1. Top China leader says Catholics must act ‘independently’, By Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press, December 30, 2016, 5:40 AM.

One of China’s top leaders told Chinese Catholics that they need to operate “independently” of outside forces and promote socialism and patriotism through religion.

Yu Zhengsheng’s Thursday speech came at the end of a meeting of China’s official Catholic church that was being closely watched by the Holy See. Yu is one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body. His speech could be a measure of how much Beijing is willing to yield in potential dialogue with the Holy See.

But just last week, the Vatican said it was saddened that the ordination of two new Chinese bishops was marred by the presence of a bishop ordained without the pope’s consent. It said it would watch this week’s conference with hope for new confidence in the Vatican-China dialogue.

The Vatican-affiliated AsiaNews service, which closely covers the underground church in China, quoted on Thursday one priest from northern China calling the meeting “a staged theatrical representation.”


2. Faith That Upholds Humanity—and Liberty: If a person is simply a chemistry set crossed with a computer, then morals are empty., By Andrew Klavan, The Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2016, Pg. A13, Houses of Worship.

The Obama administration’s failure to beat back the rise of radical Islam reflects a greater failure of thinking elites. Steeped in an intellectual culture of secularism, Western leaders have consistently denied both the Koranic motives of America’s enemies, and the Christian underpinnings of the U.S. system of values. They look for economic and social reasons for this clash of cultures and dismiss the far more terrible possibility that humanity is actually at war over the nature of God.

Perhaps instead of dismissing the religious beliefs of those who oppose liberty, more elites should reconsider the faith that upholds it. Thinkers from John Adams to Marcello Pera have cited specifically Christian principles as the foundation of the West’s freedoms. A materialist worldview leaves formerly Christian cultures philosophically weak when those freedoms come under attack. Materialism strips humans of the logic of their humanity—the whole point of Western liberty.

To break this materialist spell and set oneself free for faith requires rebelling not against scientific facts but against flawed scientistic logic. Materialism is a fine idea, but what’s it made of? An idea is neither the words that express it nor the brainwork that conceives it: These are only the vehicles that transport the immaterial thought into the material world.

Whether it is true that each of us is an idea of God’s expressed in flesh, and whether God once expressed himself in flesh as well, these are questions of faith. But we should not allow them to be decided by cultural fiat. In more ways than one, our lives depend on getting the answers right.


3. Obama religious outreach chief: Party becoming too pro-abortion, By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, December 30, 2016, Pg. A2.

The days when Democrats believed abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” are long gone, according to a former Obama White House staffer.

Michael Wear, who spearheaded President Obama’s 2012 faith outreach efforts, said Democrats have become “too in love with” abortion to bring Christian and pro-life voters into the fold.

“The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party,” Mr. Wear said in an interview with The Atlantic published on Thursday. “We are now so far from that, it’s insane.”

Pointing to the party platform’s call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used to finance abortions, Mr. Wear said Democrats made minimal effort to reach out to religious voters during the 2016 presidential race, which saw 81 percent of evangelicals and a majority of Catholics back Republican Donald Trump.

“Reaching out to evangelicals doesn’t mean you have to become pro-life,” Mr. Wear said. “It just means you have to not be so in love with how pro-choice you are, and so opposed to how pro-life we are.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s attempt to paint abortion as a positive moral good during the campaign was especially surprising, he said.

Mr. Wear said Democrats need to recognize that America is “still a profoundly religious nation” if they hope to change their political fortunes.


4. Catholic groups sue over Obama administration transgender requirement, By Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post blog: Acts of Faith, December 29, 2016, 3:24 PM.

An organization of Catholic businesses is suing the Obama administration over a federal rule they say will force Catholic hospitals and doctors to perform gender reassignment services against their faith.

The Catholic Benefits Association filed the lawsuit Wednesday in North Dakota District Court along with the Catholic Diocese of Fargo. In a statement, the groups called the rule part of a “multi-agency effort to redefine the term ‘sex’ in federal anti-discrimination laws.”

The lawsuit concerns a rule that went into effect in July clarifying an anti-bias provision of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. The health law prohibits discrimination in certain health programs that receive federal funding. While it does not explicitly apply to transgender people, the rule issued by the Health and Human Services Department specifies that it considers discrimination on the basis of gender identity a form of sex discrimination, as other agencies and many courts have done.

But the Catholic groups contend that the rule forces doctors to provide services that may conflict with their religious beliefs or professional judgment. Douglas Wilson, chief executive of the Catholic Benefits Association, said in a statement that Catholic hospitals already care for patients in a way that does not discriminate.

“Catholic hospitals provide compassionate care to everyone, regardless of status. Patients experiencing gender dysphoria deserve no less,” said Wilson, whose group includes 880 Catholic hospitals, colleges and businesses. “The prime ethic of any healthcare provider is do no harm. These regulations do the opposite.”

The groups also allege the rule will force doctors and hospitals to perform abortions against their faith.


5. Canada’s Pastoral Challenge: Ministering Faithfully in a Culture of Doctor-Assisted Death: Some Canadian bishops have adopted differing approaches, as they grapple collectively with their nation’s recent legalization of euthanasia and doctor-assisted death., By Joanne Byfield, National Catholic Register, December 29, 2016

It’s a nationwide pastoral challenge for Canada’s Catholic bishops: Canadian doctors and nurse practitioners have had the legal right to kill patients for six months now, since the Canadian government, at the direction of the country’s Supreme Court, passed a law legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

But two of the nation’s assemblies of regional bishops have released strikingly different pastoral guidelines addressing Canada’s new legal reality, which directly contradicts Church teaching regarding the grave immorality of suicide.

The Atlantic Canadian bishops released a short statement at the end of November that invited criticism from some Catholic commentators for implying that reception of the sacraments and a Church funeral might be broadly available to Catholics who choose to kill themselves with the assistance of doctors.

In contrast, the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories earlier published a far more detailed document that explained why such a pastoral response might be precluded, while exploring in depth an extensive range of other responses that priests could apply as warranted.

Canada’s Catholic bishops, in the lead-up to the bill’s passage, were very vocal in opposing the change, appearing before government panels to warn against the perils of state-sanctioned killing and urging parliamentarians to vote against it, to no avail. Now that assisted suicide is legal, and a fully funded part of Canada’s socialized health care system, the bishops are grappling with the fallout.

The six bishops of Alberta-Northwest Territories were first to respond in September with their “General Principles and Reflections on Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and Dying in Light of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” a 34-page vademecum (a handbook or guide) addressed to priests and parishes to assist their ministry to such persons. It followed a series of discussions hosted by Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton last spring, when it became clear that assisted suicide would be legalized. Priests and others in pastoral ministry sought guidance on how to respond and in collaboration with the other five bishops, the document was produced.

In a brief introduction, the bishops are clear: “Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.”

Then, at the end of November, the 10 Atlantic bishops — who oversee the four eastern provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island — released a three-page “Pastoral Reflection on Medical Assistance in Dying.” 

And while they acknowledge that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that our lives belong to God and are therefore “not ours to dispose of,” the letter never actually says assisted suicide or euthanasia is immoral or sinful. Pastoral care should “communicate the compassion of Christ, his healing love and his mercy.”

The Archdiocese of Toronto, along with the other bishops in Canada’s most populous province of Ontario, has not yet released pastoral guidelines to address euthanasia and assisted suicide.

But Cardinal Thomas Collins highlighted the issue at the conclusion of his address to the annual Cardinal’s Dinner in Toronto on Nov. 10.

“We have been made more aware recently of the merciless assault on human dignity which is sometimes falsely called ‘mercy killing,’ or even more falsely ‘medical assistance in dying’ and most falsely of all ‘dying with dignity,’” Cardinal Collins said.


6. Supreme Court tackles major issues in 2016, after losing key member, By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service, December 29, 2016.

The U.S. Supreme Court continued to tackle many important issues this year including immigration, abortion, the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the death penalty, despite the loss of the conservative vote of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

The last term, which ended in late June, wrapped up with a number of high-profile cases Catholics were watching and only one, the Texas abortion case, was decided definitively with a 5-3 vote.

In that case, the justices struck down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that required them to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Another big case before the court that drew reaction from both sides was the challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers cover contraceptives in their employee health plans even if they are morally opposed to such coverage.

The Little Sisters of the Poor was just one of several Catholic groups involved in the case, but the religious order became synonymous with Zubik v. Burwell case.

In mid-May, the Supreme Court sent these cases back to the lower courts. This action cleared the slate from previous court rulings when five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the contraceptive mandate and one ruled against it.

The justices expressed hope that both sides might be able to work out a compromise, which hasn’t happened.

The court will take up one religious liberty case this term about a church being excluded from a state’s grant program. The case, which hasn’t been given a date yet for oral arguments, is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, about a religious preschool that was rejected from a Missouri program that provides reimbursement grants for the purchase of tire scraps used at the base of playgrounds.