who gasped in horror and dismay.
No, this time, it was Dunham’s beloved liberals who were left aghast and agape. She had committed the one sin for which there is no forgiveness on the Left. She displayed. …privilege.
The brutal paradox of this whole fiasco, which would almost be humorous if it were not for its tragic realities, is that the Left is crucifying Dunham for doing the very thing they’ve been trying to accomplish for decades:  she glorified abortion.  She treated it as a badge of honor. She voiced her wish to be able to stand in solidarity with other women who had undergone such a procedure.
Years of couching abortion in terms of “freedom” and “choice” and reducing it to a simple “procedure,” all the while praising the women who have them as fierce warriors, has produced Lena Dunham. And suddenly, they don’t like what they see; but in order to put a stop to the kind of language Dunham used, they’ll have to admit that there may be more to abortion than what they’ve been telling themselves.
Let’s see if they figure it out.