1. SCOTUS, don’t undermine for women the safety of a pro-life clinic.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation, The Hill, January 25, 2018, 8:30 AM

There are more than 2000 pro-life pregnancy resource centers across the United States that offer women compassionate and comprehensive alternatives to abortion.

Soon, the Supreme Court will consider whether a California law forcing these centers to promote abortion violates the First Amendment. If the law is upheld, countless women across the country will be left without the care and life-enriching support they need and desire.  

My organization, the Catholic Association Foundation (TCA) has submitted an amicus brief on behalf of 13 women who have been direct and indirect beneficiaries of pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics in the state of California and across the United States. These women have courageously come forward to respond to the unsupported allegations that pregnancy centers mislead and deceive women by not advocating abortion. Contrary to California’s claim, centers offered these women the chance to make an informed choice and improve the circumstances of their lives and the lives of their unborn children.

In addition to the varied supports and counsel given pregnant women, pregnancy centers also provide post-abortion counsel to countless numbers of women. For Judith and Stephanie, such counsel has helped them recover from the trauma and distress they experienced from abortions. Both women are now active volunteers in their communities.             

Pregnancy is tough. A pregnancy without love and support can seem impossible. Pro-life pregnancy centers provide what many women need and want to bring their children into the world.  The stories of these 13 women are beautiful examples of how centers operate and the positive impact they have on the women who walk through their doors.

The Supreme Court has the chance to protect pregnancy centers from unconstitutional laws like California’s FACT Act so that women don’t lose out on such sources of compassionate assistance.


2. Euthanasia for the vulnerable.

By Charles Lane, The Washington Post, January 25, 2018, Pg. A17

The euthanasia of mentally ill or cognitively impaired patients is inherently controversial. Given the risk of fatal error, how many botched cases would it take to discredit the practice completely?

If you said “any number greater than zero,” you would be interested in the physician-assisted death of a 74-year-old woman with dementia in the Netherlands in 2016. The circumstances were so disturbing, even the Dutch regulatory body that retrospectively reviews, and usually rubber-stamps, euthanasias could not countenance it.

Support for the practice is still strong, so strong that the Brothers of Charity, a Roman Catholic organization that operates the largest group of psychiatric hospitals in Belgium, has agreed to acquiesce to euthanasia requests — contrary to Vatican policy.

This decision came after a Belgian court ordered a different Catholic institution to pay damages to the family of a 74-year-old terminally ill woman because administrators required her to leave the facility for euthanasia. Religious conscience was no defense, the court ruled.

International pressure from secular institutions might prevent the expansion of medical euthanasia for mentally ill or cognitively impaired people, whose ability to “consent” to their own deaths is manifestly doubtful. But the World Psychiatric Association completely ducked the issue last October during its congress in Berlin.

For now, these vulnerable people, and those in Belgium and the Netherlands who would protect them, are on their own.


3. For Pope Francis, Fake News Goes Back to the Garden of Eden.

By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times, January 25, 2018, Pg. A4

The serpent in the Garden of Eden hissed the first fake news to Eve and it all went downhill from there, Pope Francis wrote in a major document about the phenomenon of fake news released on Wednesday.

“We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place,” the pope wrote in a message ahead of what the church has designated as its World Day of Social Communications, in May.

Arguing that the “crafty” serpent’s effective disinformation campaign to get Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge “began the tragic history of human sin,” he added, “I would like to contribute to our shared commitment to stemming the spread of fake news.”

As the pope sees it, journalists less focused on scoops, news consumers more open to other views, and social media companies and officials more committed to safeguarding the web would open eyes to mimicry — what Francis called “that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments” — and thus cast that original and slithering bearer of fake news from the garden.


4. Cecile Richards expected to step down from Planned Parenthood.

By David Weigel, The Washington Post, January 25, 2018, Pg. A2

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is expected to step down after 12 years at the abortion rights and women’s health-care organization, with an announcement coming as soon as next week.

“Cecile plans to discuss 2018 and the next steps for Planned Parenthood’s future at the upcoming board meeting,” the organization said in a statement.


5. Alex Azar Confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary: Azar likely to be key figure in administration efforts to roll back Affordable Care Act.

By Stephanie Armour, The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2018, Pg. A3

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Donald Trump’s nomination of Alex Azar to serve as health and human services secretary, approving a former George W. Bush official who has criticized the Affordable Care Act to lead the agency that implements the law.

Mr. Azar will likely be a central player in the administration’s efforts to roll back the ACA and reshape the U.S. health-care landscape. He has called for limited federal involvement in health policy and supported changes to Medicaid that would limit future spending on the program.

He has supported changes to the ACA, including a Trump administration rule giving employers wide latitude to avoid providing birth-control coverage to employees. He backs efforts to offer more choice in health plans sold through the ACA, which currently sets a minimum standard of benefits.


6. Why Francis sometimes may be a prophet without honor in his own land.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 25, 2018

Pope Francis just concluded the 22nd international trip of his papacy, to Chile and Peru, and it says something about the media honeymoon he’s enjoyed up to now that it’s really the first such trip about which pundits and commentators could have a meaningful debate over whether it was a success or a failure.

It may also say something about the wisdom of Jesus’ saying, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, and among his own kin and in his own house,” that Francis’s first could-be flop came in South America.

On the pope’s trip, controversy centered around Francis’s response to the clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, and specifically, his handling of the case of a bishop in Chile who’s been accused by victims of that country’s most notorious pedophile priest of knowing about their abuse and covering it up.

In a nutshell, Francis apologized to victims for the enormous wrongs they’ve suffered, and also reiterated his commitment to a “zero tolerance” policy. He met privately with victims, in order to hear their stories and to share their pain.

At the same time, he did not yield an inch on the case of Bishop Juan Barros, one of four Chilean prelates accused of being in on the cover-up. There’s been pressure on Francis to remove Barros ever since he named him to a small southern Chilean diocese in 2015, but the pope made crystal-clear that’s not going to happen.

At one stage, Francis accused those clamoring for Barros’s ouster of being engaged in “calumny,” and made clear he’s convinced Barros is innocent.

The result was perhaps the most violent reactions to a papal trip in the modern era: In all, 11 churches were attacked around the time of the pope’s presence, one featuring a direct threat to Francis that the next bomb would be “in your cassock,” while anti-papal protests in Santiago, the capital city, had to be broken up by police hurling tear gas.

Although there’s often a presumption that history’s first-ever Latin American pope ought to enjoy a huge homefield advantage on any return trip, if we’ve been paying close attention, we already should have known that’s not really so.

Overall, Francis’s average approval rating in South America is 68 percent – still high, of course, but  lower than in many other parts of the world.

Before drawing conclusions, a few qualifications are in order.

First, when Francis goes elsewhere, he delivers hard-hitting social and political commentary, but it’s usually phrased in terms of broad principles that don’t come off, in that context, as directly benefiting one faction or another. 

When he’s talking to South America, on the other hand, he’s often more pointed and concrete, from what critics saw at the time as his “silence” on Argentina’s military junta, to what critics often see as his support today for the Bolivarian movement across the continent. It’s also true that even when Francis is obviously trying not to be partisan, the South American press often takes him that way anyway.

It’s natural, therefore, that Francis becomes enmeshed more consistently in the partisan to-and-fro there, which is naturally going to make him slightly less universally beloved.

Second, I’m nobody’s idea of an expert on South America, but even I know this: Argentina and Argentinians often evoke ambivalence from others in the region, who sometimes, stereotypically, see them as a little closed-off and prone to a superiority complex. 

Third, in many ways the outings to Chile and Peru were a tale of two trips. Yes, there was blowback both on the ground and in the media in Chile, but hardly any in Peru, where the climate was far more joyous and calm.

Fourth, even in Chile, Francis himself is accenting the positive. During his in-flight press conference on the way back to Rome, he said he was pleased with how things went.

All that said, the undeniable reality is that the rockiest trip of Francis’s papacy so far has come in South America, and some of his lowest poll numbers are in South America. What should one make of that?

Perhaps nothing more than that a papacy, like pretty much everything else in life, is always a mix of successes and failures, and reaching a balanced judgment requires seeing both. That’s often difficult to do in the present, when passions run high and opinion tends to polarize.

Maybe what we’re seeing in South America today is that long-term process of reaching balance grinding itself out in particularly acute form.


7. Brownback Confirmed to Religious Freedom Post After Dramatic Senate Showdown.

By Abigail Robertson, CBN News, January 24, 2018

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was confirmed to be Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom after a dramatic Senate vote Wednesday

Brownback’s confirmation is a big win for those fighting for religious freedom around the world. 

“After a long wait, those who have been suffering brutal oppression now have a strong advocate in this vital post.  It is essential to promote religious freedom as a cornerstone of our foreign policy, given the global instability caused by the severe religious persecution that 77 percent of the world’s population live under.  Gov. Brownback has been a passionate defender of the rights of all people to worship freely, and has courageously confronted offenses against human rights in trouble spots around the world throughout his career,” said Maureen Ferguson, Senior Policy Advisor with The Catholic Association.


8. Senate narrowly approves Brownback for religious freedom job.

By Richard Lardner, Associated Press, January 24, 2018, 6:28 PM

The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved Sam Brownback’s bid to be U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, setting the stage for him to resign the governorship in Kansas after seven contentious years in office.

With two Republican senators absent, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Capitol Hill to cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Brownback, a favorite of Christian conservatives for his views on same-sex marriage and abortion. The vote was along party lines, 50-49, underscoring the narrow margin Republicans hold. Pence’s vote also was needed earlier in the day to get Brownback’s nomination over a procedural hurdle.

Brownback also would leave a Kansas legacy of far tougher restrictions on abortion and fewer limits on gun owners than when he won the first of his two terms in 2010.

He also rejected expanding the Medicaid health program for the poor in line with former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law even as several other Republican governors went ahead.

Brownback was an early advocate of U.S. action to stop genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, and visited Congo and Rwanda to decry humanitarian crises and call for better coordination in foreign aid programs.


9. Pope Francis says the first fake news was told in the Bible. 

By Inés San Martín, Crux, January 24, 2018

At a time when “fake news” is spreading, Pope Francis is calling on journalists, “protectors of the news,” to rediscover the dignity of their profession and the responsibility they have to communicate the truth.

The pontiff also said that the first fake news is found in the book of Genesis, when the “crafty serpent” tempted the woman “by pretending to be her friend,” to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

“God’s paternal command, meant for their good, is discredited by the seductive enticement of the enemy,” Francis said. “This biblical episode brings to light an essential element for our reflection: There is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences.”


10. ‘Making fun of Catholic school has been covered’: Why Greta Gerwig wanted something different for ‘Lady Bird’.

By Emily McFarlan Miller, The Washington Post, January 23, 2018, 12:05 PM

Lady Bird” — about a girl in her final year at Catholic high school navigating relationships with boyfriends, friends and her mother — has been nominated for five Academy Awards.

Writer and director Greta Gerwig, who grew up Unitarian Universalist but attended Catholic high school, nabbed a nomination for best director, becoming the fifth woman to be nominated for best director.

You’ve described this movie as a “love letter to Sacramento,” your hometown. But is it also a love letter to Catholic schools?

Definitely. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I loved Catholic high school, and I loved my Catholic high school, St. Francis.

I was actually very different than Lady Bird. I wasn’t a rebel. I never made anybody call me by a different name or dyed my hair bright red. I never challenged authority. I was a very rule-following kid. But I encountered so many adults there who really impacted my life so positively. There were priests and nuns who were just compassionate and funny and empathetic and thoughtful, and they really engaged with the students as people, not figureheads. And that was also true of the lay people who were teachers — theology teachers or choir teachers and all these different parts of the school.

I felt, as a moviegoer, kind of making fun of Catholic school has been covered. There’s lots of movies that have this idea of making it into kind of a joke, and I wanted to do something that reflected more like the genuine guidance and interest and compassion I found in those people, and I didn’t want it to feel like they were just a nun with a ruler or something.