1. At Trump’s inauguration, Franklin Graham, Cardinal Dolan and four more clergy will pray, By Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post, December 29, 2016, Pg. B2.

The inaugural committee told The Post on Wednesday that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Rev. Franklin Graham, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Pastor Paula White will all give readings at the ceremony.

As the archbishop of New York, he is the most prominent Catholic official in the United States. On Wednesday, he said in a statement, “I am honored to have been asked to offer a reading from Scripture at the upcoming presidential inauguration, and look forward to asking Almighty God to inspire and guide our new President and to continue to bless our great Nation.”


2. While Pope Francis frustrates foes, this priest nails them with tweets, By David Gibson, Religion News Service, December 28, 2016.

Since the moment he was elected in 2013, Pope Francis has sought to steer the Catholic Church away from a focus on doctrinal rules and formulas and toward a more pastoral ministry – a campaign that has sparked widespread hand-wringing among traditionalists and unusually public opposition to the pontiff.

In recent weeks, however, the critics have grown bolder and more demanding than ever as several conservative cardinals and various pundits have issued warnings that Francis may be leading the church into heresy and schism.

So far, Francis himself has declined to engage his foes directly, preferring to let his writings, periodic interviews and daily sermons speak for themselves.

Yet Francis is hardly without champions in what some are calling a “Catholic civil war,” with perhaps the most prominent and vocal among them a soft-spoken Italian priest, Father Antonio Spadaro.

Indeed, Spadaro is so ubiquitous in his mission to defend the pontiff that critics like to call him “the pope’s mouthpiece” – a label seemingly designed to undermine Francis by denoting Spadaro as a kind of papal puppet master, as well as making Spadaro a target in his own right.

The other reality is that Spadaro is particularly close to Francis.

Spadaro is now a regular visitor to the Casa Santa Marta, the pope’s residence inside the Vatican, and is frequently seen consulting with Francis and networking with many of the other power players in the church who live in Rome or regularly pass through the Eternal City.

The spark for this recent, and possibly most serious, furor is a document Francis published in April that offered his summation of the deliberations of two major Vatican gatherings – called synods – of cardinals and bishops from around the world to discuss the realities of modern families.

“He has become the vanguard in taking down the critics of Amoris Laetitia or even anyone who would question the thinking here,” Raymond Arroyo, a popular host on the conservative Catholic cable network EWTN, said during a recent interview with Burke (who also took the opportunity to blast Spadaro as “in error”).

Indeed, in these past weeks Spadaro has been everywhere, physically and virtually. A sought-after speaker, he has given talks on Francis’s pontificate in Spain, South Korea and elsewhere; given interviews; and penned a firm rejection of the cardinals’ questions for CNN’s website.

And, of course, he has been all over social media. “The Pope has ‘clarified,’” he tweeted in mid-November. “Those who don’t like what they hear pretend not to hear it!”


3. ‘Catholic agencies see collaboration as key as new leaders come aboard, By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service, December 28, 2016.

Stronger collaboration among leading Catholic organizations is ahead as they address long-standing human needs and strive to ensure that the work of the church prospers.

From leadership changes to the adoption of new strategic plans and priorities in 2016, agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are expecting to strengthen their core services on the path to deepening the understanding of what it means to be Catholic.

Sean Callahan was to begin serving as president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services Jan. 1. The agency’s No. 2 since 2012, Callahan has extensive field experience and previously oversaw the agency’s overseas operation.

CRS also has a new chairman of the board in Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, New York. His ministry has been marked by leadership on humanitarian issues in the Middle East and he has been a strong human rights advocate for Christians fleeing violence and persecution.

During the USCCB fall general assembly, Mansour urged his fellow bishops to bring wider attention to the plight Middle East Christians to parishes and political leaders.

With his expertise on the Middle East, Mansour will be able to raise the profile of the plight of Christians in the region and help strengthen ties with the USCCB on the issue with U.S. policymakers.

At the USCCB, the bishops elected a new president and vice president during their fall general assembly and welcomed a new general secretary early in the year.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles were elected president and vice president, respectively. Both come from areas with large Latino populations and have been vocal immigrant rights advocates. Gomez is the first Latino bishop to hold the vice president spot in the USCCB leadership.

Signifying the bishops’ support for immigrants, both officials issued statements Dec. 1 on behalf of the USCCB calling for a day of prayer for migrants and immigrants Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. The day of prayer was intended to be a time to place before a merciful God the hopes, fears and needs of all those families who have come to the United States seeking a better life, the USCCB said.

On the administrative side, Msgr. Brian Bransfield began his five-year term as USCCB general secretary early in 2016. Bransfield, a priest of the Philadelphia archdiocese, coordinates the conference’s administrative matters. His term runs through until 2021.

Meanwhile, the bishops adopted a strategic plan that will guide the work of the USCCB through 2020. It reflects the efforts of Pope Francis to establish a more merciful and accompanying church, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the bishop’s Committee on Priorities and Plans, told the bishops’ fall general assembly.

The plan incorporates the theme “Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People With Joy” in setting five priorities: evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations, and religious freedom. More than a year in development, the plan stems in large part from Pope Francis’ message to the bishops when he visited the U.S. in 2015.


4. Politics, courts involved in U.S. health care’s 2016 diagnosis, By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service, December 28, 2016.

The Catholic church has had concerns with the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Catholic bishops and Catholic hospitals have long emphasized that the poor and vulnerable must have access to health care, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a 2010 letter to Congress, stressed that health care is “a basic human right” and “universal coverage should be truly universal.” The health care law through federal and state exchanges allows people even with limited income to get subsidies to have a health care plan.

But there are still questions about coverage of abortion by health care plans and for church leaders, a major sticking point with the legislation also has been its contraceptive mandate — challenged in courts and sent back to the lower courts by the Supreme Court this past summer. The dispute has been over the Department of Health and Human Services’ requirement that all employers, including most religious employers, provide contraceptive coverage in employees’ health plans even if the employer morally objects to the coverage. The mandate provides a narrow religious exemption for houses of worship.

But the mood changed somewhat after Trump was elected in a campaign in which he said he is pro-life, causing the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers that had challenged the mandate to cautiously breathe a sigh of relief.

“Everyone is still protected by the Supreme Court’s order, but they know with a new administration it could change in minutes,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Rienzi seems confident Trump’s campaign promises to repeal some or all of the Affordable Care Act would very likely take the contraceptive issue off the table.

“We feel optimistic,” he told Catholic News Service Nov. 22, stressing that a major part of Trump’s victory stemmed from religious voters convinced he would best represent them with pro-life policies and Supreme Court nominee picks.