1. Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre Closed Amid Dispute With Israelis: Rare move by Christian leaders—in protest over taxes, property law—underscores simmering tensions. 

By Rory Jones, The Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2018, Pg. A9

Christian leaders barred access to one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites in a dispute with Israeli authorities that underscores lingering tensions over a U.S. decision to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

Clergymen made the rare decision on Sunday to close the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to mark the burial site of Jesus, to protest city taxes and a proposed Israeli parliamentary bill to confiscate land sold by church authorities. They said the church would be closed until further notice.

The dispute between the largely Palestinian Christian community and Israeli authorities represents the latest flashpoint in a struggle over sovereignty in Jerusalem after President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian officials were deeply frustrated by the December decision as they want the eastern part of Jerusalem, where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located, to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.


2. Catholic Church Considers Married Priests to Ease Amazon Clergy Shortage: Bishops are likely to discuss the issue at a Vatican gathering Pope Francis has called for next year. 

By Luciana Magalhaes and Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2018, Pg. A9

Catholic leaders in the vast Amazon basin consider whether the church should let married men become priests in certain cases. The issue is likely to be discussed at a gathering of bishops Pope Francis has called for next year about the church in the Amazon.

The Vatican is contending with a shortage of clergy to serve isolated communities in the region, as well as a growing challenge from evangelical Protestantism, which allows married ministers. Pope Francis has said the “door is always open” to married priests, though recent predecessors have rejected the idea.

Around the world, the ratio of Catholics to priests has risen sharply in recent decades, to 3,100-to-1 in 2015 from 1,900-to-1 in 1980, according to Vatican statistics. It is especially high in South America—7,100-to-1, almost four times as high as in North America.

The diocese of Alto Solimões, which is based in Tabatinga, has only 15 priests to serve about 121,000 Catholics spread over an area the size of Greece, according to diocese figures. Paved roads are rare, leaving many communities accessible only by infrequent boat service.

Proponents of allowing married men to serve as priests under certain circumstances support ordaining so-called viri probati—Latin for “proven men”—who are community leaders.

But more-conservative voices caution that opening the priesthood to married men would undermine the traditional identity of Catholic priests as representatives of the celibate Christ.

Catholic doctrine doesn’t require priestly celibacy, which is a discipline that has changed over time. Married priests were common in early Christianity, though they were expected to abstain from sexual relations after ordination and weren’t permitted to remarry if widowed. But by the 16th Century, celibacy became the rule in the Latin Church.

When the pope announced last year that he would call a synod of bishops in October 2019 focused on the Amazon region, he highlighted ecological concerns and the predicament of indigenous peoples; he didn’t mention married priests.

Even if the synod supports the ordination of married men, the final decision will lie with the pope, and any change would likely be limited to the Amazon region, at least initially.


3. Vatican Treasures Star in a Glittering Met Exhibit: ‘Heavenly Bodies,’ a show opening May 10 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explores ‘the complex and magnificent relationship’ between Catholicism and fashion. 

By John Hooper, The Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2018, Pg. A12

“Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” is the largest show the Met has ever staged, consisting of almost 200 works. Forty of them are from the pontifical sacristy, many priceless and never before displayed. They include several papal tiaras—the triple-layered crowns popes wore until the 1960s.

The show aims to explore what the Met’s deputy director, Carrie Rebora Barratt, called the “complex and magnificent relationship” between Catholicism and fashion. The exhibition will take up 25 galleries spread between the Met Fifth Avenue and the Met Cloisters in northern Manhattan.

The title of the show borrows from “The Catholic Imagination,” a book published in 2000 by Andrew Greeley a Catholic priest, novelist and sociologist. Greeley wrote that his co-religionists lived in an enchanted world “of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures.”


4. Jerusalem mayor says he’s trying to resolve church crisis.

By Associated Press, February 27, 2018, 7:15 AM

The mayor of Jerusalem says he is working with a third party to resolve a tax dispute with major Christian denominations that has led to the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Christianity’s holiest sites.

Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and other Christian leaders on Sundayclosed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to protest Barkat’s decision to force them to pay property taxes.

Barkat says the taxes apply only to “commercial properties,” and not houses of worship.


5. Pope names two Vatican officials as apostolic nuncios. 

By Junno Arocho Esteves, Crux, February 26, 2018

Pope Francis named two longtime Vatican officials as apostolic nuncios and elevated both to the rank of archbishop.

The Vatican announced Feb. 26 that the pope named Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, general secretary of the Secretariat for the Economy, as nuncio to South Korea and Mongolia.

The pope also named the Vatican’s head of protocol, Monsignor Jose Bettencourt – a priest of the Archdiocese of Ottawa – as an apostolic nuncio.


6. Vatican, Versace and Vogue team up for Met’s spring exhibit. 

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, February 26, 2018, 3:28 PM

The Vatican, Versace and Vogue are joining forces to show off the Catholic influences in fashion.

The Vatican’s culture minister joined Donatella Versace and Vogue’s Anna Wintour on Monday to offer sneak peek of gorgeous Vatican liturgical vestments, jeweled miters and historic papal tiaras that will star in a spring exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” opens May 10 and represents the most extensive exhibit of the museum’s Costume Institute, officials said. It also represents the first time some of the Vatican’s most precious treasures from the Sistine Chapel sacristy are being exhibited outside the Vatican.


7. Catholic Adoption Agency Targeted by ACLU: The issue in Dumont v. Lyon, like the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, is how to protect religious liberty — set out in the Constitution — when people might be forced to act contrary to those beliefs. 

By Gerald J. Russello, Gerald J. Russello is editor of The University Bookman, National Catholic Register, February 25, 2018, Opinion

The constitutional challenges to religious exercise continue.

Last fall, several plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued in a federal court in Michigan to stop the Michigan Department of Human Affairs from allowing religiously affiliated adoption agencies to act according to their beliefs when placing children.

The complaint claims that this longtime practice violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. The plaintiffs argue that because institutions can choose to place children in accordance with their religious beliefs, Michigan has created a de facto “establishment” of religion. Accordingly, the plaintiffs contend, the state is imposing religious beliefs on those who do not share them.

St. Vincent Catholic Charities intervened in the case in December and moved to dismiss the complaint. The Michigan-based Catholic charity has been one of the most successful adoption agencies in finding families for children who need homes and is arguing just the opposite of the ACLU-represented plaintiffs:

To allow the state to interfere with an adoption agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs is itself a constitutional violation. Prospective adoptive families who qualify but whose criteria do not fit the guidelines of the religiously affiliated adoption agency they have applied to (such as unmarried or same-sex couples, in the case of Catholic adoption agencies) are not rejected from the system. No private adoptive agency could do that. Instead, as St. Vincent argues, the plaintiffs “are free to [adopt] with the many other agencies in Michigan.”

A decision against St. Vincent would likely cause it to close. In fact, as recent history shows, simply initiating a lawsuit like this one could cause irreparable damage and possibly lead to the closure of an agency that has changed lives for the better. 

This case, Dumont v. Lyon, is simply another fault line between fundamentally different ways of looking at the Constitution. One side is arguing for religious freedom; the other is arguing for a principle of individual autonomy that can trump those rights.

In their motion to dismiss the case, which is still pending before the U.S. district court, the intervening defendants make three basic points. The first offers a historical perspective. As the defendants argue, the practice of having private religious adoption agencies help place students children is long-standing and, in many instances, precedes state involvement.

The second point made by St. Vincent is a legal argument. Partly because of this established history, the Supreme Court has never prohibited the “government from partnering with private religious organizations to serve the needy.”

The third point is based on typical American pragmatism and compromise. The plaintiffs were qualified by the state to adopt, and several Michigan-based agencies are available to serve them.