1. Kellyanne Conway and the Life of Her Party, By William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2017, Pg. A17.

Kellyanne Conway has just upended another Washington convention. She did so when she agreed to speak at the annual March for Life, one week after Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

With this one gesture, Mrs. Conway steals some thunder from the celebrity-heavy Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. She focuses attention on big changes ahead for abortion policy. She challenges the feminist trope that to be a woman is to be pro-choice.

Above all, she guarantees coverage of a march the press would prefer to ignore, and gets the New York Times to report that, having “made history” as “the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign,” Mrs. Conway will now make history again as “the first sitting White House official to address the annual march in person.”

“I consider myself a member of the pro-life rank-and-file,” she says. “Just one of the tens of millions of Americans who fear the cavalier way innocent human life is treated today.”

Each January, no matter how frozen, tens of thousands of ordinary Americans pack themselves into buses to come to Washington to march in protest of Roe v. Wade, the January 1973 Supreme Court decision that ushered in a constitutional right to abortion never mentioned in the Constitution. Each year the press mostly ignores them.

One does not have to share Kellyanne Conway’s views on abortion to appreciate how corrupting Roe has been for democratic politics: Plenty of honest, pro-choice constitutional experts abhor Roe on precisely the grounds Scalia outlined. It’s also true that the Scalia replacement does not immediately threaten Roe. But Mr. Trump will likely get to fill more than one Supreme Court seat over his term, which will become interesting if the seat is vacated by a justice from the pro-Roe majority.


2. U.S. bishop disappointed over new policy toward Cuban migrants, By Catholic News Agency, January 17, 2017.

On Friday, the U.S. bishops’ migration chair criticized the Obama administration’s denial of decades-old special protections for Cuban migrants to the U.S.

“I am disappointed over the Administration’s sudden policy change to end the ‘Wet Foot/ Dry Foot’ policy for Cuban arrivals,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who heads the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration, stated on Friday.

“While we have welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba, the violation of basic human rights remains a reality for some Cubans and the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy helped to afford them a way to seek refuge in the United States,” he continued.

Previously, as part of the policy in place since the 1990s, Cubans who successfully entered the U.S. without a visa could be paroled for a year and then would be eligible for residency. Those migrants who were intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard on their way to the U.S. were returned to Cuba.


3. An open letter to Pope Francis ahead of the March for Life, By Charles C. Camosy, Crux, January 17, 2017.

Charlie Camosy urges Pope Francis in an open letter to focus urgency on the issue of abortion since Camosy believes that this pope has a unique opportunity to speak and be listened to by many people who might otherwise tune out the Church on this issue.


4. Democrats wed themselves to abortion at their electoral peril, By Maureen Malloy Ferguson, The Hill, January 16, 2017.

Remarkably, the head-scratching continues. Democrats are still trying to comprehend just how Hillary Clinton lost places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, blaming it largely on the lack of an economic message to working class voters; yet, most are blind to the cultural piece of the puzzle.

President-elect Trump also promised pro-life Supreme Court justices, and exit polling showed the future of the Supreme Court was a key factor to his victory. This seems not to have registered with the Democrats leadership, who are already pledging Armageddon in opposing the as-yet unnamed nominee.

Polling reveals what is obvious to anyone who has spent time with average people in the heartland of “fly-over” country, that late-term abortion is not a political winner. A majority of Democratic voters want restrictions on late-term abortion, yet this bill will receive very few votes from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Similarly, on conscience issues, when the Trump administration takes action to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor and others bullied for their sincere religious views, people will be reminded of the disdain the Obama administration showed the faith community when they threatened nuns with crippling government fines.

And, as President Obama’s own faith advisor cautions regarding this disconnect and overreach, “It doesn’t help you win elections if you’re openly disdainful towards the driving force in many American’s lives.”


5. Cardinal Caffarra explains the reasons behind the dubia, By Catholic News Agency, January 16, 2017, 4:44 PM.

In an interview with an Italian daily published Saturday, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra discussed at length the questions which exist about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family.

He is among the four cardinals who authored a letter with five dubia, or doubts, about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, requesting that Pope Francis “resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity.” Their letter was sent privately to the Pope on September 19, but released to the public two months later.

The four cardinals believed themselves obliged to submit the dubia because of their role in counselling the Pope, and because of “the fact – which only a blind man could deny – that in the Church there exists great confusion, uncertainty, insecurity caused by some paragraphs of Amoris laetitia.”

He said the fifth dubium was the most important, for it regarded conscience, asking if the teaching “that conscience can never be authorised to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object” still need be regarded as valid.

Caffarra noted that a passage of Amoris laetitia seems “to admit the possibility that there can be a true judgement of conscience … in contradiction with what the Church teaches as pertaining to the deposit of divine Revelation. It seems. Therefore have we given the dubia to the Pope.”


6. Pope demands protection for migrants as sea search continues, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 15, 2017, 6:50 AM.

Pope Francis demanded Sunday that “every possible measure” be taken to protect young refugees, as search and rescue efforts continued off Libya’s coast following the latest deadly Mediterranean migrant shipwreck.

Italy’s coast guard said only four people survived the sinking of a migrant ship carrying around 100 people that went down 30 miles (50 kilometers) off the Libyan coast on Saturday. Only eight bodies have been recovered.

In his noon blessing, Francis recalled that the theme of the church’s World Day of Migrants celebrated Sunday concerned the particular vulnerability of young migrants — “our young brothers” who often flee home alone and face “so many dangers.”

“We must adopt every possible measure to guarantee young migrants protection and defense, as well as integration,” he said.


7. Bishops remain hopeful on immigration reform in a Trump presidency, By Kevin J. Jones, Catholic News Agency, January 15, 2017.

The upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump has raised questions about the future of immigration reform, but the nation’s Catholic bishops remain hopeful.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the U.S. bishops’ conference president, even voiced confidence.

“I actually think this may be a very good time to pursue all the goals that we’ve had all along,” DiNardo said.

“This is a new moment, with a new Congress, a new administration. And therefore we should up our expectations and move very carefully, but clearly, on comprehensive immigration reform.”

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the bishops’ conference, said the conference is trying to have a conversation with Trump’s transition team.

“Obviously we continue to help our elected officials to understand the issue,” he said, noting there are “many challenges” regarding immigration.


8. Ethicist says ghostwriter’s role in ‘Amoris’ is troubling, By Michael Pakaluk, Crux, January 15, 2017.

The most important footnote in Amoris Laetitia may not be, as many suppose, one dealing with access to the sacraments for Catholics in “irregular” situations. Instead, it may be a footnote that’s not actually in the document but which should be, since one of the sentences in Amoris is lifted nearly verbatim from an essay published in 1995 in a Buenos Aires theological journal.

Naturally, I use the term “plagiarism” in its material, not formal sense.

You and I will suspect that Fernandez, now an archbishop and close friend of the pope and said to be the ghostwriter of Laudato Si, was also the ghostwriter of Amoris chapter 8 and parts at least of Evangelii Gaudium. In the sentence cited above, he was simply helping himself to his own, earlier writings.

But materially, for an author to present the words of another as his own words is still plagiarism, and Pope Francis, not Victor Fernandez, is the author of Amoris and Evangelii Gaudium.

I wish that these lapses could stand as a regrettable but isolated fact about Amoris, but they cannot. I will point out three broader implications.

The first is that Amoris needs to be “taken back to the shop,” to have various flaws removed or corrected.  I have already pointed out how footnote 329 misquotes Gaudium et Spes, and that it must deliberately misquote that document to advance its implicit argument.

Surely no text published under the name of the Roman pontiff should contain an inaccurate quotation of an ecumenical council.

I suppose if Amoris were “taken back to the shop” for these relatively minor flaws, it might be good if Pope Francis at the same time definitively resolved its widely-noted ambiguities.

A second implication is that these instances of material plagiarism call into question Fernandez’s suitability to be a ghostwriter for the pope.  A ghostwriter should remain a ghost. By quoting himself, Fernandez has drawn attention to himself and away from the pope.

But a third implication arises from the fact that these earlier texts were even consulted at all.  Why should someone ostensibly writing about “the joy of love” be rummaging about in obscure theological articles?

Since Fernandez did go to these articles, we should expect their bigger themes to be connected to what he wrote in Amoris.  The suspicion is not wholly unjustified that perhaps he might aim to have his own speculations win out, not through the usual tug-and-pull of theological debate, but by slipping them in as papal teachings.

As for Amoris, Rocco Buttliglione argues that its silence on some key teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict – silence, not a contrary assertion- can be construed as a continuous development or extension, involving a small group of problematic cases. Others, such as Ed Feser, are not so sure, and think they see, even in the absence of an affirmation, the risk of a surrender to the sexual revolution or a collapse into antinomianism.


9. The real argument over ‘Amoris’ is an old one over conscience, By Austen Ivereigh, Crux, January 15, 2017.

Both critics and partisans of the exhortation have correctly detected a clear shift in magisterial teaching in respect of how the Church responds to so-called ‘irregular’ situations, especially of the divorced and civilly remarried, away from St. John Paul II’s 1981 Familiaris Consortio.

But the even more substantial departure, arguably, is from another of John Paul’s teaching documents, Veritatis Splendor in 1993, which argued against moral relativism, and the misuse of conscience to justify a subjective morality.

The four cardinals who signed the letter challenging Pope Francis over Amoris specifically cite Veritatis, asking if it still holds that, as they paraphrase it, “conscience can never be authorised to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object.”

Grasping the nature of this shift that so concerns the Amoris critics is key to understanding this dispute.

It is not a doctrinal shift. The prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, has confirmed what is obvious from Amoris itself: there is no doctrinal difficulty with the exhortation, which reaffirms the constant teaching of the Church in respect of marriage indissolubility, affirming at the start of Chapter 8 that “any breach of the marriage bond is against the will of God.”

Nor has the law changed. Amoris never questions either Canon 915, which demands that Communion be witheld from those who “obstinately persevere in grave sin,” nor the following canon, that people conscious of grave sin should not present themselves to receive Communion. The law’s core principle, that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist, still stands.

The theology of Familiaris takes place at the level of the sacramental and objective, while Amoris, reflecting the synod, is essentially pastoral and personal. There is no contradiction per se between the two: marriage is both an ontological reality and a vocation, a call to conversion. But there is a clear development, one that has implications.

Amoris refers many times, like Familiaris, to marriage as a sign of Christ’s covenant with the Church, but says it is an “imperfect analogy” because two sinful human beings cannot perfectly reproduce Christ’s covenant. A married couple are (hopefully) on a journey – with the help of Grace – towards a perfect emulation of the covenant, but sign and reality are not yet one.

Amoris takes that part of core Catholic doctrine (God’s mercy includes sinners) seriously, incorporating it into the Church’s praxis. So that where the logic of Familiaris is that the divorced and remarried are sinners who must repent of their ways in order to be re-admitted to the fold, the logic of Amoris is that the Church must reach out to them and look for ways of bringing them back into the fold through accompaniment and discernment.

But Amoris makes clear that this is not about simply applying the law to people. It must go beyond the law, into the realm of conscience. It calls on pastors to “form” consciences, not “replace” them.  In other words, consciences must be respected as tribunals where law, doctrine and the real-life individual situation can be brought together and cross-examined.

This is the real shift – and the part that makes many nervous. Where Familiaris recognized that there were clear moral differences between, for example, those that abandoned their spouse and those who had been abandoned, and had called for making space for them in parish life, it was followed by a big ‘however.’

The ‘however’ reflected the logic of the doctors of the law. Because their state “objectively contradicted” Christ’s covenant, and because if they were admitted to the sacraments “the faithful would be led into error and confusion,” only if the divorced and remarried lived together as brother and sister could they receive the Eucharist.

In Familiaris there is little role for conscience, except as a means for attempting to understand and obey the law as it is universally applied. This is the approach that Cardinal Raymond Burke and Peters defend as immutable Catholic teaching.

Amoris portrays the conscience as the inner sanctuary and core of a person, where they are alone with God, facing His judgement. Conscience is not a way of evading responsibility, but assuming it. It is not “whatever I decide is right” but rather, “the buck stops here.”

Which is why, in the discernment process detailed in Amoris, the conscience must be formed and informed, and a final decision reached in conjunction with a pastor who knows the law and doctrine of the Church. It is a process that takes place not outside the law but beyond it.

The dispute over Amoris chapter 8, in short, is not between pastors who want to ignore the law versus lawyers who insist on it. It is a theological argument over how the law is to be applied and what place conscience occupies.

The detractors’ best case is that in an individualistic society, it will be impossible to avoid the misuse of conscience: the traditional use of conscience to which Amoris appeals must be resisted because of the demands of the age.

The supporters’ best case, on the other hand, is that the use of conscience to which Amoris calls the Church belongs to perennial church teaching, one that needs upholding, whatever the age.


10. In sign of resolve, Pope taps O’Malley for Vatican office handling abuse cases, By Inés San Martín, Crux, January 14, 2017.

In a move likely to be read as an attempt by Pope Francis to show resolve in the fight against clerical sexual abuse, the pontiff has named Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, widely seen as the leading reformer in the Catholic hierarchy, as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican department that handles abuse cases.

Making O’Malley a member of the doctrinal congregation does not imply a move to Rome, and he will remain the Archbishop of Boston.


11. Pope extends overhaul of Vatican’s liturgy department, By Associated Press, January 14, 2017, 1:40 PM.

Pope Francis is extending his controversial overhaul of the Vatican’s liturgy department, adding a host of new advisers after an initial shake-up removed some leading conservative cardinals.

The 17 new advisers named Saturday include priests, laymen and two women. The experts in liturgy and theology join 27 cardinals and bishops named as full members in October. That reshuffling removed tradition-minded cardinals Raymond Burke and George Pell from the roster, although other conservatives were kept on.

The office is responsible for ensuring Masses and other sacraments are celebrated around the world according to Vatican standards. It is headed by Guinea’s conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah.

In July, the Vatican publicly reprimanded Sarah for urging priests to celebrate Mass facing away from the congregation, as was done in the pre-Vatican II-style Mass.


12. Malta church goes beyond pope in remarriage guidelines, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 13, 2017, 1:45 PM.

The Vatican is making clear Pope Francis supports letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion under certain conditions by publishing a set of new guidelines in the pope’s own newspaper that go beyond even what he has said.

The Catholic Church in Malta issued the guidelines Friday on applying the divisive Chapter VIII of Francis’ document on family life that concerns ministering to Catholics in “irregular” family situations. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the guidelines in full.

The Maltese church said that if a Catholic in a new civil union believes, after a path of spiritual discernment searching for God’s will that he or she can be at peace with God, “he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”

Several bishops conferences have issued similar documents interpreting the question for their priests. Francis has already personally endorsed the Argentine bishops’ version, which makes a similar opening.

Significantly, more conservative interpretations that rule out the sacraments for these Catholics have been ignored by the pope and the Vatican.

Francis, for example, has refused to directly respond to four conservative cardinals who have asked for a formal clarification of his document. And the Vatican has ignored guidelines crafted by the archdiocese of Philadelphia, which say civilly remarried Catholics can receive the sacraments only if they live as brother and sister.


13. Conscience can’t be the final arbiter on who gets Communion, By Edward Peters, Crux, January 8, 2017.

In trying to apply Pope Francis’s document Amoris Laetitia to a hypothetical but plausible request for holy Communion by a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic, Father Paul Keller’s “Case study in communion for the divorced/remarried” makes a number of serious errors.

Correcting even some of those errors will take time, but it would be time justified in that Keller’s essay illustrates very well how typical pastors reading Amoris according to its plain sense (and not, lawyer-like, parsing various problematic phrases just narrowly enough so as to support a more traditional interpretation) are likely to stumble into accepting what I view as the central flaw in Amoris, namely, assuming that, in the final analysis, an individual Catholic’s assessment of his or her own conscience is the sole criterion that governs a minister’s decision to give holy Communion to a member of the faithful.

That assumption, however it arose and no matter who promotes it, is wrong.