1. 10 Million Catholics in China Face Storm They Can’t Control. 

By Ian Johnson, The New York Times, February 15, 2018, Pg. A4

Now, a new clash is resonating in this rural region, known as Mindong. This time, it centers on talks between China and the Vatican to bridge their historical differences by settling the thorniest issue dividing them: control of the bishops and priests who run the Roman Catholic Church in China.

The prospect of such an agreement has unleashed intense emotions around the globe, with critics accusing the Holy See of “selling out” loyal Catholics in China. The Vatican’s defenders, meanwhile, argue that it must compromise to prevent China’s Catholics from splintering further, especially as the government of President Xi Jinping tightens control of religion.

According to surveys of the official and underground churches by Anthony Lam, a researcher with the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, the total number of Catholics in China peaked around 2005 at 12 million and has since declined to 10 million.

That makes Catholicism the smallest major religious group in China, and the only one that is shrinking — even as other faiths, especially Buddhism and Protestantism, have grown rapidly amid a nationwide religious revival.


2. For China’s Catholics, State-Controlled Church Is ‘Like a Tree With No Roots’: Specter of Vatican allowing state more oversight sows uncertainty in independent congregations. 

By Eva Dou, The Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2018, Pg. A7

An emerging rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing is unsettling communities of Chinese Catholics and increasing pressure on them to join the government-backed church after decades of resistance.

There have been many Catholics in Luojiang since Spanish Dominicans came to farming villages along China’s southeast coast four centuries ago. Today most of the 84,000 Catholics in the area, including the community’s popular bishop, worship outside the state-sanctioned church.

Now the Vatican is asking Bishop Guo Xijin to step aside in favor of a bishop approved by Beijing as part of a compromise to mend a seven-decade rift with China and bring together state-backed and unauthorized communities.

Loyal followers of Bishop Guo are aghast that he may be replaced by a cleric who takes orders from Beijing, not the pope, and that the diocese might be subsumed into the government-backed entity, known as the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, that oversees churches and clergy and advocates independence from Rome.

The spiritual tumult tugging at some inside the Mindong diocese here compounds an existential crisis for many communities of Catholics in China. Catholics are dwindling in number in an overall aging society and losing out to evangelical Protestants and other religions in competition for converts, according to researchers.

While many of the estimated 10 million Catholics in China worship outside the state-backed church, new government regulations that took effect this month threaten to shut churches that refuse to become part of the patriotic association.

In April, Bishop Guo disappeared for a month. After showing up for what he believed was a routine meeting with local officials, he was detained in a house on a mountain, in a room watched around the clock by guards and three security cameras, according to people with knowledge of the incident.

Over several weeks, the officials sought to persuade him to join the patriotic association, those people said. He refused.


3. Planned Parenthood pushing pro-choice legislation in over 12 states. 

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, February 15, 2018, Pg. A6

Planned Parenthood is launching a counterattack in response to significant pro-life gains on the state and federal levels.

The organization will push legislation to expand access to abortion in more than a dozen states this week and hopes to have initiatives in all 50 states by the end of the year.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the nation’s largest abortion provider has been “marching, mobilizing, and organizing,” and now it’s time to channel that into “real policy change.”

States taking up pro-choice policy this week include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.

The campaign comes at a moment of unprecedented strength for the pro-life movement.

According to a report by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, 19 states passed a total of 63 pro-life laws in 2017, the largest number enacted in a year since 2013. Overall, the pro-life movement has enacted 401 pieces of legislation since 2011, the report found.


4. Vatican tries to defuse scandal, says pope meets victims. 

By Associated Press, February 15, 2018, 7:34 AM

The Vatican said Thursday that Pope Francis meets frequently with victims of sexual abuse, seeking to defuse a mounting scandal over his unbridled support for a Chilean bishop accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.

Spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement Francis meets in private with victims individually or in groups several times a month to listen to their stories “and help them to heal their serious wounds.”

In comments also released Thursday, Francis called clerical sex abuse a “humiliation” that exposes the church’s “hypocrisy.”

Francis is facing one of the gravest crises of his papacy after he dismissed victims’ complaints that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros covered up their abuse. During his recent trip to Chile, Francis repeatedly called their accusations slander and said he was certain of Barros’ innocence.

The timing of Burke’s statement revealing Francis’ regular encounters with victims coincided with the release Thursday of a transcript of a meeting Francis held with his fellow Jesuits in Chile and Peru during which he said that he met with victims more often than was previously known, often on Fridays.


5. Pope Francis reveals he meets with victims of sex abuse on Fridays.

By Austen Ivereigh, Crux, February 15, 2018

Pope Francis has revealed that “regularly” on Fridays, he meets quietly with a group of survivors of sexual abuse, saying it’s important for him to hear their stories because “what they have been through is so hard, they are destroyed.”

The pontiff also said that clerical sex abuse is “the greatest desolation that the Church is undergoing,” one that expresses both the Church’s fragility as well as its “hypocrisy.”

The revelations come in a record released today of the pope’s meetings with Jesuits on his trip last month to Chile and Peru. The transcript was approved by the pope and released by Francis’s longtime Jesuit collaborator, Father Antonio Spadaro.


6. Pope Orders Retired Prelates to Live Austerely, Shun Power. 

By Reuters, February 15, 2018, 8:43 AM

Pope Francis, in a decision affecting Vatican officials and bishops around the world, on Thursday ordered them to lead simple lives and renounce any desire for power after they retire from senior positions.

A number of Vatican officials and bishops have come under fire in recent years for holding on to luxuries, such as large apartments and in some cases even police escorts, after they leave office.

Francis himself gave up the spacious papal apartments in favor of a simple suite in a Vatican guest house. Now a new Church law says prelates should “strip themselves of desires of power and of the pretence of being indispensable”.

Francis made his comments in a new law known as a Motu Proprio, Latin for “by his own initiative”. Its Italian title can be roughly translated as “Learning to Resign”.

While the law makes changes in the bureaucratic aspects of the retirement age, which remains 75, the bulk of it was clearly aimed at avoiding the repeat of recent scandals.


7. Anniversary musings on Benedict and the normalization of resignation. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, February 15, 2018

Last Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of the resignation announcement of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 11, 2013, which was a day that anyone who experienced it, especially in Rome, will not soon forget. For many, it seemed as if the earth was shifting under their feet – the once unthinkable had suddenly, and without warning, become reality.

At the time, the consequences of a papal resignation seemed both unknown and potentially menacing. Would it split the Church in two? Would Catholics be confused about to whom they owed allegiance? Would a constitutional crisis ensue? Would the Vatican be split into rival camps, one loyal to the old pope and one to the new one?

For an institution that often makes a fetish out of resistance to change, any mammoth jolt tends to produce reactions like that. Five years later, however, all those breathless forecasts now seem a bit silly.

The balance sheet shows that the Catholic Church has continued to muddle through – divided, certainly, but those of an historical mind might well say no more or less than normal. There’s no constitutional crisis, except in the minds of a handful of figures with a relatively small public following. For better or worse, absolutely no one is confused today about who’s calling the shots.

Moreover, anyone who actually knows Pope emeritus Benedict XVI understood that whatever ruptures might follow his resignation, they would never be fed by him.

In other words, a retired bishop was normalized, and that’s more or less what’s happened over the last five years vis-à-vis the papacy.

It’s deeply probable that [Benedict] knew there would be short-term tumult, and, in some quarters, border-line panic. For sure, he also knew that there would be endless rounds of speculation in the press and around Catholic water coolers about why he “really” resigned, as opposed to the official explanation of age and health.

Yet, his calm and depth of perspective undoubtedly told him that hysteria would have a relatively short shelf life, and the Church would be just fine, because he knows that part of the genius of Catholicism is its capacity, over time, to adapt and flourish in almost any conceivable set of circumstances.

Proof that normalization has set in is that if  Pope Francis eventually chooses to end his reign in resignation, basically nobody would be all that shocked by it, and we’d all probably shift immediately to speculating about who comes next – in other words, business as usual.

February 11, 2013, thus will be remembered for many things: For the announcement itself, for the great humility it reflected in Benedict, and for the chain of events it triggered ending in Francis’s papacy. Yet perhaps, it should also be remembered as the date on which Benedict XVI’s legendary penchant for always thinking in the long run scored its greatest triumph.


8. Vatican Denies Ex-Pope Benedict Suffering From Debilitating Disease, By Reuters, February 15, 2018, 8:48 AM

The Vatican on Thursday denied a German magazine report that former Pope Benedict was suffering from a paralyzing disease of the nervous system.

A Vatican spokesman said a report in the German magazine Neue Post quoting Benedict’s older brother was false.

The magazine quoted Georg Ratzinger, 94, who is a priest, as saying: “The greatest fear is that the paralysis could at some point spread to his heart. Then it could be over quickly”.

A Vatican statement said the “presumed news of a paralyzing degenerative disease are false. In two months, Benedict XVI will turn 91, and as he has said himself, feels the weight of his years, which is normal at that age.”


9. 5 years in, pope praised for outreach, criticized for abuse response. 

By Christopher White, Crux, February 15, 2018

Pope Francis received glowing reviews for his pastoral outreach and his public engagement of the Church in the modern world from a panel of Catholic experts convened at Georgetown University on Tuesday to review the last five years since his election – but they warned that it all risks being lost if he does not effectively respond to the question of sexual abuse within the Church.

“The Francis Factor at Five Years: Reflection and Dialogue,” was organized by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, which according to Georgetown President John DeGioia, has brought over 15,000 individuals to the university over the past 5 years to better understand the life of the Church.

The evening commenced with a reflection by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica and one of the pope’s closest advisors, followed by discussion among Greg Erlandson, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Kirsten Powers, CNN political commentator and USA Today columnist, and was moderated by John Carr, executive director of the Initiative.

Spadaro began his remarks by noting that Francis rejects a “clash of civilizations” framework and offered an overview of what he described as Francis’s “field hospital diplomacy,” that is rooted in a global vision of solidarity between nations inspired by the language of mercy.

Addressing the most burning question of Vatican diplomacy at the moment, Spadaro weighed in on the much-discussed moves to normalize relations between China and the Holy See.

“Francis is walking the same path of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, trying to find a way to dialogue effectively with the Chinese authorities,” Spadaro argued.

“Some are asking if it is acceptable to give the authority to ordain bishops to China’s government. This question is completely wrong. This is not the content of the agreement. To put it like that, would be a mischaracterization,” said Spadaro. “The Church doesn’t want to give away the authority to ordain bishops.”

While the pope received high praise for his pastoral outreach, the issue of clerical sex abuse “hangs over Pope Francis’s legacy and really there is a risk of completely wiping everything out,” said Powers.


10. Health chief must protect doctors against changing medical culture. 

By Grazie Pozo Christie, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is policy advisor to The Catholic Association, The Hill, February 15, 2018, 7:30 AM, Opinion

The new Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Alex Azar, is speaking to the members of the Health Subcommittee on Thursday, who are eager to learn from him how he plans to use his position to positively impact millions of Americans.

Health care professionals across the country, especially concerned physicians like me, are hoping he will tell the members that he is planning to support the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the HHS Office for Civil Rights. This division was formed to defend the conscience rights of doctors and nurses and our ability to exercise sound medical judgment while caring for our patients.

Increasingly, staying true to our vocation to preserve our patients’ health and prolong their lives has made us afraid of retaliation and losing our jobs. This has come about due to cultural shifts over the last decades regarding very basic understandings of health and human flourishing.

Ideologues have elevated abortion from a legal but morally problematic elective procedure to the very centerpiece of “women’s health.” Suicide was once considered the ultimate cry of despair, but is now a “right” and a choice that patients are encouraged to consider when they start to see themselves as a burden. Gender expression has become an indispensable good, while the default treatment for gender dysphoria has become possibly dangerous, long-term hormonal interventions and the amputation of healthy organs.

Many doctors like me have made the decision to not take part in abortions, suicides, or transition surgeries and interventions. We pay the price through fear of retaliation and fear of losing our jobs. But there are plenty of doctors who do not feel morally troubled by ending a life or disrupting the normal puberty of a child. That work should be left to them; the rest of us should not be forced to participate.

The new division within the HHS is needed to enforce laws that already exist. Those laws allow health care providers to do what is best for our patients, even when larger cultural fads and trends demand we act in ways that violate our vocation to heal people instead of hurt them.

We are heartened by the new spirit at HHS that supports sound science and life-preserving medicine. Today’s fads and trends will pass, but a medical culture grounded in the highest and noblest principles cannot be allowed to fade.


11. Chile sex abuse victim’s credibility praised, challenged. 

By Nicole Winfield and Eva Vergara, Associated Press, February 14, 2018, 8:44 AM

One key witness in the Rev. Fernando Karadima’s 2010 trial is preparing to testify again, this time in a spinoff case with potentially more significant consequences. Juan Carlos Cruz’s allegations of a cover-up raise questions about Pope Francis’ already shaky track record on preventing clergy sex abuse and concealment.

Cruz has accused Chilean Bishop Juan Barros of having been present when Karadima kissed and fondled him as a 17-year-old, and of then ignoring the abuse. 

Some high-ranking church officials, though, have continued to question Cruz’s veracity and motives. Among them is Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, a top adviser to Francis as a member of the pope’s “kitchen cabinet” of cardinals.

The emails Errazuriz exchanged in 2013 and 2014 with his successor as Santiago’s archbishop show him maneuvering to keep Cruz off the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors — Francis’ advisory panel on sex abuse — and from the list of speakers for an annual bishops’ gathering.

“We know the intention of Mr. Cruz toward you and the church in Santiago,” Cardinal Riccardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, wrote Errazuriz in April 2013. “I hope we can avoid the lies from finding a place with those in the same church.”

Errazuriz responded the next day: “May the serpent not prevail!”

“There’s no reason to invite Carlos Cruz, who will falsify the truth,” Errazuriz wrote. “He’s going to use the invitation to continue damaging the church.”


12. Opening Lent, Pope Urges People to Slow Down, Rediscover Power of Silence. 

By Reuters, February 14, 2018, 1:00 PM

Pope Francis, leading Catholics into the season of Lent, urged people on Wednesday to slow down amid the noise, haste and desire for instant gratification in a high-tech world to rediscover the power of silence.

Francis has invited Roman Catholics and members of all other religions on Sunday to observe a day of prayer, fasting and initiatives for peace on Feb. 23, urging everyone to “say no” to violence and conflict.

When he announced the initiative, he said was making the appeal because of the “tragic protraction” of conflicts around the world, particularly in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


13. When Does the Right to Die Become the Duty to Die?: History tells us that where voluntary ‘mercy killing’ is allowed, involuntary euthanasia inevitably follows. 

By Grazie Pozo Christie, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is policy advisor to The Catholic Association, National Review, February 13, 2018, 12:50 PM, Opinion

Compassionately caring for the severely mentally ill is a challenge for every society. Many countries, including ours, are failing that challenge. Patients suffering from schizophrenia and other severe psychiatric disorders compose large proportions of the homeless and incarcerated. And the Netherlands has taken failure to new heights: The country’s growing trend of euthanizing the mentally ill most recently included a woman in her twenties. 

Mercy killing in the Netherlands for psychiatric reasons is increasingly popular. It is a supposedly neat and tidy end for untidy lives and is promoted as strictly voluntary — a jewel in the crown of individual freedom and self-determination. For the mentally ill, however, the siren call of individual freedom dovetails too nicely with society’s proven intolerance of the troubling behavior of people with mental disorders. In fact, the roots of mercy killing in modern times are lodged in the unsavory and downright savage practices of the last century.

Progressives in the early 20th century advocated voluntary euthanasia, as both a right and a practice that would benefit society. But when applied to the mentally ill and other undesirables, the euthanasia movement became tied to the eugenics movement. 

Even advocates for accepting the physically handicapped supported euthanasia for the mentally handicapped. One surprising supporter was Helen Keller. She wrote in The New Republic that the fate of the “idiot baby” whose “existence is not worthwhile” should be left to a jury of physicians. 

The government and euthanasia supporters in the Netherlands are justifying the recent killing of a 29-year-old mentally ill woman in the same way that Helen Keller judged the life of the Bollinger baby: They believed future happiness was impossible. Even if the patient was firmly convinced that she would never recover, fulfilling her request in the name of individual freedom raises the question: Can a patient suffering from severe mental illness be expected to make a rational request for death?

Here in the U.S., euthanasia is not yet legal, but its cousin, physician-assisted suicide, is legal in several states. Social acceptance for ending lives that are “no longer worth living” is rapidly increasing, a dangerous trend when combined with the common prejudice against the value of the lives of those who suffer from severe psychiatric diseases. Tormented and terrified, homeless or imprisoned, these can certainly seem like lives not worth living. It’s easy to imagine the slide from purely voluntary suicide as a last resort to the mercy killing of the mentally ill who burden society. Looking at 20th-century history, it’s easy to understand why societies should be wary of allowing that slide to ever start.