1. Australia and the Church’s Sex Abuse Scandal.

By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, February 13, 2017, Pg. A22

The global scale of the Catholic clergy’s sexual abuse scandal becomes harder for the Vatican to deny with each shocking national inquiry. The latest, from Australian government investigators, found that from 1980 to 2015 there were 4,444 victims of abuse and at least 1,880 suspected to be abusers, most of them priests and religious brothers.

In late December, Pope Francis called for “zero tolerance” by bishops of the sexual abuse of children and spoke of “the sin of covering up and denial.” Earlier, in 2015, Pope Francis approved the creation of a special tribunal to investigate offending bishops who routinely shielded pedophile priests and paid hush money to victims. But Francis stirred skepticism when he dropped the tribunal plan last year and assigned the task to the Vatican bureaucracy.


2. Anti-abortion groups eye new HHS chief to crack down on abortion. 

By Robert King, The Washington Examiner, February 13, 2017, 12:01 AM

Anti-abortion groups are itching for Tom Price to crack down on abortion, including targeting federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Price can reinstate federal rules that were scrapped by the Obama administration, including a Reagan-era rule that forbid abortion counseling for patients in family planning clinics. His confirmation garnered praise from several groups.

“His strong pro-life record reassures the American public that HHS under President Trump will abandon its aggressive abortion agenda,” said Grazie Pozo Christie, policy adviser for the Catholic Association.

HHS has a range of agencies under its umbrella, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.


3. Supreme Court nominee has defended free speech, religion. 

By Jeff Donn and Geoff Mulvihill, Associated Press, February 12, 2017, 8:27 AM

On other First Amendment cases involving freedom of religion, … Gorsuch repeatedly has sided with religious groups when they butt up against the secular state.

In cases involving religion, Gorsuch has leaned toward allowing its free practice but also joined some rulings that might be viewed as actively favoring faith groups. Such cases often split judges because the Constitution bars government both from interfering with religious groups and from actively backing them.

In two of the highest-profile religious freedom cases before his court, Gorsuch joined opinions that sided with Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor. They argued that it would violate their religious rights if they were forced to provide employees with coverage for contraceptives as required by President Obama’s health care law. The federal government now pays to insure workers for that coverage when employers object to doing so on religious grounds.

In two opinions dealing with three communities, Gorsuch called for hearing further appeals of circuit court action that restricted displays of the Ten Commandments on public property. He took a similar stand on crosses placed along highways to memorialize Utah state troopers.

In 2009, Gorsuch wrote a dissent saying the court should hear arguments for allowing display of the Ten Commandments at the Haskell County Courthouse in Stigler, Oklahoma. He criticized his fellow judges, saying a reasonable observer would not understand the display as the government’s endorsement of a religion.


4. Vatican unveils updated healthcare charter as new ethical questions arise. 

By Elise Harris, Catholic News Agency, February 12, 2017

The Vatican has issued an updated version of their charter for healthcare workers, removing question marks from modern ethical concerns such as euthanasia and the creation of human-animal chimeras by offering a clear set of guidelines.

In the past 20 years “there have been two situations, two events” that have made the production of a new healthcare charter necessary, Professor Antonio Gioacchino Spagnolo told CNA Feb. 6.

The first, he said, is “scientific progress. In these 20 years there has been a lot of scientific progress in the field of the beginning of life as well as in the phase of the end of life, in the context of living.”

But alongside advancements in science the Church’s Magisterium has also produced several texts dealing with new and current issues, offering an authoritative take on how they should be handled.

Released to coincide with the annual World Day of the Sick celebrations taking place in Lourdes, the updated charter includes all magisterial documents published since 1994 and will be sent to bishops’ conferences around the world.

At roughly 150 pages including the index, the charter is structured much like the old edition, and is divided into three parts: Procreation, Life, and Death.


5. Pope sending bishop to Medjugorje, Bosnian pilgrimage site. 

By Associated Press, February 11, 2017

Pope Francis is sending a bishop to a Medugorje, Bosnia, shrine to gain “deeper knowledge” of the pastoral needs of millions of Catholics drawn there by reports of apparitions by the Virgin Mary.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Saturday Polish Bishop Henryk Hoser’s mission doesn’t involve deciding the merits of the reported apparitions. Six youths in 1981 reported having regular visions of Mary there. The Vatican’s study of the doctrinal merits of the reported sightings is still ongoing.

The Vatican says Hoser above all will study “the needs of the faithful who go there on pilgrimage,” and his mission, to wrap up by summer’s end, has “exclusively pastoral character.”


6. Protesters Face Off as U.S. Abortion Debate Heats Up. 

By Reuters, February 11, 2017, 2:15 PM

Anti-abortion protesters rallied at scores of Planned Parenthood clinics on Saturday to urge Congress and President Donald Trump to strip the health services provider of federal funding, while supporters of the organization staged counter-demonstrations around the United States.

With anti-abortion groups expecting protests at up to 225 clinics, Planned Parenthood supporters organized 150 protests of their own at parks, government buildings and other sites, including clinics. 

All told, rallies and marches were called in 45 states in cities large and small, from Washington and Philadelphia to St. Paul, Minnesota, and Orange, California


7. Where in the world could Pope Francis move the political needle? 

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, February 11, 2017

Reviewing likely conflict zones in 2017, it’s plausible to believe that Pope Francis might make a difference in several global hot-spots, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Mexico, Ukraine, and even Myanmar.

In January, Foreign Policy magazine brought out its annual list of conflicts to watch in the coming year.

[I]t’s an interesting thought exercise to compare the Foreign Policy list with the pope’s agenda, and try to guess where his political and diplomatic lightning might strike.

DRC and South Sudan

Better prospects for a “Francis effect” are probably the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, since both are places the pontiff may well visit in 2017. He’s said he wants to go to Africa again, and those two spots are believed to be the front-runners for his destinations.

Moreover, both are nations where the Catholic Church plays a pivotal role in public life.


Mexico is another place where Francis’s reach might extend, given that it’s the second-largest Catholic nation in the world.


In Ukraine, the pontiff’s role in the conflict in the east between government forces and separatist rebels backed by Russia has been a bit debated.

By this stage, Francis has built up capital both with Putin and the Russian Orthodox, and it will be interesting to see whether he chooses to spend some of that capital in 2017 by pushing the Russians to end its “hybrid war” in the country, which includes a mix of force, cyberattacks, propaganda, and financial pressures.


There’s also a persecuted Christian minority in Myanmar, including two Baptist leaders who were recently arrested and charged with treason for helping to expose the bombing of a Catholic Church. Francis could thus use Myanmar to make the case that defending religious freedom and human rights is not about confessional privilege, because Christians and the Rohingya suffer alike.


8. Health care is not a business, but a service to life, pope says. 

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, February 11, 2017

A nation’s health-care system cannot be run simply as a business because human lives are at stake, Pope Francis said.

“If there is a sector in which the ‘throwaway culture’ demonstrates its most painful consequences, it is the health-care sector,” the pope told patients, medical professionals, pastors and volunteers attending a meeting sponsored by the Italian bishops’ national office for health-care ministry.

But, the pope said, any public policy or private initiative regarding health care that does not make the dignity of the human person its central concern “engenders attitudes that can even lead to exploitation of the misfortune of others. And this is very serious.

Protecting human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death means that “money alone cannot guide political and administrative choices” in health care, he said. And the increasing lack of health care “among the poorest segments of the population, due to lack of access to care, must leave no one indifferent.”