1. Loan forgiveness programs to include faith schools: Religious liberty advocates cheer move to lift ban.

By Christopher Vondracek, Washington Times, January 15, 2020, Pg. A8

Religious liberty advocates are cheering the Education Department’s plan to no longer ban faith-based volunteers, members of religious orders and teachers at religious schools from federal student loan forgiveness programs.

The new policy would affect several federal education payment schemes, including Pell grants, Perkins loans and TEACH grants, which are awarded to students who plan to teach in high-need areas.


2. Pope names 1st woman manager in Vatican Secretariat of State.

By Associated Press, January 15, 2020

Pope Francis has tapped an Italian lawyer to be the first woman to hold a management position in the Vatican’s most important office, the Secretariat of State.

Francis on Wednesday named Francesca Di Giovanni, a 27-year veteran of the Vatican, as undersecretary for multilateral affairs. In that role, she will be responsible for running a division that coordinates the Holy See’s relations with the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations.

Francis has called for women to be given greater decision-making roles in the Vatican and the Catholic Church at large, though no women head a Vatican congregation or other important office.


3. Senate Republicans propose to scrap tax-deductibility of abortions.

By Ryan Lovelace, The Washington Times, January 15, 2020, Pg. A2

Senate Republicans are pushing legislation that would eliminate the tax-deductibility of abortions, saying the Internal Revenue Service should not categorize it as medical care.

Sen. Mike Lee authored the proposal and has 16 Republican co-sponsors in the Senate, while Rep. Andy Biggs previously introduced companion legislation in the House.


4. Carmichael now says he opposes anti-discrimination bill.

By Associated Press, January 15, 2020, 5:01 AM

West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael is against a proposal to explicitly bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Republican said in a statement Tuesday.

Carmichael had taken a neutral stance on the bill after drawing criticism for meeting with a group of activists about the legislation. He now says the current bill doesn’t do enough to protect religious liberties.

“In my view, this legislation must do more to allay the justifiable fears of good Christian people regarding the usurpation of their religious liberties,” he wrote. “We must always protect our religious freedoms and the worth of every person.”


5. In tempest over Benedict XVI and book on celibacy, ‘It is as it was’

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 15, 2020

A statement is attributed to an elderly, ailing and increasingly isolated pope, wading into one of the most raucous controversies in the Church. It unleashes a firestorm, with people challenging whether the pope actually said it, what he meant by it, and if he really knew the ends to which it would be put.

Alarmed by the prospect for embarrassment, the pope’s top aide tries to put some distance between his boss and the controversy, but other principals offer alternative versions of events. Those speaking out most loudly seem more interested in scoring political points than establishing the truth, and in the end, ordinary onlookers are left utterly unsure of what to believe.

With the small caveat that it’s about a pope emeritus, not a sitting pontiff, that could easily be a description of the current fracas surrounding Benedict XVI and a new book on priestly celibacy. In fact, however, it’s a spot-on synthesis of the tempest that erupted in 2003/2004 around St. John Paul II’s alleged endorsement of Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ,” expressed in the infamous soundbite, “It is as it was.”

The idea that John Paul would have given the equivalent of a Siskel and Ebert “thumbs-up” to such a controversial film immediately stoked backlash, which caused his private secretary, then-Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, to issue a statement essentially asserting the pope had said no such thing. That, in turn, caused other Vatican officials, including papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, to issue their own “clarifications” which clarified very little, and in the end, it was completely unclear to anyone what, if anything, the pope had actually said.

In the meantime, what seemed abundantly clear was that people opposed to the movie didn’t want the pope to have said anything nice about it, while people supportive of it were determined to leave the suggestion that he did, so in both cases the contest was less about reality than appearances.

No one, to be honest, came out of the episode looking especially good. Flash forward sixteen years, and here we would seem to be again.

Once again, a controversy is swirling in the Church, this time over clerical celibacy and the decision facing Pope Francis over whether to take up a recommendation from the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon to permit married priests on a limited regional basis to better serve isolated rural communities.

One could, of course, regard all this as no more than an entertaining but ultimately irrelevant sideshow. Just as the fate of Mel Gibson’s movie was never going to rise or fall on what John Paul II said about it, in all likelihood whatever Francis decides to do on married priests will not depend on what Benedict XVI knew about the new book.

However, there are perhaps three matters of consequence worth pondering.

First, the affair can’t help but seem a blow to the Church’s credibility, since an impression has been left of power politics, infighting, and cynical manipulation. That’s not just a problem for Benedict, Sarah, and the rest, but for anyone who has to represent the Church, in any context and at any level.

Second, this situation is a reminder that the institution of a “pope emeritus” remains entirely new in the life of the Church, and there may be the need for some further reflection among canon lawyers, theologians and others on the role and functions of a retired pope, given that this is unlikely to be the last time we face such a scenario.

Third, the situation also would seem to beckon an examination of conscience among those who engage in public discussion about the Church. Granted, we live in a hyper-partisan era in which spin sells, and there don’t seem to be many rewards for patience and restraint. However, to paraphrase “A Man for All Seasons”: “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world …But for your twitter following??”


6. Tennessee governor says he will sign anti-LGBT adoption bill.

By Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press, January 14, 2020, 5:52 PM

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that he’ll sign into law a measure that would assure continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies even if they exclude LGBT families and others based on religious beliefs.

A handful of states to date have enacted similar legislation including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan. But Michigan agreed in settling a lawsuit to no longer turn away LGBT couples or individuals because of religious objections.

In 2011, Illinois declined to renew its state contract with Catholic Charities adoption services due to its policy of refusing child placement to same-sex couples. Catholic Charities has also stopped handling adoptions in Washington D.C., Massachusetts and San Francisco over concerns they would be required to act against their religious beliefs.


7. Mexico bishops urge no statute of limitations for sex abuse.

By Associated Press, January 14, 2020, 6:18 PM

The Roman Catholic Church in Mexico called on the country’s government Tuesday to modify the legal code and do away with statutes of limitations for sexual abuse of minors.

“We want to ask in the name of the bishops of Mexico for there to be no expiration for this crime,” said Rogelio Cabrera, president of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.


8. Kentucky clinic given OK to apply for abortion license.

By Dylan Lovan, Associated Press, January 14, 2020, 5:13 PM

Kentucky officials are inviting a Planned Parenthood clinic to apply for a license to perform abortions after it was denied by former Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration.

If a license is approved for the Louisville clinic, it would become only the second abortion provider in the state.

Bevin, a staunchly anti-abortion Republican, had ordered abortions halted at the downtown Louisville facility after learning early in his term as governor in 2016 that it was performing the procedure. The two sides had battled in court since then. Bevin lost his reelection bid to Democrat Andy Beshear in November, and Beshear, who supports abortion rights, took office on Dec. 10.


9. Disability group welcomes ruling against right to assisted suicide in Mass.

By Catholic News Agency, January 14, 2020, 5:01 PM

Second Thoughts Massachusetts, a disability rights group, has praised a recent ruling that there is not a right to assisted suicide in the state’s law or its constitution.

In a decision dated Dec. 31, 2019, Justice Mary Ames of the Suffolk Superior Court ruled that physicians who prescribe lethal medication for assisted suicide in Massachusetts can be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter, but that physicians may provide information and advice on assisted suicide to terminally ill, competent adults.

“We are gratified that the court reaffirmed the law against assisted suicide, and referred the matter to the legislature where lawmaking belongs. Disability rights advocates will continue to press the legislature that assisted suicide is just too dangerous,” John Kelly, director of Second Thoughts, commented Jan. 13.


10. Two Popes, and One Big Furor After Benedict Weighs in on Priestly Celibacy: In a new book, the former pope makes a firm defense of celibacy for priests as Pope Francis is expected to decide whether to allow married priests in remote regions. Let the intrigue begin.

By Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times, January 14, 2020

Whisper campaigns conducted by pro-pope and pro-pope-emeritus partisans are nourishing a dueling pope’s story line, with anonymous allegations from team Benedict in the Italian press suggesting that Cardinal Sarah had inappropriately put Benedict’s name and face on the book cover. Talk grew over whether the time had come to enshrine restrictions on the conduct of papal retirees into canon law, and the Vatican scrambled to insist that there was nothing to see here.

But with each passing hour, there was more to see. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s closest collaborator, who happens also to be the prefect of Pope Francis’ household, found himself again caught in the middle of a different popes for different folks comedy of errors.

A conservative, Archbishop Gänswein found himself publicly disagreeing with Cardinal Sarah, who spent the early part of the week rejecting allegations that he had tricked the aging Benedict into joining his opposition to Pope Francis’ agenda.

Earlier Tuesday, Cardinal Sarah rejected allegations that he had duped the fragile pope emeritus. To clear his name, Cardinal Sarah produced receipts, publishing on Twitter Benedict’s personally signed correspondence.

He also published on Tuesday a statement that called the allegations against him “deeply despicable,” and cuttingly added, “I sincerely forgive all those who have slandered me or who wish to set me against Pope Francis.”

He detailed his cooperation with Benedict on the book as dating back to Sept. 5, when he solicited Benedict’s reflection on priestly celibacy. “I can imagine that you are going to think that your thoughts on this could be inappropriate because of the debates that they would provoke,” Cardinal Sarah said he wrote to Benedict, but he said that he told the former pope that “the whole church needs this gift.”

Not long after issuing his statement on Tuesday, Cardinal Sarah announced on Twitter that he had spoken this morning with Archbishop Gänswein and that, as per his demands, future editions of the book would present the cardinal as the sole author, “with contributions from Benedict XVI.”

He added that the content, however, “would remain absolutely unchanged” and that he stood by his previous statement.

The book’s American publisher, Mark Brumley, the president of Ignatius Press, said he had no intention of stripping Benedict’s name from the book’s cover.

“The text we received indicates the two authors are Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah,” he said.


11. Government urged to boost funding, strengthen security at religious sites.

By Tim Swift, Catholic News Service, January 14, 2020

U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Christopher Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats, joined Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and other local faith leaders to call for increased federal funding to strengthen security at religious sites amid a recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks.


The senators are proposing to quadruple funding in next year’s federal budget for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides assistance to religious and other nonprofit institutions that are potential targets for terrorist attacks. They were joined by Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat.

Stressing the need for the increase, Van Hollen said the FBI has reported anti-Semitic attacks rose 35 percent between 2014 and 2018. Speakers also cited attacks on mosques and Christian churches, including recent mass shootings in Texas.

If the proposal is successful, the program would provide an additional $360 million in security assistance each year.


TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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