1. Church Assails Duterte For ‘Reign Of Terror’. 

By Jake Maxwell Watts, The Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2017, Pg. A8

The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs in a sermon delivered during Sunday’s services, marking its strongest opposition yet to a flagship policy that has led to the deaths of more than 7,000 people in the last seven months.

In a pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, church leaders called Mr. Duterte’s antinarcotics campaign a “reign of terror in many places of the poor.” They said that while illegal drug trafficking needs to be stopped, “the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users” and dealers.

The Philippines is one of the world’s most Catholic countries, with more than 80% of Filipinos identifying as belonging to the religion. 

To date, however, Mr. Duterte’s drug war remains popular among Filipinos, who have embraced the tough talk and expletive-laced language of a president who has taken swift and bloody action against a problem that many see as fueling crime and corruption. 

The Catholic church has clashed repeatedly with Mr. Duterte in the past few months on issues from funding for contraceptives to a proposal by the government to bring back the death penalty.

In its letter, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference said it was worried by the high death rate in the government’s antinarcotics campaign. “We are concerned not only for those who have been killed. The situation of the families of those killed is also cause for concern. Their lives have only become worse,” it said.


2. A Wiser Generation of Prosecutors. 

By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, February 6, 2017, Pg. A20, Editorial

Just a few years ago, it was political suicide for a district attorney almost anywhere to profess anything less than total allegiance to the death penalty, or to seeking the harshest punishments available in every case.

Times are changing. As capital punishment’s many flaws have become impossible to ignore, its use has dwindled. The number of new death sentences and executions continues to drop — only 30 people were sentenced to death nationwide in 2016, and 20 were executed. Prosecutors aren’t just seeking fewer death sentences; they’re openly turning against the practice, even in places where it has traditionally been favored.


3. U.S. nonprofits, including churches, should be allowed to take sides in politics: The Johnson Amendment forces people to wear a muzzle in exchange for tax-exempt status. 

By James Lankford, Steve Scalise and Jody Hice, The Washington Post, February 5, 2017

Since 1954, a provision in the U.S. Tax Code, commonly referred to as the Johnson Amendment, has effectively censored all nonprofit organizations and their leaders with the threat of an IRS investigation, fines or loss of tax-exempt status if they choose to discuss political events. Introduced by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, the amendment was snuck in by voice vote but was never debated by Congress.

Simply put, employees of 501(c)(3) nonprofit entities, including churches, should not live under a shadow of fear when voicing their beliefs….As advocates for the protection of freedom for all, we introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act this week, to amend the Johnson Amendment, not repeal it, and reinstate the rights of anyone who wishes to communicate their political viewpoint.

Nonprofit organizations and houses of worship had the freedom to speak for the first nearly 200 years of U.S. history. They exercised that right responsibly, and churches were not turned into arms of political parties. We should return to that principle of free speech for all. Every American should be able to speak freely about their conscience and convictions, no matter what their job is. If you agree with that simple statement, we welcome your support of the Free Speech Fairness Act. We are proud to be a part of this effort to ensure that all people are treated equally and fairly under the law for their right to speak freely.


4. 7 percent of Australian Catholic priests accused of abuse. 

By Kristen Gelineau, Associated Press, February 5, 2017, 3:12 AM

Seven percent of priests in Australia’s Catholic Church were accused of sexually abusing children over the past several decades, a lawyer said Mondayas officials investigating institutional abuse across Australia revealed for the first time the extent of the crisis.

The statistics were released during the opening address of a hearing of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The royal commission — which is Australia’s highest form of inquiry — has been investigating since 2013 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children over decades.

Commissioners surveyed Catholic Church authorities and found that between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people reported they had been abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia, said Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission. 

The Vatican has watched the proceedings closely. Cardinal George Pell, who was Australia’s most senior Catholic before becoming Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, has testified at previous hearings about how church authorities responded to allegations of child sex abuse during his time in Australia.


5. Holy See signs agreement with Democratic Republic of Congo. 

By Catholic News Agency, February 5, 2017, 7:18 PM

The Holy See and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday signed a framework agreement to govern relations between the Catholic Church and the state.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, signed the agreement with the Congolese Prime Minister Clement Mouamba.

The framework agreement guarantees the Catholic Church’s right to carry out her mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It recognizes the legal personality of the Church and of Catholic institutions.

It affirms that both the Church and the State aim to work for the moral, spiritual and material wellbeing of individuals and to promote the common good.


6. Founder of clergy abuse group quits in second loss after lawsuit. 

By David Gibson, Religion News Service, February 4, 2017

The lawsuit by Gretchen Rachel Hammond names Barbara Blaine, David Clohessy and other SNAP leaders as defendants and alleges that “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them.”

The founder of a prominent advocacy group for children sexually abused by Catholic priests has resigned, the second major departure in the wake of a lawsuit filed last month by a former employee alleging that the organization colluded with lawyers to refer clients and profit from settlements.

In an email to supporters Barbara Blaine said her decision to leave SNAP, which stands for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, had nothing to do with the legal action.

“(P)lease know that the recent lawsuit filed against SNAP, as the others in the past which have no merit, had absolutely no bearing on my leaving,” Blaine, herself a victim of clergy abuse as a child who started SNAP 29 years ago, said in an email sent on Saturday (Feb. 4). “The discussions and process of my departure has been ongoing.”

Blaine’s resignation was effective a day earlier, on Feb. 3.

The surprise announcement comes less than two weeks after David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director and also a fixture in the organization for nearly 30 years, announced he too was leaving.

Clohessy and SNAP officials had also insisted that his departure had been in the works for months and had nothing to do with the lawsuit, filed in Illinois on Jan. 17.

The lawsuit by Gretchen Rachel Hammond names Blaine, Clohessy and other SNAP leaders as defendants and alleges that “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them.”

In her email to supporters, Blaine portrayed the personnel moves as part of SNAP’s natural transition “from a founder led organization to one that is board led.”

“I have every confidence that the strength you and the board members have shown as survivors will keep the organization strong,” she wrote.


7. Barbara Blaine, leader of priest sex-abuse survivors group, steps down. 

By The Chicago Tribune, February 4, 2017, 5:55 PM

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests told its volunteers on Saturday that its president and founder has resigned.

Barbara Blaine, who also describes herself as a survivor, founded the group in Chicago nearly three decades ago. Her resignation, effective Friday, comes a week after SNAP announced the departure of its national director David Clohessy, effective Dec. 31, 2016.

Both were named in a lawsuit filed in Cook County last month by a former SNAP employee, accusing the leaders of referring potential clients to attorneys in return for financial kickbacks to the group.

But Blaine said her leaving had nothing to do with the suit and “no bearing” on her leaving.


8. Francis taps top aide as delegate to the Knights of Malta. 

By Inés San Martín, Crux, February 4, 2017

Pope Francis has appointed a personal delegate to the Sovereign Order of Malta to serve as the sole liaison between the embattled order and the Vatican, virtually replacing American Cardinal Raymond Burke.

The man tapped for the job is Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the Vatican’s deputy Secretariat of State (known as the “substitute”). The decision was announced by the Vatican on Saturday, through a letter from Francis to Becciu.

As “sole spokesperson in all matters relating to relations” between the Vatican and the order, the pope writes, Becciu will have “all the necessary powers to decide any issues that may arise concerning the implementation of the mandate entrusted to you.”

Becciu’s assignment as papal delegate will last until a new Grand Master for the order is elected, which could take place in April after the group’s Sovereign Council is summoned, according to what was announced by the Knights of Malta in a recent press conference.

Technically, Burke is the papal envoy to the order. He assumed that role in November 2014, after leaving the post of head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court.

Becciu will in the meantime work closely with Ludwing Hoffmann von Rumerstein, currently the Lieutenant ad interim of the order, appointed last Saturday, after former Grand Master Matthew Festing presented his resignation at the pope’s request.

Becciu, an Italian, was appointed to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, after serving as papal representative (nuncio) in Cuba and Angola.

His official title in the Secretariat is that of Substitute for General Affairs, a role with some parallel to that of a White House chief of staff. He meets with the pope regularly- if not daily- and reports directly to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the actual Secretary of State.


9. Senate bill would move women’s health funding away from Planned Parenthood. 

By Catholic News Agency, February 4, 2017, 3:06 PM

A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would re-allocate women’s health care funding away from controversial abortion provider Planned Parenthood, toward health care providers that don’t perform abortions.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) are co-sponsors of the bill, called the Protect Funding for Women’s Health Care Act.

“We as a pro-life community honor the civil liberties, independence and strength of a woman – all women,” Sen. Ernst had said at the March for Life Jan. 27. “And that means both supporting mothers and rising up to protect the most vulnerable in our society – the innocent babies who are unable to defend themselves.”

The bill would fund women’s health services including diagnostic laboratory and radiology services, prenatal and postnatal care, immunizations, and cervical and breast cancer screenings, Sen. Lankford’s office said.


10. New Order of Malta Government Shares Its Vision for the Future: Re-instated Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager outlines his priorities as Pope Francis appoints his Special Delegate to the ancient chivalric Order. 

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, February 4, 2017

Speaking on behalf of the “entire government” of the Knights on Feb. 2, Boeselager listed six priorities for the future, the first being to restore the “leadership in line with the Constitution of the Order” and to bring it back to “normality”.

The second was to “reaffirm” the Order’s “loyalty to the Holy Father” and to “reassure our members and everybody that the government of the Order is and will remain at the service of the Holy Father.” He said the Order’s “devotion” to the Church’s teaching was “irrevocable and beyond question.”

Thirdly, he stressed that “humanitarian and social medical work” would remain “at all times at the center of the government’s activities”. Such work has “never been more relevant and needed,” he said. He stressed he would not allow “distractions” in the Order’s governance to “jeopardize” such work, and that its “decentralized structure” would ensure its activities were “safeguarded.”

Fourthly, he pledged to strengthen diplomatic relations, and stressed a focus on cooperation with UN agencies such as the UNHCR, the UN commission for refugees.

Fifthly, he singled out the needs of refugees and migrants, saying their need has “never been greater”, and singled out the situation in Syria.

Lastly, Boeselager made an oblique criticism of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, saying the Order was “alarmed and concerned by the proliferation of discriminatory positions towards immigrants, not least, based on their national origin.” He warned of the “monstrous consequences” that can come from policies “based on origin and race”, adding the Order would continue to raise its voice to ensure humanitarian laws are upheld.


11. Confirm Judge Gorsuch. 

By Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter, February 3, 2017

President Trump’s decision to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is, as I indicated Tuesday, the kind of selection that any mainstream Republican president would make. Mitt Romney would have had Gorsuch on his shortlist if he had won the presidency, as would Jeb Bush or John Kasich.

We can anticipate that Judge Gorsuch’s nomination will prompt the first vigorous public discussion of assisted suicide at the federal level. Gorsuch did write a book on the subject so it is unavoidable. I worry that the country is not ready for a real discussion about assisted suicide. At a time when even many Catholics extol the virtues of the market, and we raise children on consumerism from a very early age, the invocation of choice usually wins a public debate. Add in some of the painful stories of people like Brittany Maynard, the young woman with inoperable brain cancer who wanted to terminate her life by means of assisted suicide, and those of us who defend the dignity of each and every life have our work cut out for us.

Judge Gorsuch would not have been my choice. I am sure he would not have been selected by any Democratic president. But, for most of our history, a disagreement over judicial philosophy has not been sufficient to justify a negative vote against a qualified nominee. No one is questioning Judge Gorsuch’s credentials. He is not outside the mainstream of judicial thought. He should be confirmed.

And, Democrats should save their fire for when Trump acts like a petulant child or a petty tyrant. In this case, the president acted like a president.


12. A complex moral calculus. 

By Grazie Pozo Christie, Angelus News, February 3, 2017

People who live in the real world know that, when it comes to issues of justice and ethics, we don’t all fit neatly into slots. This is especially true about complicated ones, and ones that speak to the intimate and deeply personal parts of our lives. Abortion is one of those issues, of course. For too long, only two categories have existed on this topic: pro-life and pro-choice. That is, only two categories have existed for the people who talk endlessly about it, like the media and politicians. The rest of us have a different experience. Those labels just don’t hold all of us neatly.

Half of those polled believe that abortion has a negative, long-term effect on a woman’s life, and nearly six in 10 believe it is morally wrong. More than three quarters of Americans would like to see abortion restricted to the first three months of pregnancy and this includes more than half of those who consider themselves pro-choice. Only one quarter of pro-choice Americans support third trimester abortion, which requires a heart-stopping injection for the fetus and then dismemberment. As far as funding, 61 percent oppose any taxpayer funding in the U.S., and over 80 percent oppose our tax dollars being used to fund the procedure overseas. 

These numbers are not surprising. They reflect the fact that people use a complex moral calculus to make their decisions about what is just and fair. And that everyone knows that what is going on inside a pregnant woman is momentous — something that concerns all of us, if we mean to live in a society that is decent and honorable. Good people everywhere, no matter what their label, know that our laws can protect and honor both the woman and the child.