1. Senate Confirms Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary: Georgia congressman will be point person on dismantling of Affordable Care Act. 

By Michelle Hackman, The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2017, Pg. A3

The U.S. Senate confirmed House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R., Ga.), President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, in a 52-47 party-line vote early Friday morning, placing him atop a sprawling agency tasked with dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Price is also expected to follow through on an executive order, issued by Mr. Trump on the first day of his administration, directing federal agencies to pare back regulatory elements of the ACA in ways that don’t require congressional action. There is little evidence of action on that front so far, but Mr. Price’s installation could change that.

One rule he could overturn, for example, is the Obama administration’s mandate that health plans include contraceptive coverage at no cost to the patient, a protection that isn’t explicitly written into the law. As a congressman, Mr. Price voted regularly against federal funding for abortion and expressed skepticism about federal contraception requirements.

The Senate vote on Mr. Price’s confirmation came just after 2 a.m., after Democrats used the full 30 hours of debate allotted to them to delay the proceedings.


2. Pro-life marchers strike Planned Parenthood nationwide. 

By Jennifer Harper, The Washington Times, February 10, 2017, Pg. A2

A coalition of five major pro-life organizations has organized 217 rallies in 45 states Saturday, each calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. All the events will be staged outside the organization’s local facilities.

The cause — found at ProtestPP.com — has support from multiple activist groups, including the Traditional Values Coalition, American Family Association, March for Life, Priests for Life, Thomas More Society and the Family Research Council. Will there be trouble? Organizers are offering point-by-point guidance on how to handle potential confrontations.

“The federal government has been subsidizing Planned Parenthood to the tune of more than $430 million annually,” says Eric Scheidler, who is coordinating the national effort. “The time has come to defund America’s abortion giant. Taxpayers are sickened to see their money spent in support of these atrocities.”


3. Reaction to Trump preferred refugee status reveals ‘blind spot’ to Christian persecution. 

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, February 10, 2017, Pg. A1

Advocates who work to protect persecuted groups say there is a “blind spot” in the West concerning the plight faced by Christians around the world — a shortsightedness evident in the overwhelmingly negative reaction to President Trump’s executive order granting preferred refugee status to persecuted religious minorities.

Each month, about 322 Christians are killed, 214 churches or Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 acts of violence are carried out on Christians because of their faith, according to Open Doors, a nonprofit group that helps persecuted Christians.

Polls support the notion that some segments of the West are ignorant of the persecution faced by Christians around the world.

A Rasmussen survey published Tuesday showed that the majority of Democrats believe Muslims in the United States are mistreated because of their faith, but fewer were willing to say the same for Christians in the Islamic world.

While 56 percent of Democrats said Muslims in America are mistreated because of their faith, that number fell to 47 percent for Christians living in Islamic nations. Sixty-two percent of Americans overall, and 76 percent of Republicans, said Christians are persecuted in countries where Islam is the dominant religion.

More than 19,000 refugees from Syria were admitted to the United States during Mr. Obama’s tenure, but less than one-half of 1 percent of them were Christians.

Mr. Trump has said the United States will do more to alleviate the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.


4. How to Fix the Johnson Amendment: The IRS has created a chilling effect on some religious speech. Time for a thaw. 

By Erik Stanley, The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2017, Pg. A13

President Trump promised last week that he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 provision of the tax code that allows the Internal Revenue Service to police the speech of churches and other nonprofits. But Congress doesn’t have to repeal the amendment to make good on Mr. Trump’s pledge. The Free Speech Fairness Act, introduced in the House and Senate the day before the president made his remarks, fixes the law’s constitutional problems.

Predictably, the amendment has not been enforced equally. The veil of vagueness and ambiguity gives government officials the power to favor the speech they like and censor speech they don’t. And that is precisely how the IRS has acted in enforcing the Johnson Amendment—frequently giving a pass to certain churches and other organizations while cracking down on others. This risk of uneven enforcement is why the Constitution prohibits vague restrictions on speech.

But the Constitution also prohibits vague speech restrictions because of their chilling effect. Law-abiding citizens will self-censor if they fear sanctions for violating the law, and more ambiguity means greater risk of self-censorship. Since 1954, U.S. churches and pastors have chilled their own speech—often regarding how their faith intersects with politics—out of fear. Many completely avoid the topic simply to avoid the scrutiny of the powerful IRS and its arsenal of punishments.

The Free Speech Fairness Act would get the IRS out of the speech-police business while prohibiting political expenditures or contributions by tax-exempt organizations. It would provide a relief valve for speech by allowing all charities to speak on political issues, as long as the speech is done in the course of carrying out the group’s regular activities. Because the bill doesn’t allow for political contributions or expenditures, dark money can’t flow through exempt organizations to campaigns.

Mr. Stanley is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.


5. Hong Kong bishop hints at Vatican deal with China. 

By Gerry Shih, Associated Press, February 10, 2017, 2:47 AM

The head of the Catholic church in Hong Kong has expressed optimism that the Vatican and Beijing can overcome the controversial issue of bishop appointments lying at the core of a decades-long dispute.

Cardinal John Tong said in a lengthy essay published by the Hong Kong diocese that a “preliminary consensus has reportedly been reached” on the matter, and suggested that the pope could retain veto power over the ordination of mainland bishops under the new arrangement.

Diocese spokesman Fung Yat Ming said Friday that the cardinal was not available for comment and clarified that Tong’s post reflected his opinion and was not intended as a progress report on the negotiations.

Still, the Hong Kong bishop’s writings have been closely followed by the Catholic world for hints about the contours of any emerging Sino-Vatican deal. Tong disclosed in August that the Chinese government was “willing to reach an understanding” on the issue of bishops.


6. Other Countries Aim To Fill Aid Shortfall Caused By U.S. Abortion Rule. 

By Camila Domonoske, NPR, February 9, 2017

After President Trump blocked U.S. aid money from supporting any group that provides or “promotes” abortion in other countries, The Netherlands announced it would launch a fundraising initiative to support any affected organizations.

Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, tells NPR that other countries working to counteract the impact of the policy doesn’t change the key fact, for anti-abortion groups, of American funds being withdrawn.

“Other countries are free to do what they want,” she says. “The principle of the matter is that the United States is not endorsing abortion.”

The ability of international aid groups to raise funds from other sources, in general, has been mentioned by anti-abortion groups as a point in favor of the Mexico City policy, as Nurith reported last year. Nonprofit groups, meanwhile, say it’s “enormously disruptive” to have a funding source cut off suddenly, even if other funds are later available.


7. In time of racial despair, it’s critical for the Church to speak up. 

By Christopher White, Crux, February 9, 2017

Some have described racial relations in South Africa as a “constant miracle” or a “strong fabric”, and a recent major report from the South African Institute of Race Relations concluded that the results should “fill the country with hope.”

The primary reason attributed to this change? Creating a culture of dialogue.

It’s one that has been popularized by Pope Francis’s continual call to build a “culture of encounter.” It’s also a lesson the U.S. bishops have taken to heart in the newly released report of their Special Task Force looking to improve racial and community relations here at home.

The Church in the United States today is made up of almost fifty percent of people of color. This diversity should be celebrated and welcomed-and it should also be accompanied by an aggressive commitment to fostering reconciliation as a necessary condition toward promoting justice and a more intentional solidarity among those in our pews.

Recent polling confirms that most Americans are pessimistic about the current state of race relations in this country, with rising rates of violence and hatred. It seems all the more critical that the Church become not just a leading voice against racism, but a prominent player actively fostering dialogue and promoting concrete solutions within our communities.


8. Patriot Virtues. 

By Fr. Roger Landry, The Anchor, February 10, 2017
In honor of the 11 players on the field at any given time, let’s mention 11 lessons.

For the first time in the history of the papacy, last Sunday Pope Francis recorded a Super Bowl message.

“Great sporting events like today’s Super Bowl,” he said, “are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace. By participating in sport, we are able to go beyond our own self-interest and in a healthy way we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules.” He finished by praying, “May this year’s Super Bowl be a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity for the world.”

His message underlined what so many athletes and coaches, parents and educators have long known, that sports are a school in which one can be formed in so many virtues and skills necessary for life: teamwork, self-discipline, asceticism, docility, selflessness, dependability, perseverance, focus, preparation and training, poise under pressure, sportsmanship, how to celebrate and how to handle setbacks. Sports are a means to bring people together in common purpose, whether we’re dealing with neighborhoods, high schools, universities, huge geographical regions, or, in the Olympics and World Cup, whole nations. Sports have also proven to be culturally and historically far more than just games, expediting processes of racial integration and the overcoming of warring tensions.

In honor of the 11 players on the field at any given time, let’s mention 11 lessons.

First, teamwork. … St. Paul’s analogy about the Church as a Body in which eyes, hands, and feet all do their part finds in their cohesion a powerful illustration (1 Cor 12:14-31).

Second, preparation. … Imagine what would happen if clergy and faithful prepared just as hard for Sunday?

Third, coaching. Bill Belichick’s ability to coach both his assistant coaches and his players not just in gridiron Xs and Os and “situational football” but also to get them to buy into team rather than selfish goals is what most sets him apart from his peers. The Patriots are similarly superb in making in-game adjustments. Those are three skill sets that would benefit all who coach God’s team.

Fourth, shared championship drive. … Christians similarly ought to push each other toward obtaining everlasting victory with Christ.

Fifth, “next man up.” … The transmission of the Gospel likewise needs people just as ready to step in as the next generation of priests, religious, catechists, salt, light and leaven.

Sixth, refusing to make excuses. … Jesus prepared us for similar opposition (Mt 24:9-10) so that we might have similar positive resolve.

Seventh, “mental toughness.” When trailing, even down 25, the Pats don’t quit. They have a “six-second rule” to dwell on a previous play before they focus on what they have to do next. This gives an illustration of the Biblical virtues of makrothumia and hypomone (Gal 5:22; Heb 10:36), pointing to steadfast endurance.

Eighth, reviewing their performance. Even when the Pats win a blowout, they study minutely the game film to determine what went well and what didn’t, in order to learn, correct and strengthen. That’s what every Church institution should do regularly and every Christian do daily in a general nightly examination.

Ninth, ruthlessly remedying mistakes. … Jesus called us to be just as brutal in “plucking out” eyes and “chopping off” hands if they’re leading us to spiritual defeat (Mt 5:29-30).

Tenth, studying their opponents. … The Church would do well to strategize just as effectively in terms of apologetics, prayer and, when the circumstances warrant, political catalysis when others organize to try to oppose the Gospel, the religious freedom and other rights of the Church, or human dignity.

Eleventh, discipline in speech. Bill Belichick’s press conferences, while annoying for sports journalists, are an art form of vapid clichés. He refuses to say anything that could hurt his team, by giving opponents any tactical information or poster board material they could use against them. … As St. James says, “If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue…, this man’s religion is vain” (1:26). Minimally, such discipline is a corrective against gossip.


9. The Age of Noise. 

By Bishop James D. Conley, STL, Crisis, February 10, 2017

To be sure, we have a responsibility as faithful Catholics to be aware of the world and its challenges, and to be engaged in the cultural and political affairs of our communities. We cannot shirk or opt out from that responsibility. But we are living at a moment of constant urgencies and crises, the “tyranny of the immediate,” where reactions to the latest news unfold at a breakneck pace, often before much thought, reflection or consideration. We are living at a moment where argument precedes analysis, and outrage, or feigned outrage, has become an ordinary kind of virtue signaling—a way of conveying the “right” responses to social issues in order to boost our social standing.

The Lord didn’t make us for this kind of noise. He made us for conversation, for exchange and communion. And our political community depends upon real deliberation: serious debate and activism over serious subjects. But the Lord also made us for silence. For contemplation. For quietude. And without these things anchoring our lives, and our hearts, the age of noise transforms us, fostering in our hearts reactive and uncharitable intemperance that characterizes the media and social media spaces which shape our culture.

The age of noise is grinding away at our souls.

When our friends and neighbors look to us, as disciples of Jesus, they should see that there is something extraordinary about our lives: that although we live fully in our nation, we are, first, citizens of heaven. This means that we must live differently, in the age of noise. We must speak, and act, and think differently. In the words of St. Paul, we must “not be conformed to this world,” to the age of noise, “but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.” We must be, in the best sense of the word, “counter-cultural.”

To be citizens of heaven, we must be detached from the noise of this world. We must participate fully in cultural, and political, and public life, but we must entrust the outcomes of our participation to the Lord. We must detach ourselves from the news cycles, and social media arguments, and television pundits, which inflame our anger, or provoke our anxiety, or which shift our focus from the eternal to the fleeting and temporal.

We’ll be free from the anxiety and worry of the “age of noise” when times of prayer, and silence, are regular facets of our day. We’ll be detached from false crises and urgency of the culture of outrage when we do our small part, and then entrust the affairs of this world to the Lord. We’ll also be, when we quiet the “age of noise” in our hearts, the leaders of wisdom and virtue which our culture desperately needs, right now.