1. Justice Dept. sides with archdiocese in battle over Christmas Metro ads.

By Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, January 17, 2018, Pg. B8

The Justice Department on Tuesday sided with the Archdiocese of Washington in its legal battle to display Christmas ads on Metro buses.

The announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions follows a decision by a federal appeals court in Washington denying the archdiocese’s request to move forward with the ads during the December holiday season.

The decision by the Justice Department to file a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the archdiocese is part of the attorney general’s push for the government to respect religious freedom.

In its amicus brief filed Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Justice Department says WMATA’s rejection of the ad campaign constitutes “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the archdiocese’s First Amendment right of free speech.


2. Pope Francis, in Chile, Addresses ‘Irreparable Damage’ Sex-Abuse Scandal Wrought: Chileans’ changing social mores has reduced influence of Catholic Church.

By Paul Kiernan and Ryan Dube, The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2018, Pg. A9

Pope Francis kicked off a tour of Chile by speaking out forcefully Tuesdayagainst sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in a country where trust in the Church has declined precipitously in the wake of a pedophilia scandal.

“Here, I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by ministers of the church,” the pope said in an early morning address before President Michelle Bachelet and high Catholic clergy in the Moneda presidential palace. “I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask for forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again.”

He was understood to be referring to the case of Fernando Karadima, a high-profile Chilean priest convicted by the Vatican in 2011 of having sexually abused children in the 1980s and ’90s.

The words were some of the pope’s strongest yet on an issue that has fanned public anger and dented the Church’s credibility here. Chileans’ trust in the Church has fallen from 61% before accusations against Father Karadima became public in 2010 to 36% last year, according to a survey by local pollster Latinobarómetro.

Critics spoke out after Pope Francis’ statement, saying it wasn’t enough.

Chilean Catholics say they are hoping Pope Francis, whose folksy style and message of unity have resonated elsewhere in Latin American, can help boost the Church in this country. The percentage of Chileans who identify as Catholic fell from 74% in 1996 to 45% in 2017, according to pollster Latinobarómetro.


3. Pope in Chile to say Mass on contested land used for torture.

By Peter Prengaman and Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 17, 2018, 7:07 AM

Pope Francis on Wednesday headed to the heart of Chile’s centuries-old conflict with indigenous peoples to celebrate Mass on contested land that was also used as a detention and torture facility during the country’s bloody military dictatorship.

In an ominous reminder of how the centuries-long conflict has occasionally erupted in violence, at least 10 Catholic churches, most in the Araucania region, have been firebombed in the past week.

No group has taken responsibility and no arrests have been made, but in recent years Mapuche activists have burned churches to press their cause.

Leaders of both the Mapuche and the Chilean government have expressed hope that Francis can facilitate dialogue. Their disputes date back to the late 19th century, when the Chilean military finally defeated the Mapuche, who had ferociously resisted Spanish and other European settlers for centuries.

Mapuche groups are pushing for ownership of ancestral lands in the southern Araucania region, legal recognition of their language and culture, and a stop to discrimination that leaders say often makes them police targets.


4. Pakistan alarms U.S. with harsh blasphemy laws allowing rise of radical Islam.

By Naila Inayat, The Washington Times, January 17, 2018, Pg. A1

Harsh laws forbidding blasphemy against Islam are dividing Pakistani society and driving a deeper wedge between Islamabad and Washington during a bitter feud over the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The State Department announced this month that it was adding Pakistan to its watch list for severe violations of religious freedom. It cited abuses of Christians, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims and other religious minorities in the heavily Sunni Muslim country.

Central to that abuse are the country’s blasphemy laws, said Daniel Mark, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “Pakistan continues to harass its religious minorities, has state-sanctioned discrimination against groups such as the Ahmadis, and tolerates extra-judicial violence in the guise of opposing blasphemy,” Mr. Mark said in a statement.

The State Department announced the designation on Jan. 4, the same day President Trump froze over $200 million in security aid to Pakistan. The administration said Islamabad had failed to crack down on Islamist terrorist networks operating in the country and was supporting, among others, the Taliban movement battling the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.

Critics also say the draconian blasphemy laws reflect how Pakistani leaders have permitted radical Islamic beliefs to infiltrate the judiciary.

Today, the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a Catholic group, said 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been charged under the blasphemy rules since 1987. No one has been executed, but 40 people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.


5. Trump proclaims day of religious freedom for all — including nuns and bakers.

By Dave Boyer, The Washington Times, January 17, 2018, Pg. A2

President Trump said in a religious freedom proclamation Tuesday that the government shouldn’t force Americans to choose between their faith and the law, whether they are “a nun, nurse, baker or business owner.”

“Unfortunately, not all have recognized the importance of religious freedom, whether by threatening tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech, or forcing people to comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs without sufficient justification,” the president said. “These incursions, little by little, can destroy the fundamental freedom underlying our democracy.”

In his proclamation, the president noted that he signed an executive order soon after taking office to “ensure Americans are able to follow their consciences without undue government interference.”

“No American — whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner — should be forced to choose between the [tenets] of faith or adherence to the law,” the president said.

He said the U.S. will continue to champion religious freedom around the world, “because we do not believe that conscience rights are only for Americans.”

“We will continue to condemn and combat extremism, terrorism, and violence against people of faith, including genocide waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims,” Mr. Trump said. “We will be undeterred in our commitment to monitor religious persecution and implement policies that promote religious freedom. Through these efforts, we strive for the day when people of all faiths can follow their hearts and worship according to their consciences.”


6. What’s at stake when Francis and Erdogan sit down to talk Turkey.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 17, 2018

Following reports in the Turkish media, the Vatican confirmed Tuesday that on February 5, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet Francis in the library of the Apostolic Palace, where the pope customarily receives heads of state.

The meeting follows a Dec. 29 phone call between Erdogan and Francis, in which they discussed the fallout from the Dec. 6 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.

At first blush, the Feb. 5 encounter would appear to have four levels of significance.

First is the question of Jerusalem itself. Trump has a bit of a history of making bold policy announcements that take considerable time to implement, and which may be pared back or modified by the time the dust settles. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the embassy move “is not something that is going to happen this year, probably not next year,” so Erdogan and Francis may be hoping there’s still time to intervene.

Second, the meeting is important because it more or less closes a low ebb in Turkish/Vatican relations that opened in 2015, when Francis publicly used the word “genocide” to describe the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War, and which intensified when he did so again during his 2016 trip to Armenia.

Third, the meeting is important because, while both sides certainly have something to gain, they also have something to lose.

For Francis, his moral authority around the world is premised in part on his reputation as a champion of the oppressed and marginalized. If he’s perceived as too cozy with a figure effectively regarded in some quarters as a “dictator” with a dubious human rights record, it could begin to affect the pope’s ability to mobilize moral support for the issues he cares about across the board.

On the other hand, Francis and the Vatican also have a great deal at stake in the broader dialogue with Islamic states, and the pontiff’s advisers are likely to tell him that keeping his relationship with Erdogan green may pay off in presently unforeseen ways.

As for Erdogan, he already knows that Francis is willing to spend down some of his political capital with Turkey for something he regards as important, such as the acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide.

To date, Erdogan seems primarily interested in protecting Sunni Muslim interests in the two nations, at least to the extent those Sunnis aren’t Kurds threatening to slice off portions of Turkish territory. Francis and the Vatican, on the other hand, work hard to maintain good relations with Shi’a Islam, and they also want to keep the Kurds friendly, if for no other reason than the Kurds control portions of Iraq that significant Christian populations traditionally call home such as the Nineveh Plains.

Fourth and finally, the ongoing conversation between Francis and Erdogan is part of a broader historical transition in the Vatican, which is the shift from Judaism to Islam as the Church’s paradigmatic interreligious relationship.

Thus when Francis and Erdogan meet Feb 5, much will be on the line on both sides. Whatever comes out of the session, it will be another chapter in an activist pope’s determination to leave it all on the field when it comes to the press for peace.


7. A Perfect Marriage: Evangelicals and Conservatives in Latin America.

By Javier Corrales, Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College, is a co-author, with Michael Penfold, of “Dragon in the Tropics: The Legacy of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.”, The New York Times, January 17, 2018, Pg. A10, Opinion

Evangelical churches today can be found in almost every neighborhood in Latin America — and they are transforming politics like no other force. They are giving conservative causes, and especially political parties, new strength and new constituencies.

Evangelicals today account for almost 20 percent of the population in Latin America, up from 3 percent three decades ago. In a few Central American countries, evangelicals are near majorities.

The rise of evangelicalism is politically worrisome. Evangelicals are fueling a new form of populism. They are supplying conservative parties with nonelite voters, which is good for democracy, but these voters tend to be intransigent on issues of sexuality, which feeds cultural polarization. Intolerant inclusion, which is the classic Latin American populist formula, is being reinvented by evangelical pastors.

Politically, we may be witnessing a historic truce between Protestants and Catholics in the region: Evangelicals agree to embrace the Catholic Church’s strong condemnation of abortion, the Catholic Church embraces evangelicals’ strong condemnation of sexual diversity, and together, they can confront rising secularism.

This truce poses a dilemma for Pope Francis, now on tour in Latin America. On the one hand, he has expressed rejection of extremism, and a desire to connect with the most modern, even liberal groups in the church. On the other hand, this pope has made “Christian encounters” a hallmark of his papacy, and he himself is not entirely allergic to the cultural conservatism of evangelicals.

As a political actor, the pope worries too about the church’s waning influence in politics, so an alliance with evangelicals seems like the perfect antidote against its political decline. A pressing question the pope needs to ponder is whether he is willing to pay the price of greater conservatism to rekindle Christian power in Latin America.


8. “Equilibrium” and Ignominy.

By George Weigel, George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, First Things, January 17, 2018, Opinion

This past December 18, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the department of external relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, received an honorary degree from the Faculty of Theology of Apulia in Bari, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. During his remarks on that occasion, Hilarion thanked the Holy See “per la sua posizione di equilibrio riguardo al conflitto in corso in Ucraina” (for its balanced position regarding the conflict underway in Ukraine). Did anyone in the Vatican blush in shame at that compliment? A lot of high-ranking Roman churchmen should have.

Once again, as he has often done in the past, Metropolitan Hilarion used an ecumenical event to carry water for Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin and its war on independent Ukraine. Once again, the chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church misrepresented what is afoot in Ukraine, which is not a “conflict” but a Russian invasion and a low-intensity war, which has already cost more than ten thousand lives while displacing over a million persons and wreaking economic and social havoc in Ukraine’s Donbas region. And once again, Metropolitan Hilarion implicated the Holy See in that misrepresentation by praising the Vatican’s  “balanced position.”

But what is a “balanced position” in this situation? A refusal to pronounce the words “invasion” and “annexation” when describing the reality of what Putin’s Russia has done in Crimea? A studied disinclination to use the word “war” to name what Russia has been conducting in the Donbas for the past several years? That, surely, would be more accurately described as pusillanimity and appeasement, rather than balance or equilibrium.

This “balance” is not only an abdication of moral responsibility; it is badly undercutting other Vatican goals in world politics. Shortly before Hilarion’s speech in Bari, a Vatican conference urged intensified efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Well, what has been the single greatest blow to nuclear non-proliferation in recent years? The Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. Why? Because Russia’s actions effectively abrogated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, according to which Ukraine agreed to give up all its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in exchange for a guarantee (signed by Russia, the United States, and Great Britain) of its territorial integrity and borders. Since Russia got away with its Crimean gambit, it’s a safe bet that no nuclear weapons power will give up its arsenal in exchange for paper security guarantees, for at least the next several decades.

In brief: It’s impossible to take a “balanced position” on the “conflict underway in Ukraine” and, at the same time, passionately promote nuclear disarmament. The former drastically undercuts the latter. Can no one in the Holy See connect the dots here?