1. Bari trip gives Pope a chance to help save Christianity in the Middle East.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, February 19, 2020, Opinion

During the Roman Empire, the entire Mediterranean region was known as Mare Nostrum, “Our Sea.” It was an imperial assertion of dominance, of course, but it also reflected the idea that the peoples of the Mediterranean are linked by geography and destiny, sharing a common fate.

In a nutshell, that’s the same intuition that will carry Pope Francis to the Italian costal city of Bari on Sunday, to wrap up a Feb. 19-23 assembly of more than 50 Catholic bishops from 19 Mediterranean nations, hosted by the über-powerful Italian bishops’ conference.

A central agenda item for the Feb. 23 meeting is migration, and there’s obvious relevance. The Mediterranean Sea has been described as the “graveyard of Europe” in recent years, in reference to the thousands of migrants and refugees who’ve died trying to make the crossing into Europe on overcrowded, unsafe boats.

Yet there’s another subject that may not be explicitly on the agenda, but it would be awfully strange should this group come together and not deal with it: The very survival of Christianity in some parts of the Mediterranean, above all the Middle East.

As is well documented, Christianity has had a bad run in the Middle East for decades, made significantly worse by the rise of the Islamic State and related forms of jihadist extremism. Iraq is probably the most harrowing example: From a Christian population believed to have been around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion in 2003, today conventional estimates are that just around 250,000 Christians are left, and many wonder if Iraq’s destiny is to become a Christian-free zone.

A lethal combination of insecurity, political chaos, economic stagnation and outright persecution have created a toxic environment – for almost everyone, of course, but in a special way for Christians.

It’s not quite clear exactly what the Catholic churches of the region, which are tiny minorities among the overall population in most places, can do to affect that climate, but one real contribution the Bari assembly could make is to identify their needs and to see what the rest of the Catholic world could do to help meet them.

If that conversation happens in Bari, it may not matter where else Pope Francis ends up traveling in 2020 – despite its brevity, this could be his most important outing of the year.


2. Is the Democratic Party Too Extreme for Biden’s Balancing Act?: The Catholic candidate has been willing to depart further from Church teachings on abortion, in order to advance his candidacy, but to date there is little evidence that this is yielding political dividends.

By Lauretta Brown, National Catholic Register, February 18, 2020

On certain issues, including key moral issues like abortion and religious freedom, Biden has moved far left of center — and away from the teachings of the Church, despite his frequent assertions of his own Catholic faith — and in the weeks ahead, Biden will discover if his leftward shift will sway enough Democratic primary voters to win the party’s presidential nomination.

The Democratic primary field has shifted so much that The Washington Post editorial board recently declared there are no “centrists,” noting that “every major Democratic candidate is running on an agenda to the left of Mr. Obama’s.”

Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for the Catholic Association and a former lobbyist for National Right to Life, told the Register, “It speaks volumes that Biden is trying to be in the centrist lane in this primary race, and yet even in the centrist lane he has had to adopt the most extreme abortion positions.”

“He’s talking about a litmus test for judges; he has flip-flopped on taxpayer funding of abortion,” Ferguson pointed out. “He talks about codifying Roe v. Wade. He voted multiple times to ban partial-birth abortion; that’s a bill that had criminal penalties for abortion doctors, and I think that he will flip-flop on that, too.”

The Biden campaign also did not respond to the Register’s request for comment regarding his current position on partial-birth abortion bans.

“I would never question the sincerity of anyone’s faith, but the Catholic faith is 100% clear that we must protect innocent life,” Ferguson said, referencing Pope Francis’s recent comment that protecting unborn life was a “preeminent issue” for the Catholic voter. “Joe Biden’s position on abortion is 100% at odds with that teaching.”


3. New leader of Philadelphia Catholic archdiocese installed.

By Associated Press, February 18, 2020, 4:28 PM

The 1.3 million parishioners of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia have a new spiritual leader.

Nelson Perez, 58, who spent most of his early pastoral career in the Philadelphia area, assumed the post of archbishop in a ceremony Tuesday at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.

He succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput, who stepped down after turning 75 last year, the traditional retirement age for Catholic bishops.


4. Democrats diverge on outreach to anti-abortion swing voters.

By Elana Schor, Associated Press, February 18, 2020, 3:58 PM

In a party that’s shifted leftward on abortion rights, Democratic presidential hopefuls are offering different approaches to a central challenge: how to talk to voters without a clear home in the polarizing debate over the government’s role in the decision to end a pregnancy.

While Bernie Sanders said this month that “being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” his presidential primary opponent Amy Klobuchar took a more open stance last week in saying that anti-abortion Democrats “are part of our party.” Klobuchar’s perfect voting score from major abortion-rights groups makes her an unlikely ally, but some abortion opponents nonetheless lauded the Minnesota senator for extending a hand to those on the other side of an issue that’s especially important for Catholics and other devout voters.

An AP-NORC poll taken in December found that 45% of Catholics backed significant restrictions that would make abortion illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or threats to a mother’s life. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults, 17% said that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, a number that rises to 25% among self-identified conservative or moderate Democrats, according to a Pew Research Center survey last year.


5. Vatican police stage new raids in London real estate case.

By Nicole Winfield, February 18, 2020, 10:30 AM

Vatican police on Tuesday raided the home and office of the Vatican monsignor who signed the contracts related to a botched London real estate venture that is under investigation by Holy See prosecutors.

Documents and computers were seized from the office and home of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a longtime chief of staff in the administrative office of the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the Vatican said Tuesday.

It wasn’t clear why Perlasca’s paperwork and computers were only being seized now, five months after police raided other offices in the secretariat of state and the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency. As chief of staff, Perlasca administered the secretariat of state’s multi-million euro asset portfolio and played a key role in executing the London deal on behalf of his superiors.


6. Pope Francis approves Caritas Internationalis’ new statutes.

By Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency, February 18, 2020, 1:26 PM

The Vatican announced Feb. 17 that Pope Francis had approved changes to Caritas Internationalis’ governing statutes and internal rules.

Pope Francis approved the amended statutes and internal rules for Caritas Internationalis in a Jan. 13 meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The meeting considered “the need to redefine the purpose and order of Caritas Internationalis,” according to the Vatican statement.

Caritas Internationalis did not disclose the changes to its internal rules.

As the the umbrella organization for 165 Catholic relief services throughout the world, Caritas Internationalis is the largest Catholic global aid network.

Cardinal Luis Tagle continues to serve as president of Caritas Internationalis in his new post as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Aloysius John was elected secretary general of Caritas in May.

John said last week that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia will serve as a “road map” for Caritas Internationalis to follow.

“Querida Amazonia clearly shows that caring for the environment and caring for the poor are ‘inseparable,’” John said in a press release that highlighted the organization’s accompaniment of indigenous communities’ “fight for their rights” in Brazil.


TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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