1. Let Them Not Bake Cake: Does gay marriage trump the right to religious expression?

By The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2017, Pg. A16, Editorial

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ostensibly pits the government’s interest in social equality against an individual’s constitutional right to express his beliefs. But these two democratic values aren’t incompatible, assuming the Justices respect America’s pluralistic tradition that lets people of good faith disagree.

The case raises significant First Amendment concerns. Custom cakes can be construed as artistic expression, which is protected by the First Amendment. And weddings for many people are religious celebrations, and participation—or abstention—is itself an act of expression.

The Supreme Court has long held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling speech or the exercise of religion.

A ruling for Colorado could encourage other government burdens on First Amendment religious rights, especially in this era of right-left cultural polarization. Could the state compel Catholic doctors to perform abortions, or require Catholic adoption services to place children with same-sex couples?


2. Pope Francis Calls Nuclear-Arms Race Irrational and Immoral: Pontiff expresses his ’firm opinion’ that nuclear arsenals must not be allowed to grow larger.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2017, Pg. A6

Pope Francis on Saturday said the nuclear-arms race has become irrational and immoral, and the construction of ever more potent weapons is no longer justified by the purpose of deterrence.

Two previous popes, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, taught that a state’s possession of nuclear arms could be justified to deter attacks by another power, but only as temporary measures toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons.

But, at a Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament last month, Pope Francis seemed to close off that justification.

Considering the risk of accidental detonation, even the mere possession of nuclear weapons is to be “firmly condemned,” he said.

The pope stressed on Saturday that he wasn’t pronouncing official church teaching but expressing his “firm opinion” that nuclear arsenals must not be allowed to grow larger.


3. As ‘African moment’ dawns in global Catholicism, Kenya is key. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, December 4, 2017

In many ways, Kenya is one of Africa’s success stories.

Yet, again like much of Africa, Kenya’s success often seems fragile. At the moment, the country seems poised on the brink of a replay of 2007, when a disputed presidential election triggered widespread violence rooted in ethnic rivalries that left 1,300 people dead. 

Today, incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta has been officially inaugurated as the country’s leader, once again under dubious circumstances, and the opposition is threatening to swear in their own man, Raila Odinga, as a rival “People’s President” on December 12, Kenya’s independence day.

In a sense, therefore, Kenya is the continent in miniature, a microcosm of both progress and the forces constantly threatening to upend that progress, which form so much of the African story.

What can be said of Kenya generally also applies to the Catholic Church in the nation of some 50 million people, where 70 percent of the population is Christian, with Protestants and Anglicans representing 40 percent and Catholics 30 percent. There are also strong pockets of traditional animist believers, and a growing Muslim presence in the country’s coastal area to the east.

Because of Kenya’s overall importance to Africa, the Church in the country also plays a key role in Catholic affairs across the continent.

Kenyan Christians certainly suffer from more than their fair share of conventional anti-Christian persecution. In the heavily Muslim areas of the country, attacks on Christians by militants linked to al-Shabaab are becoming more frequent and brazen.

Aid to the Church in Need is underwriting a series of projects, including vocations training, retreats, building churches, convents and formation houses – even, creatively, buying motorcycles for catechists to reach remotely located communities. In this case, the aim isn’t so much to help a persecuted church rebuild, but rather to help a young church get its legs under it if, and when, persecution ever comes.

Make no mistake: However remote from American experience those situations may sound, more and more, Africa’s stories are ours too. Africa is by far the zone of Catholicism’s greatest growth today, expanding by some 7,000 percent in the 20th century and continuing in the 21st. There’s a youthfulness and passion about African Catholicism that’s palpable to anyone who experiences it, and the leadership class of the African church is convinced that its time to lead has arrived.

As a result, there’s a dawning “African moment” in global Catholicism, in which the future of the Church isn’t being worked out exclusively anymore in Rome, Paris or New York, but also in places such as Mombasa and Lodwar.

As goes Kenya, in other words, it’s not just so goes Africa – it’s also so goes the Catholic Church.


4. Pope donates to help feed South Sudan’s hungry.

By Associated Press, December 4, 2017, 6:04 AM

The leaders of South Sudan’s Roman Catholic Church are calling on the pope to visit this war-torn nation.

Pope Francis had planned to visit to this country in October, but cancelled citing security concerns caused by the country’s civil war.

He has donated 25 million euros to help feed the country’s most vulnerable citizens ahead of the upcoming dry season. The money was given to the United Nations’ agricultural arm, to alleviate a period of “grave food insecurity and major displacement,” said the Vatican in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.


5. Latest Vatican mystery raises more questions about pope’s financial reform. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 3, 2017

Shortly after his election, the new pope created three instruments which were supposed to be the lynchpins of reform. The first was a new Council for the Economy, made up of cardinals and lay financial experts, to set policy. The second was the Secretariat for the Economy, a new discastery intended to implement reform, while the third was the independent Auditor General, designed to keep everyone honest.

The widespread perception is that in a series of internal battles over the last three years, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has reconsolidated its power over the purse, perhaps even to a greater degree than before the reform project began. To the extent one believes that the Secretariat of State is also the bulwark of the Vatican’s “old guard,” then we’re nearing the point, if we haven’t already reached it, at which some people are prepared to pronounce reform dead upon arrival.


6. Pope prays that Honduras peacefully solves political crisis.

By Associated Press, December 3, 2017, 9:39 AM

Pope Francis says he is praying that Honduras can peacefully overcome a violent political crisis.

Deadly protests have erupted in the Central American nation over a delayed vote count in a disputed presidential election.

Francis told people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday he was remembering Hondurans in his prayers in a special way so they “can in a peaceful manner overcome the current difficult moment.”


7. Pope recalls suffering faces from Myanmar, Bangladesh trip.

By Associated Press, December 3, 2017, 7:36 AM

Pope Francis says he recalls so many “suffering” but “noble” faces from his just-ended trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

He greeted people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. Francis thanked God for the voyage’s opportunity to meet residents in the two Asian countries, citing in particular the tiny Catholic communities there, adding he was “edified by their testimony.”

He said Sunday of his trip: “Impressed on me is the memory of so many faces, tried by life, but noble and smiling.”


8. Bill that would allow churches to receive FEMA aid advances in Congress.

By Chris Mathews, Religion News Service, December 2, 2017

Churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith-based community centers damaged in a natural disaster could be eligible for federal disaster relief funds under a measure approved by a congressional committee.

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act, also known as H.R. 4460, was approved on Thursday (Nov. 30) by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and will next move to the House floor for deliberation.

The bill received strong support from both sides of the aisle despite objections that using taxpayer funds to rebuild houses of worship would violate the separation of church and state. Proponents of the measure argue that religious groups, which are often at the forefront of disaster relief efforts, are being unfairly disadvantaged.