1. Court Convicts Italian of Money Laundering.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2018, Pg. A7

The Vatican said Thursday it had convicted an Italian businessman of laundering money through the Vatican bank, in what it said was its first conviction under a 2010 law and a sign of progress in financial reforms.

The Vatican court on Dec. 17 sentenced Angelo Proietti, a builder who had done construction work for various Vatican offices, to 2½ years in prison, and to the loss of more than €1 million ($1.14 million) in an account he held at the Vatican bank. 

Mr. Proietti’s attorney, Riccardo Riedi, said that his client was innocent and had already moved to appeal the sentence. 

The Vatican criminalized money laundering in 2010 as part of an effort under Pope Benedict XVI to reform the scandal-plagued Vatican bank, officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion.


2. The Marketplace of Faith, Why are Americans so religious? There’s more competition, for one reason.

By Sriya Iyer, The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2018, A13, Houses of Worship

Religion is not a particularly popular field for economic study, as many academics prefer to separate the sacred and the secular. The study of religion ostensibly concerns emotional decision-making rooted in faith. Economics studies rational decision-making in the material world. But recent economic research into religion should provoke interest among religious and academic communities alike.

Despite secularization in the West, religious faith continues to grow in global significance. In 2012 the Pew Global Religious Landscape Study showed that 5.8 billion people—more than 80% of the global population—are religious. Adam Smith recognized the importance of religion in the 18th century, noting, “The clergy of every established church constitute a great incorporation.” For 200 years relative silence followed, as economists avoided sophisticated debates about religion. Yet by the 1970s and ’80s, a new sub-field of economics, called the economics of religion, emerged.

We economists have found some fascinating results in the past few decades. At a macroeconomic level we have not observed a decline in the influence of religion even as the global economy has expanded. Europe’s experience of low religious participation contrasts with much higher levels of religiosity in the U.S., which is attributed to more-competitive religious markets. 

Religious pluralism has positive implications for religious freedom. Through networks and community support, religion benefits physical and mental health. Different religious communities’ demographic and socioeconomic traits even can affect inequality in a society at large. 

There are still big questions. To what extent are the motivations for religious belief intrinsic as opposed to socially driven? Why does religion persist in the face of widespread economic growth and inequality? In non-Christian and non-Western societies, what makes the nature of religion similar to or different from the U.S. or Europe? Millions of people—skeptics and believers—would benefit from better answers to these questions. We economists of religion still have much to learn.


3. School-Board Prayers Near Test in Supreme Court.

By Joe Palazzolo, The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2018, Pg. A3

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of prayers during state legislature sessions and town council meetings. Now the justices may be asked to clarify the separation of church and state in a new forum: school board meetings. 

The high court has long held that prayer in public schools violates the First Amendment, which bars the government from establishing an official religion. But in two cases since the 1980s, the court has permitted legislative bodies to open their proceedings with prayers, a practice that dates to the nation’s founding era.

The invocation of Christian beliefs, Bible readings and prayer were regular features of school board meetings in the Chino Valley Unified School District in California. In 2014, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that uses advocacy and litigation to wall off government from religion, filed a lawsuit challenging the practice.

Ms. Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation said those cases have no bearing on school boards, which don’t make laws and are responsible for keeping religion from seeping into schools.

She said two other federal appeals courts had come down the same as the Ninth Circuit before the U.S. Supreme Court approved prayers at town meetings in 2014.


4. We must stand against China’s war on religion. 

By Chris Smith, The Washington Post, December 28, 2018, Pg. A19
Chris Smith, a Republican, represents New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It is an appalling story but one that is all too familiar as existential threats to religious freedom rise in President Xi Jinping’s China. The world can’t ignore what’s happening there. We must all stand up and oppose these human rights violations.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has undertaken the most comprehensive attempt to manipulate and control — or destroy — religious communities since Chairman Mao Zedong made the eradication of religion a goal of his disastrous Cultural Revolution half a century ago. Now Xi, apparently fearing the power of independent religious belief as a challenge the Communist Party’s legitimacy, is trying to radically transform religion into the party’s servant, employing a draconian policy known as sinicization.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a retired bishop of Hong Kong, in September called the deal “a complete surrender” by the Vatican and an “incredible betrayal” of the faith.

At a congressional hearing I chaired in September, Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, testified that the government-controlled body charged with carrying out the policy, the Catholic Patriotic Association, had drafted an implementation document containing the following passage: “The Church will regard promotion and education on core values of socialism as a basic requirement for adhering to the Sinicization of Catholicism. It will guide clerics and Catholics to foster and maintain correct views on history and the nation.”

One can hope that Beijing has made concessions to the church that have yet to be revealed. Initial reports are less than promising. Since the agreement was reached, underground priests have been detained, Marian shrines destroyed, pilgrimage sites closed, youth programs shuttered, and priests required to attend reeducation sessions in at least one province.


5. For Many Migrants Trekking to the U.S., Faith Is Their Compass.

By Reuters, December 28, 2018

Since setting out from Honduras in the hope of reaching the United States, Nicolas Alonso Sanchez has worn a simple wooden cross around his neck – a quiet reminder of the Roman Catholic faith that propels him forward.

“God gave me the strength to get all the way here,” Sanchez, 47, says at a temporary shelter where he is staying in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

On the long journey from Central America to U.S. soil, many migrants have taken solace in their religion.

The migrants face a future of uncertainty. The United States said this month that many asylum seekers may be forced to stay in Mexico while their claims are processed. Some Mexican border towns are perilous places to wait, plagued with crime and violence.

But many migrants, bolstered by their faith, say they are undaunted.

“God always takes care of me,” says Osmel Efraim, an 18-year-old Honduran migrant in Tijuana. “Thanks to God, I am here, safe and healthy.”


6. 2018 ends with potential turning point in Vatican/Iraqi relations. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 28, 2018

Thus it’s entirely fitting that arguably one of the Vatican’s most important diplomatic encounters of 2018 came the day after Christmas, when Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, met Iraqi President Barham Salih in Baghdad.

During the meeting, Salih extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the Iraqi city of Ur, the Biblical city of Abraham, for an interreligious summit. It’s a trip that St. John Paul II desperately wanted to make in 2000, during a jubilee year pilgrimage to sites associated with salvation history, but the security situation at the time made such a trip impossible.

There was no immediate word from the Vatican whether Francis intends to accept the invitation, although there has been some media buzz about an outing coming as early as February. Doing so would be entirely consistent with his penchant for visiting both the peripheries of the world and also conflict zones.

At the moment, of course, it’s impossible to know whether any of this will actually happen. However, the prospects for it seem greater after Dec. 26 than before, and for that reason alone, Iraqi Christians will probably remember the 2018 edition of St. Stephen’s Day – by coincidence, the first martyr in the history of the Church – as a pretty good day.


7. A Difficult, But Particularly Important, Te Deum.

By Fr. Roger Landry, The Anchor, December 28, 2018
Fr. Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts and the National Chaplain of Catholic Voices USA.

On December 31 every year, the Pope leads the Church in a solemn prayer of Thanksgiving to God for the civil year coming to a close. It takes place in St. Peter’s at the end of First Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It’s an opportunity to thank God for all the gifts of the year approaching its end, to ask for mercy for the ways we have not responded to his “grace upon grace,” and to ask for help so that the new year about to begin may be a true “year of the Lord.”

The Te Deum is a fitting prayer by which to do this. It calls on all of creation to praise, thank and worship God. The whole Church, heaven and earth, the angels, cherubim, seraphim, apostles, prophets, martyrs, all laud the Father of infinite Majesty, the True and only Son, and the Holy Paraclete. We express our gratitude for Christ’s incarnation, for his death and resurrection that opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers, and for sitting in glory to be our judge. We ask him who has redeemed us by his blood to number us with the saints in eternal glory. And then, with some verses from the Psalms, we implore him to have mercy on us, save his people and bless his inheritance, confessing that we have placed our trust in him.

The one who shows us best how to let the Lord’s light illuminate, heal and transform is the Mother of God. The Church prays the Te Deum in the context of Vespers on the solemnity of her maternity and then begins the next year with hope at Mass, invoking her prayers for all her children, and asking God for the grace to follow her example of keeping our gaze on the infant Jesus, the blessed Fruit of her womb.

He is the new Sun of Justice rising on the horizon of humanity after a long and dark night.
He is the one to whom we turn, saying with Mary, in the words of at the end Te Deum, “In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum”: “In you, Lord, is our hope: and we shall never hope in vain.”


8. After CRISPR Twins, Gene Editing Holds Promise and Peril for Humanity, Gene-editing technology promises to help solve the rarest diseases afflicting humanity — but designing human embryos is a bridge too far. 

Peter Jesserer Smith, National Catholic Register, December 27, 2018

He Jiankui, a now-former researcher at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, rose from obscurity to international scrutiny after revealing to the world that he used a new genetic-editing technique to design two HIV-resistant Chinese baby girls as embryos and implanted them into their mother through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

“Two Chinese girls, called Lulu and Nana, came crying into this world as healthy as any other babies,” He said in a Nov. 25 YouTube video.

The international scientific and medical community responded with shock at He’s claims, which he presented again Nov. 27 at the second International Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong. His claims so far have not been substantiated. But many in China’s scientific community, which has been on the long march to pioneer genetic therapies, swiftly condemned He for using the CRISPR/cas9 editing technique on human embryos.

Father Pacholczyk said making edits to embryonic children may involve risks that are only understood when they grow older. The priest pointed out that the changes He made to confer immunity to HIV infection may increase the twins’ susceptibility to West Nile virus and other diseases.

“Is it ever proper to experiment on our own offspring?” he said. “Even when we think we understand the role of a specific gene, we sometimes discover later that it has several functions, and tinkering with it ends up having other surprising downstream effects.”

But these modifications will also be passed into the human gene pool, “establishing permanent and irrevocable changes to our own humanity.”


9. Ohio ‘heartbeat bill’ won’t become law after legislature fails to override Kasich veto. 

By Owen Daughtery, The Hill Online, December 27, 2018, 1:27 PM

The Ohio legislature failed to override outgoing Gov. John Kasich’s (R) veto of a controversial “heartbeat bill” on Thursday after the Senate fell one vote short.

The GOP-led House overrode Kasich’s veto earlier Thursday by a vote of 61-28, WOSU reported. But the Senate was unable to secure enough votes to overcome Kasich’s veto, voting 19-13 on the bill. They needed 20 votes for a successful override.

The measure would have made it illegal for a woman to get an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, effectively banning abortions after the first few weeks of a woman’s pregnancy.