1. US abortion rate keeps declining – but what’s behind it?, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 20, 2017, 12:04 AM.

A reported drop in the United States abortion rate by the Guttmacher Institute is good news to pro-life leaders, who nevertheless acknowledge that optimism should be tempered.

“The news that there may be fewer abortions taking place in the United States is a great start to the New Year, though we have to take the abortion industry’s claims with a grain of salt,” the acting president of Americans United for Life, Clarke Forsythe, stated.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, echoed that claim, saying the numbers were “good news” but cautioning that “a confluence of factors” was behind them.

Pro-life leaders have welcomed the overall finding of a smaller abortion rate, although they raised some questions about the accuracy of the report.

“That’s the core question,” Chuck Donovan of the Charlotte Lozier Institute told CNA of the accuracy of the numbers. For instance, he noted that California has no reporting of abortion numbers from its state health agency.

The biggest cause driving the decline, Guttmacher suggested, could have been the use of contraceptives.

Other, smaller causes for the decline in the abortion rate could have been state laws restricting abortions or regulating abortion clinics, Guttmacher said.

There are a “whole host of factors” that could be behind the abortion rate decline, Donovan said. “We think there’s an awful lot going on.”

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards attributed the decline to contraceptives, NPR reported. “It shows that we’re finally doing a better job of helping women get access to birth control that’s affordable and that’s high-quality,” Richards said.


2. Vatican Official Tells Davos That Migrants Should Be Welcomed by Wealthy Nations: Cardinal Parolin echoes pope’s message; Vatican finance chief also in attendance at forum, By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2017, 1:18 PM.

Two of the Vatican’s highest officials struck a rare spiritual note among the rich and powerful gathered here this week for the World Economic Forum.

The two cardinals brought Catholic social teaching to the discussions, yet their distinctive approaches also suggested the wide range of political and economic views within their church.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who as secretary of state is considered the Vatican’s second-highest official, was Pope Francis’ official emissary to the gathering here. He was thus the spokesman for the pope’s critique of a “globalization of indifference,” though the cardinal translated the pope’s often-fiery language into gentler terms more appropriate for a veteran diplomat.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief, who has strong relations with the business community, attended at the invitation of Catholic business people participating in the forum. He is known as the Vatican official most sympathetic to free-market economic policies and thus the Vatican’s unofficial liaison to the business world.

Cardinal Parolin said the pope’s primary message to leaders gathered in Davos is that “globalization, development, economic affairs should be of benefit to everybody,” giving “poor and vulnerable people the possibility of living a worthy life, as human beings and as sons and daughters of God.”

The cardinal also spoke to a group at the forum about the nature of Vatican diplomacy, which he said aims ultimately at reminding the nations of the world not to focus on material concerns at the expense of the “transcendent dimension of the human person.”

By contrast, Cardinal Pell did not make public remarks at Davos, but he often speaks expansively on the potential for business to combat poverty and promote the common good. His views stand in contrast to those of Pope Francis, who regularly bemoans a world financial system that worships the “God of money.”


 3. Pope’s global agenda threatened by rising tide of populism Trump victory and Brexit vote pose challenge to causes pontiff seeks to advance, By James Politi, Financial Times, January 19, 2017.

Pope Francis looks like one of the losers from a rising tide of populism sweeping western democracies, including the election of Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK. The brand of politics that has prospered over the past 12 months threatens his priorities, such as the fight against climate change and better treatment of migrants — causes he has sought to advance using his global popularity.

Edward Pentin, the Vatican correspondent for the weekly National Catholic Register, said: “The mood in the west seems to be moving away from the issues that Pope Francis holds close to him politically and that would be of concern to him.”

Since his election, Pope Francis has frequently warned of the growing disconnect between poor and middle-class voters and their elected representatives, and spoken about the dangers of globalisation and unfettered free markets. He has also warned EU leaders that they are struggling to live up to the vision of the blocs’ founders. “He sees Trump and Brexit as part of a contemporary drama which he has long recognised and long understood,” said Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis.


4. President Trump time has come… Let’s have hope!, By Kathryn Jean Lopez, Crux, January 19, 2017.

On Tuesday, as we in the U.S. were preparing for Trump’s inauguration, Pope Francis preached about hope. He said that it is probably “the least understood” of the virtues, yet it also is “the strongest.”

He insisted on courage. “Hope: living in hope, living on hope, always looking forward with courage,” he said. He contrasted this life of hope with a “selfish” life that is stationary.

Whatever you think of the new president of the United States, he’s new. The concept of a non-politician as president is a novelty in the U.S. And those who voted for Trump welcome his inauguration with the hope that this uniqueness will make a difference, will shake up bureaucracies and Washington, a city associated with dysfunction and self-interest.

I’ve long been an advocate of finding the good in D.C. and encouraging it. I’d like to see us do the same with this new president.

This is a time for a new beginning. And there is something beautiful about that peaceful transition of power – and also the hope that the process will repeat itself in four years. I know I clung to that for the last two inaugurations, and that many do so today!

“Moving forward with hope.” That sounds good, doesn’t it? Draw into this approach. Draw others into it, as well. It’s the kind of thing that could be contagious. And, yes, even in Washington, D.C.

Additionally, during his Thursday morning homily, Pope Francis talked about temptation, and the daily struggles with good and evil, in ways big and small. Stay in the fight, he urged. Persevere!

When the inauguration comes, have hope, like those who voted for him


5. As Trump takes office, he and Francis share a Russia problem, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 19, 2017.

As Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States, it’s easy to find areas of possible clash with Pope Francis and the Vatican. One point where the two leaders find themselves in more or less the same boat is their Russia policy, which faces blowback from their respective bases.

As his term begins, Trump faces no greater risk of blowback from his base than over Russia, with important elements of both the Republican leadership and conservative opinion-makers calling for resistance.

In his own way, Francis has come under fire for the same thing.

[Pope Francis has] earned considerable political capital in the Kremlin on a variety of fronts. For one thing, Putin credited Francis in late 2013 with helping to head off an anti-Assad Western offensive in Syria, and in general the Vatican shares Moscow’s diagnosis that trying to dislodge the Syrian leader would be a mistake.

On the Vatican’s side, that’s partly because most Christian leaders in the region are telling Rome that the alternative to Assad isn’t a vibrant democracy, but chaos that would put even more Christians at risk.

In terms of why, ecumenism has a great deal to do with it. Francis is serious about the quest for Christian unity, beginning with the Orthodox, and he knows that the Russian Orthodox Church is the 800-pound-gorilla in that world.

Given the tight relationship between church and state in Russia, above all that means not being perceived as hostile to Russia’s national interests.

Like Trump, Francis faces criticism from his base over his Russia policy.

Of course, both Trump and Francis have a powerful argument to offer that in a multilateral world, one in which Russia’s economic and military resources make it an important center of power, engagement beats isolation. In the Middle East, for instance, they may plausibly contend Russia is a necessary partner in the long-term struggle against Islamic extremism.

In any event, the point is that when it comes to Russia, Trump and Francis find themselves in more or less the same boat, albeit for very different reasons. Perhaps if they start to row together, they’ll find other shores to which they can steer as well.


6. Pope Francis’s popularity in the U.S. on the rise, Pew finds, By Claire Giangravè, Crux, January 19, 2017.

A new Pew Research Center survey shows that the Argentinian pontiff keeps rolling in approval ratings, with 70 percent of Americans saying that they have a “very” or “mostly” favorable view of the pope.

When Francis became pope in March of 2013, 57 percent of Americans had a favorable view of him, 14 percent had an unfavorable view and 29 percent could not give him a rating, according to the Pew survey.

The pope’s gains in popularity this year were probably picked from the pool of those who did not have a clear opinion on him: The percentage of respondents who could not rate the pope dropped to 11 percent.

The Amoris Laetitia controversy was not enough to discourage Catholics from having a positive view of the pontiff. According to the survey, 87 percent of Catholics in the U.S. have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis.

While white evangelical Protestants have maintained a roughly similar view regarding Francis since the beginning of his papacy, the most surprising change has happened among those who describe their religious affiliation as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”

In March 2013 only 39 percent of this group had a favorable view of Pope Francis. Today that number has jumped to a shocking 71 percent.

According to the Pew survey, Benedict’s popularity among U.S. Catholics averaged 74 percent during his papacy, compared to Pope Francis’s 84 percent and John Paul II’s 93 percent.

Benedict XVI had favorability ratings from Americans as a whole between 49 percent and 61 percent.