1. Congressman plans to block D.C.’s assisted-suicide law, By Fenit Nirappil and Joe Davidson, The Washington Post, January 10, 2017, Pg. B3.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Monday he’ll use rarely invoked congressional authority to block a new law passed by the D.C. Council to allow doctors to help end the lives of terminally ill patients in the city.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) signed legislation in December that would have made the nation’s capital the seventh jurisdiction to authorize doctors to prescribe fatal drugs. The bill was transmitted Friday to Congress for a 30-day review.

Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that oversees District affairs, told reporters Monday that he fundamentally disagrees with the bill.

“Assisted suicide is not something we take lightly,” he said at a news conference during which he also said he’d like to see federal agencies relocate outside the Washington region.

Chaffetz plans to introduce a disapproval resolution by the end of January.


2. Congo’s Clergy Heed Call to Broker a Political Deal: Catholic bishops play large role in bid to preserve accord to ensure peaceful transition after President Joseph Kabila leaves office, By Nicholas Bariyo and Gabriele Steinhauser, The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2017, Pg. A5.

Faced with a deadly crisis sparked by longtime President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave office, many Congolese are putting their faith in the Catholic Church, an institution that has periodically played a defining role in local politics.

More than a dozen bishops from across this vast, resource-rich nation of 70 million returned to the capital Kinshasa on Monday tasked with preserving a tenuous succession plan that would see Mr. Kabila step down by December. Sealed in the final hours of 2016, the clergy-brokered agreement has yet to be implemented amid pushback from smaller parties and questions over whether it has the president’s backing.

The bishops’ effort has been supported by the Vatican, with Pope Francis on Monday highlighting the church’s mediation role in a speech to foreign ambassadors to the Holy See.

If the church leaders are successful, they could help deliver the Democratic Republic of Congo’s first democratic transition in more than five decades, paving the way for new leadership 16 years after Mr. Kabila succeeded his father, Laurent, who was assassinated by a bodyguard.

Failure, on the other hand, would threaten to throw the Central African country deeper into turmoil, potentially destabilizing a region that has suffered some of the most brutal conflicts of the past century.


3. Republican unity imperils Planned Parenthood aid: Report on fetal tissue sales aids defunding call, By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, January 10, 2017, Pg. A1.

A unified Republican government is poised to slash hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from Planned Parenthood’s annual budget — the culmination of a public relations nightmare 18 months in the making that has left the nation’s largest abortion provider more vulnerable than ever to pro-life advances.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Thursday that the budget reconciliation legislation to repeal Obamacare will include a provision to remove Planned Parenthood from the taxpayer dole.

Mr. Ryan issued his statement one day after a House committee released a 418-page report detailing Planned Parenthood’s complicity in the illicit sale of body parts from abortions for profit.

Meanwhile, several Republican-led states are preparing to restrict abortions. Kentucky lawmakers last week passed legislation to ban abortions 20 weeks after conception, when the fetus is believed to be able to feel pain. Other states, including Virginia, plan to introduce similar bills this year, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, signed such a bill into law last month.

Clarke Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life, said Planned Parenthood has never been in more danger of losing its taxpayer-funded status in the nearly half-century that it has performed abortions.

The reconciliation process allows legislation to bypass a Senate filibuster and pass by a simple majority vote. The fast-track bill could come up for a vote as early as next month.

The case for defunding Planned Parenthood was bolstered last week when the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives released its final report. It recommended that Congress redirect Planned Parenthood’s more than $500 million in annual funding toward women’s health clinics that do not perform abortions.

The panel made 15 criminal and regulatory referrals in total. It recommended Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast to the Texas attorney general for criminal investigation to determine whether the abortion provider violated federal and Texas state law by selling fetal tissue to the University of Texas.


4. This group in Congress defends religious liberty. Who are they?, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 10, 2017, 12:02 AM.

The Congressional Prayer Caucus, founded in 2005, announced Monday that it will be getting a new co-chair.

“Prayer is a source of strength and hope for so many Americans – a source we must recognize and protect,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) stated after being selected Jan. 9 to serve as the House co-chair of the caucus.

“Though politics can be divisive at times, prayer should be a uniting force for Congress and for our nation. I look forward to serving the caucus and fighting to protect one of the foundations of our First Amendment,” Walker continued.

The Congressional Prayer Caucus, founded in 2005 by former Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), advocates for the free exercise of religion in the U.S. In the last congressional term, it had over 90 members from both parties and both houses of Congress.

The Senate co-chair is Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who has spoken out for religious freedom both in the U.S. and internationally. He co-sponsored the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016 that was signed into law in December, and led a move to have language changed in a government naturalization study guide from “freedom of worship” to “freedom of religion.”

Some examples of the caucus’ work in past years include advocating for the freedom of religious groups and charities to serve and evangelize in public places such as secular college campuses or military hospitals, defending the freedom of non-profits to make employment decisions based on religion, and working to ensure that “In God We Trust” remains the U.S. national motto.

Some of the caucus’ goals for 2017 will be religious freedom cases of schools and non-profits.


5. Francis offers reassuring hand to a world darkened by war, By Austen Ivereigh, Crux, January 9, 2017.

Pope Francis struck a sombre tone in his annual address to ambassadors, as if detecting in this moment the signs of the coming of war. While putting down red markers over Israel-Palestine and migration, the heart of his message was the need to make peace in a time of turbulence.

Sure enough, Francis’s address yesterday promoted a recipe for peace that contained familiar ingredients. Above all, he called for more space for good religion (forgiveness, unity in diversity, and the society-building values that come with faith having the freedom to serve) while combating fundamentalism and extremism, which Francis identified as a spiritual poverty linked to social poverty.

While this wasn’t exactly new, Francis offered a novel frame for meeting the challenge of both religious and secularist fundamentalism, as a two-fold uniting of what is too often split.

On the one hand, religious leaders were called to promote “religious values that do not separate fear of God from love of neighbor” while political leaders needed to understand there was “no opposition between social belonging … and the spiritual dimension of life.”

The somber note was struck right at the start, as Francis recalled how, a hundred years ago, much of the world was embroiled in the “useless slaughter” of the Great War, from whose horrors emerged the new totalitarianisms that would divide the world and plunge it into a second conflagration only a generation later.

Striking a very Paul VI note – and recalling the 50th anniversary of the World Day of Peace his predecessor established – Francis said peace came about not when each nation focused on beefing up its own security, but when they demonstrated an active commitment to justice and development, combating poverty and inequality, protecting the family, and investing in education and culture.

He summed this up by invoking the concept of a “culture of mercy,” one that does not turn away from the suffering of others, but which works for justice and forgiveness.

Francis used a number of paragraphs to spell out his conviction that only societies that welcome refugees and migrants can be internally secure and at peace – a counter-factual belief that clashes directly with the anti-immigrant, pro-security discourse of the new populism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sounding the alarm over nuclear escalation while deploring the escalation of the small-arms trade (in which the United States leads the world), Francis called for the implementation of the December 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, about which Trump is known to be sceptical. He also spoke warmly of “the efforts made in the last two years for rapprochement between Cuba and the United States” – one that Trump has suggested he will reverse unless the island democratizes.

But arguably the issue over which he was most emphatic was Israel/Palestine. Barely a month since Trump announced his new ambassador to Tel Aviv – a hardline opponent of the two-state solution who opposes any ban on Israel building settlements on the West Bank – Francis made an “urgent appeal” for both sides to resume discussions leading to a two-state solution.

In his conclusion, Francis recommitted the Catholic Church to that path of diplomacy and dialogue, pledging “to cooperate with those committed to ending current conflicts and to offer support and hope to all who suffer.”


6. Radical hospitality on the march, By Kathryn Lopez, The Mercury Columns, January 9, 2017, 10:38 PM.

“Radical hospitality and generosity.” That’s a phrase I heard Carter Snead, a law professor at Notre Dame, use this fall and I can’t get it out of my head. It’s an attractive phrase. It draws you in. It seems to call out to us that we are not alone, suggesting home and welcome. It’s a phrase that radiates hope and promise. It’s also a call to action.

In the flurry of headlines about Planned Parenthood and the politics of defunding, this phrase should prod the consciences of a nation.

As a new Congress was sworn in, the March for Life Foundation announced a scorecard for keeping track of who’s helping the pro-life cause and who’s not. In the announcement, the group encouraged members to not merely be vote casters but “pro-life champions” and pointed to the example of the late Henry Hyde, the longtime congressman from Illinois.

“Radical hospitality,” as it happens, is the cornerstone at Women’s Care Centers, a network of 24 facilities serving some 23,000 women annually in eight states.

Radical hospitality is what motivates everyone who does pro-life work on the frontlines. It jumps off the screen every time I see a Facebook update from Cheryl Calire about the Mother Teresa Home she helped found for single mothers in an old Church rectory, and it radiates like a beacon from the Sisters of Life who run a visitation mission down state from her in Manhattan.

When Snead used the phrase, he was talking about the Notre Dame Vita Institute, which works with pro-life leaders across the country. It’s groups like that Washington needs to look to and help. It would get us beyond our tired politics and give us new life, quite literally.


7. One Congressman’s plea: Don’t abandon Iraq’s Christians, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 8, 2017.

U.S. Representatives Chris Smith and Anna Eshoo have introduced legislation that would ensure the victims of ISIS’s genocidal campaign in Iraq humanitarian relief, asylum interviews if they wish to leave the country, and punishment for the perpetrators of genocide so that people feel secure enough to return to their homes.

Smith, chair of the House global human rights subcommittee, recently traveled to Erbil, Iraq to visit with survivors of the ISIS genocide there, most of them Christian. He also met with religious leaders and U.S. and United Nations officials.

Currently around 70,000 displaced Christians are living in and around Erbil in the Kurdistan Region, some of them waiting to return to their homes in Mosul or the Nineveh Plain but others looking to depart the region.

Smith said the “biggest takeaway” from his trip to Iraq just before Christmas was “the unmet need” for humanitarian aid of the tens of thousands of Christians who are relying largely upon charities like the Knights of Columbus for their needs, which include food, blankets, and medical care.

In March of 2016, the U.S. declared that ISIS was committing genocide in Iraq and Syria against Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims.

Despite Christians being recognized as genocide victims, which should provide them with special humanitarian relief and refugee status, that has not happened, Smith said.

Displaced Christians in the region had not received any aid from U.S. aid agencies or the United Nations in two years, said Steve Rasche, the legal counsel and director of IDP resettlement programs for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.

To deal with the pressing humanitarian problem and better ensure that genocide perpetrators are punished, Smith and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have introduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act in Congress.

Among other things, the bill would ensure that the genocide victims receive what is due them – humanitarian relief, asylum interviews if they wish to leave the country, and punishment for the perpetrators of genocide so that people feel secure enough to return to their homes.

It would provide a “P-2” designation for the victims of genocide, expediting their refugee resettlement process if they wished to leave the region.

It would also strengthen the “prosecutorial” case against the genocide perpetrators, broadening the ability of the U.S. to prosecute genocide perpetrators living in the country. The bill has been endorsed by all former U.S. Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, Smith said.

He has also sponsored a resolution to set up an ad hoc war crimes tribunal in the region, which he says could be far more effective than the International Criminal Court which has made only two convictions in over a dozen years, both of them in sub-Saharan Africa.