1. Why the Pope Is Genuflecting to China. 

By Yi-Zheng Lian, The New York Times, February 9, 2018, Pg. A1, Opinion

On Feb. 1, the same day that new repressive regulations of religion went into force in China, the Vatican took a deep bow before Beijing. After long resisting, it finally agreed to recognize several hack bishops designated by the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), even sidelining two of its own long-serving appointees for the occasion.

The reasons the Holy See is caving to the (atheist) Communist government are not entirely transparent, but it appears to be hoping for a historic thaw. Diplomatic ties were severed in 1951, not long after the Communists came to power in China, and relations have since been testy at best.

The Vatican’s appeasement of the Chinese government would have great downsides, for itself and for the rest of the world.

By recognizing China’s so-called patriotic church, the Vatican could harm the wholesomeness of Catholic teachings in the country. Sermons given in government-sanctioned churches already have been known to exclude passages of the Bible deemed politically subversive (like the story of Daniel) or to include Communist Party propaganda.

Millions of faithful Catholics in China might also soon feel abandoned, perhaps even betrayed, after having suffered decades of oppression. Worse, the government, emboldened by the deal, could well come down even harder on them. In fact, the religious regulations that recently came into effect include much stiffer fines on underground churches and penalties for public-school teachers who give Sunday-school lessons on their own time.

And then, rapprochement might augur the Vatican’s readiness to eventually stop recognizing Taipei and instead recognize Beijing as truly representing China. Such a shift would alter the delicate balance of power across the Taiwan Strait, as well as harm Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. It would also confer legitimacy — and with the pope’s imprimatur! — on authoritarian regimes throughout the world that crack down on churches and sects.

Even under the deal the Vatican seems to want, the Chinese government could eventually come to control the Catholic Church in China — by, say, simply delaying nominating anyone for bishop or repeatedly rejecting candidates presented by the Vatican until all the bishops previously ordained by the pope have retired or died out. Bishops ordain priests and so without bishops, in time there could be no priests, or very few, and Catholicism in China would have died a silent death.


2. Despite Trump pledges, Syrian says US help for Christians ‘not yet visible’. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, February 8, 2018

A Franciscan priest and native Syrian currently serving in Aleppo said on Wednesday that while Christians in that tortured country are glad for offers of help from wherever they come, they have yet to see the effects of promised new aid from the U.S. government under President Donald Trump, and that in general he’s skeptical about Trump’s approach to Syria.

“I see American policy with suspicion, and so do many people here,” said Father Frias Lutfi, a Franciscan of the Custody of the Holy Land who currently serves as the vice-pastor at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Aleppo, Syria.

Lutfi spoke by phone during a Rome press conference on Wednesdayorganized by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a papal foundation supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, which is promoting a Feb. 24 event intended to raise awareness by illuminating major monuments in Rome, Aleppo and Mosul, Iraq, with the color red, a symbol of Christian martyrdom.

Last October, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced not only an increasing in funding for humanitarian aid to ISIS victims, but also that those funds would be allocated directly to local churches, bypassing what he called “ineffective” U.N.-administered programs.

Lutfi, however, said that local Christians have yet to see concrete results from those pledges.


3. Archbishop Sheen’s Body to Stay in New York, for Now. 

By Sharon Otterman, The New York Times, February 8, 2018, Pg. A20

A long battle over where the body of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen should be permanently laid to rest took another turn on Tuesday, when a New York appeals court ruled that his remains should stay in New York, for now.

The ruling overturned a lower court decision that would have immediately sent the archbishop’s body to Peoria, Ill., the diocese that is leading a push to have him declared a saint.


4. US says abortion gag rule cost only 4 organizations funding. 

By Matthew Lee, Associated Press, February 7, 2018, 6:18 PM

The Trump administration said Wednesday that only four international organizations and a dozen of their local partners have refused to accept new rules for spending U.S. assistance that ban health care funds from being used to promote or perform abortions overseas. The International Planned Parenthood Federation is among those that declined.

The administration said that out of 733 organizations whose funding came up for renewal under the new restrictions, 729 had agreed to the rules and had their grants approved as of the end of the last budget year in September. Another roughly 500 grants had not been subjected to the new criteria as of Sept. 30, 2017, but will before the end of the current fiscal year, it said.

The officials would not name the organizations that had refused to accept the restrictions but noted that both Planned Parenthood and the London-based Marie Stopes International have said publicly they had declined. Last month, Planned Parenthood, which works in 29 countries, said it expected to lose $100 million in funding. Marie Stopes said it would face a funding gap of $80 million in the 37 countries where it works.


5. Notre Dame Switches Its Position on Birth-Control Coverage—Again:The university will bar “abortion-inducing drugs” from its insurance plans but begin covering “simple contraceptives,” a move its president calls a “complex decision.”. 

By Emma Green, The Atlantic, February 7, 2018, 8:40 AM

Notre Dame has decided to ban “abortion-inducing drugs” from third-party-provided insurance plans. It will also begin providing coverage for “simple contraceptives” in the university plan.* The move was announced in a letter from its president, Father John Jenkins, to the university community on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear which drugs the ban entails, such as the morning-after pill, IUDs, or other long-acting contraceptives. That list will be available in March, a spokesperson confirmed. The school’s arrangement will still allow access to contraceptives, but will discontinue coverage of any drugs that would “kill a fertilized egg,” according to the spokesperson. These drugs “are far more gravely objectionable in Catholic teaching,” Jenkins wrote in the letter.

This decision is Notre Dame’s latest attempt to balance its Catholic character with the demands of pluralism within its community. Over 17,000 people are covered by the university’s health plans, including faculty, staff, students, and their family members. “On one hand, there’s a danger of diluting any distinctiveness by accommodating everyone on everything,” Jenkins said in an interview on Tuesday. “You just become a generic university. On the other hand, there’s a danger of rigidity in adhering to certain tenets that make the institution more narrow.” The school’s controversial, zig-zagging search for the right policy on birth-control coverage shows how challenging it is for religious universities to navigate the competing demands of their missions. And the saga is likely not over yet.


6. Vatican to interview Chile victim in person. 

By Nicole Winfield and Eva Vergara, Associated Press, February 7, 2018

The Vatican’s sex-crimes expert is changing plans and will fly to New York to take in-person testimony from a Chilean sex abuse victim after his pleas to be heard by Pope Francis were previously ignored, the victim told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The switch from a planned Skype interview came after the AP reported that Francis received a letter in 2015 from Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest. Cruz wrote the pope that one of the priest’s proteges, Bishop Juan Barros, was present for his abuse and did nothing, and questioned Francis’s decision to make him a diocesan bishop.

Barros has denied seeing or knowing of any abuse committed by Father Fernando Karadima, a charismatic priest sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.


7. Vatican Communications Reboot Continues, With Launch of New Website
Since 2013, the Holy See has made reforms at Pope Francis’ request. 

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, February 7, 2018

Reforming Vatican communications has not been without its internal frustrations, resistance and disappointments, but significant progress was made last year when many of the Vatican’s disparate media outlets were combined into one structure — a key objective of a five-year reform program.

On Dec. 16, the Vatican launched its new Vatican News website, effectively turning Vatican Radio’s six major languages and Vatican Television broadcasts into a single website connected to social-media networks.

The launch followed a general process of centralization in which the Holy See Press Office, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and Vatican Information Service were all subsumed into the Secretariat for Communication, set up in 2015 under the leadership of Salesian Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò.

Later in 2018, the Holy See’s four remaining communications entities are expected to be amalgamated: L’Osservatore Romano (retaining its name), the Vatican’s photographic services, its printing press and publishing house.


8. A Vatican-Based Bishop Extols China. 

By George Weigel, George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, National Review, February 7, 2018, 5:30 PM

Despite the media and blogosphere attention he attracts, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, a 75-year-old Argentine who is chancellor of various pontifical academies, is a small-bore bit player in the current drama of what friends and critics alike regard as an increasingly dysfunctional Vatican. Yet when someone of even his relative insignificance announces that “right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” that dysfunction comes into sharp relief — and a correction of the record is imperative. 

Catholic social doctrine is built on four foundational principles: the inviolable dignity and value of every human person, the responsibility of all to exercise their rights in ways that contribute to the common good, the importance of social pluralism and civil society (and thus the rejection of totalitarianism), and the imperative of solidarity (the virtue of civic friendship that binds free societies together). Those principles helped shape the revolution of conscience that preceded and helped make possible the political revolution of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe. Those principles were also in play in the democratic transformations of Latin America and East Asia in the latter decades of the 20th century. Those principles remain the core of the social doctrine of the Church today. 

And in 2018, those principles are systematically denied, in both theory and practice, by the People’s Republic of China. 

Those are the facts. To try to square them with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church requires something approaching a psychotic detachment from reality — or, worse, a willful ignorance, turning a blind eye to repression and persecution in order to indulge fantasies of a socialist paradise freed from the unpleasantness of bourgeois liberal society.

The “useful idiot” has been a player on the world stage since the days of Lenin (although one wonders whether, in this case, the idiocy is so extreme that the perpetrator’s utility to the regime begins to decline).

The further problem in Sánchez’s case is that his statements, however bizarre, inevitably implicate the pope he serves and cast doubt not only on the prudence of the Vatican’s current attempts at a démarche with the PRC (which I addressed here) but on the integrity of the Holy See. If a Vatican official, no matter how far down the totem pole, can, with impunity, spout inanities that provide cover for a wicked regime, something is gravely wrong in one of the few centers of power in the world whose primary stock-in-trade is truth-telling. 


9. Prudence, Charity, Clarity and Their Opposite: Confusion: If, as Scripture says, the truth makes us free, the lack of it makes us frustrated and locked in a state of uncertainty. 

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop Charles Chaput is the archbishop of Philadelphia, National Catholic Regsiter, February 7, 2018

Over the past few weeks, a number of senior voices in the leadership of the Church in Germany have suggested (or strongly implied) support for the institution of a Catholic blessing rite for same-sex couples who are civilly married or seeking civil marriage. On the surface, the idea may sound generous and reasonable. But the imprudence of such public statements is — and should be — the cause of serious concern. It requires a response because what happens in one local reality of the global Church inevitably resonates elsewhere — including eventually here.

In the case at hand, any such “blessing rite” would cooperate in a morally forbidden act, no matter how sincere the persons seeking the blessing. Such a rite would undermine the Catholic witness on the nature of marriage and the family. It would confuse and mislead the faithful. And it would wound the unity of our Church, because it could not be ignored or met with silence.

Why would a seemingly merciful act pose such a problem? Blessing persons in their particular form of life effectively encourages them in that state — in this case, same-sex sexual unions.

There are two principles we need to remember. First, we need to treat all people with the respect and pastoral concern they deserve as children of God with inherent dignity. This emphatically includes persons with same-sex attraction.

Second, there is no truth, no real mercy and no authentic compassion in blessing a course of action that leads persons away from God. This in no way is a rejection of the persons seeking such a blessing, but rather a refusal to ignore what we know to be true about the nature of marriage, the family and the dignity of human sexuality.

Jesus said the truth will make us free. Nowhere did he suggest it will make us comfortable. We still need to hear the truth clearly — and share it, clearly, always with love.

Creating confusion around important truths of our faith, no matter how positive the intention, only makes a difficult task more difficult.


10. Former member of Vatican abuse commission says trust in pope “undermined” by Chile scandal. 

By Charles Collins, Crux, February 7, 2018

Marie Collins, who was a founding member of Pope Francis’s Commission for the Protection of Minors but resigned in early 2017, says his handling of a letter from a Chilean abuse survivor has “definitely undermined credibility, trust, and hope” in the pontiff.

“He has said all the right things and he has expressed all the right views on abuse, and the harm and the hurt, but in this case at least it would seem his actions have not matched the words, and that is sad,” she said.

In 2015, the Irish abuse survivor personally handed the letter from Juan Carlos Cruz to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Boston archbishop who heads the commission, in an attempt to stop Francis from transferring Bishop Juan Barros to the Diocese of Osorno.


11. China expert: Vatican official “naive” for saying China “best implementer” of Church’s social doctrine. 

By Charles Collins, Crux, February 7, 2018

A leading commentator on the Church in China said a Vatican official’s proclamation that the Communist state “is the best implementer of the Church’s social doctrine” is making “a laughing stock of the Church.”

Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, said in an interview with the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that Beijing “is defending the dignity of the person,” and “that China is evolving very well,” even calling the country “extraordinary.”

“When my friends tell me they are going to China, I always advise them not to stop at the shopping centers, the ultra-luxury hotels and the skyscrapers, but also to go out to the peripheries to get a better picture of real China,” said Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews, which closely covers the Catholic Church in China.

Sánchez Sorondo also used the opportunity of his interview to positively compare the communist regime to the United States under Donald Trump.

“The economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, as the Americans themselves say. How is it possible for oil multinationals to influence Trump? Knowing that all this hurts the earth, as the encyclical [Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’] and scientists say. Liberal thought has dismissed the concept of the common good, it does not even want to take it into account, it states that it is an empty idea, without any benefits. On the contrary, the Chinese, no, they propose work and the common good,” he said.

Cervellera called Sánchez Sorondo “naïve” and said China has the “most destroyed and poisonous environment in the world.”

“What we need to mention, instead, is that in China the economy and politics are the same thing; that the billionaires sit in the Chinese parliament and determine politics according to their interests, which are not those of the rest of the population,” the priest said.

The interview with Sánchez Sorondo comes during a flurry of diplomatic activity between the Vatican and China. Numerous reports are claiming an agreement will soon be made on the appointment of bishops in the country, with the government playing a prominent role in the selection of Church leaders.