1. Knights of Malta refuse to assist ‘irrelevant’ papal probe, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 10, 2017, 4:56 PM.

The Knights of Malta, the ancient Catholic lay order, is refusing to cooperate with a Vatican investigation into the sacking of a top official over a condom scandal — and is warning its members to toe the line if they choose to speak with investigators.

Boeselager was suspended Dec. 8 after he refused a demand by the top Knight, Matthew Festing, to resign over revelations that the order’s charity branch distributed tens of thousands of condoms in Myanmar under his watch.

Members sympathetic to Boeselager…welcome the Vatican’s investigation, but canon lawyers have cautioned that the sovereign nature of the Knights of Malta makes Vatican intervention problematic.

The Order of Malta has many trappings of a sovereign state. It issues its own stamps, passports and license plates and holds diplomatic relations with 106 states, the Holy See included.

The knights trace their history to the 11th century with the establishment of an infirmary in Jerusalem that cared for pilgrims of all faiths. It now counts 13,500 members and 100,000 staff and volunteers who provide health care in hospitals and clinics around the world.


2. Religious freedom in the crosshairs of European court, By Associated Press, January 10, 2017.

Europe’s court of human rights has rejected an appeal by a Turkish-born couple who were fined in Switzerland for keeping their daughters out of mixed-gender, mandatory public-school swimming lessons for reasons linked to their Muslim faith.

The European Court of Human Rights decision upholds a Swiss federal court ruling that education officials had not violated the family’s rights of freedom of conscience and religion in the case in Basel dating to 2008.

In a summary of the ruling announced Tuesday, the European court based in Strasbourg, France, acknowledged “interference” in freedom of religion but asserted that public schools had a “special role” in integration, particularly of children of foreign origin.

Such issues of compulsory public education and religious belief have prompted similar cases in neighboring Germany and Liechtenstein in recent years.

Conflict over religious freedom is increasingly a feature of political life in today’s Europe.

Pope Francis has called on Christian leaders to defend religious freedom with “one voice.” He has suggested that what might be considered tolerance or integration by the state can trample the religious freedom of citizens.


3. Holidays highlight issues facing the Church around the world, By Inés San Martín, Crux, January 10, 2017.

Although some issues facing the Catholic Church are global, such as the fall out from Pope Francis’s document ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ others are more local, and the holiday season gave Catholic leaders a chance to voice those more local concerns.

For instance, in many countries in Africa, the local bishops, and the laity, struggle with having enough religious vocations to respond to the growing number of people in the pews, and in most mission territories, making ends meet at the end of the month is always a struggle.

According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, African Catholics have more than tripled in number since 1980 to more than 200 million.

In other places, such as Germany, the number of new vocations is also a concern, but keeping the faithful in the pews is an even bigger one. In 2015 alone, according to the German Bishops’ Conference, 217,716 people left the Church, a 22 percent increase from the previous year.

[Venezuela] Venezuela, which boasts one of the world’s largest oil reserves, is currently sinking in a political, economic and social crisis that’s witnessing crime skyrocketing and thousands dying of starvation and treatable diseases. The government of President Nicolás Maduro and an alliance of the opposition were supposed to find a common solution to the crisis, with the Vatican aiding the conversations.

However, the negotiations went south last December, urging Archbishop Diego Padrón to make a call for both sides to put the country’s best interests, and not their political wellbeing, at the center of the discussions.

[Nigeria:]“We are becoming so sadistic that we do not see that such brutality creates a culture of impunity, chaos, anarchy and doom; as if the needless killing by Boko Haram is not enough,” said Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, president of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference, in his New Years’ message.

“A culture is developing that does not seem to know the difference between the lives of human beings and that of cows, goats, rams, chickens,” he added.

[Democratic Republic of Congo] The country’s bishops used their Christmas message to deliver a strong appeal for the protection of the environment, denouncing that forests disappear little by little due to the over-exploitation of timber and reforestation policy throughout the national territory.

These are only four examples, but cases abound: The United States bishops, for instance, gave a strong pro-immigrant focus to their message while in Iraq the local Christian leadership got together to pray for peace.

In Francis’s home country, Argentina, several church leaders urged government to fight corruption and the impunity with which the growth of the illegal drug trade thrives, while the Brazilian diocese of Salvador de Bahia launched a two-month program destined to increase awareness among tourists of the country’s increasing child labor and its evils.

There is a saying that goes “show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” When it comes to the Catholic Church, however, it could become: “Show me where you are in the world, and I’ll tell you what your bishops’ priorities are.”


4. France’s Catholic Moment, By Samuel Gregg, First Things, January 10, 2017.

Since France definitively adopted a republican form of government in 1870, ardent Catholics have rarely occupied the Élysée Palace. It’s arguable that only two such people have been president of France: Marshal Patrice de MacMahon (1873–1879) and General Charles de Gaulle (1959–1969). Now, in our supposed secular age, there is a strong possibility that France may elect another devout Catholic as its president: François Fillon.

The 2017 presidential candidate of France’s mainstream center-right party Les Républicains, Fillon isn’t shy about speaking publicly about his Catholic faith. That includes how it shapes his decidedly conservative views on issues like euthanasia and his personal opposition to abortion. Even more remarkable, however, is that many cathos (slang for practicing Catholics in France) worked openly to secure Fillon’s victory over his rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé during their party’s primaries.

So what has changed? How has it come to pass that movements of young and politically active Catholics such as the Sens Commun were able to openly mobilize center-right voters to support the forthright Catholic Fillon against the self-described catholique agnostique Juppé during the primary runoff?

As with most developments at the confluence of religion and politics, immediate concerns and long-term factors are at work. Among the former is deep angst throughout French society about Islam, something accentuated by Islamist terrorism and the spread of Muslim-dominated “no-go” areas for non-Muslims throughout France. As the Catholic intellectual Pierre Manent demonstrated in his bestselling Situation de la France (2015), many French citizens are consequently asking one of those existential questions beloved by the French: What gives France its distinct character?

Mainstream conservative politicians aren’t blind to these concerns. But Fillon also recognizes that emphasizing his Catholicism can draw voters away from one of his major rivals: Marine Le Pen, head of the hard-right Front national. The FN’s unabashedly nationalist line on political and economic issues has capitalized upon worries about Islam and deep dissatisfaction with France’s political elites. Fillon’s references to his conservative Catholic views and the Church’s place in forging French identity, however, now draw attention to the FN’s rather secular character, which is more nationalist than Catholic. … In recent months, the FN has also blurred its once strong stance against abortion. Fillon has thus positioned himself to attract support from some of the ardent Catholics who, exasperated by the secularism and EU-philia of French elites, have shifted their allegiance to the FN in recent years.

Beyond immediate political considerations, the role played by les cathos in Fillon’s primary victory reflects developments within French Catholicism underway for some time. Following Vatican II, many French Catholics adopted an accomodationist stance toward society and politics. In practical terms, this “Catholicism of openness” meant flirting with notions such as Catholic-Marxist dialogue and adhering to positions conventionally described as “progressive” on matters ranging from liturgy to economics.

By the early 1980s, it was obvious that progressivism could not reverse Catholicism’s visible decline throughout France, and may have been contributing to it. Yet at this low point for the Church, some extraordinary leaders emerged, most notably Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

Lustiger also made the Church visible in France’s public square. He encouraged lay Catholics, who were as uninterested in progressive accommodationism as they were put off by Lefebvrist intransigence, to participate in public debates.

These génération Lustiger bishops, the priests they have formed, and their lay Catholic equivalents in leadership positions refuse to behave in accord with the expectations of the heirs of Voltaire and Rousseau who have been running French culture since the end of World War II. …. It was only a matter of time before this type of Catholic activism spilled over into party politics. Fillon’s ascendancy indicates that this time has arrived.