1. Ailing pope, reducing appearances, prays for homeless dead, By Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press, January 24, 2021
Ailing Pope Francis, who this week is making limited public appearances due to persistent pain, has drawn attention to the plight of homeless people in winter, including a Nigerian man who froze to death near the Vatican.
Francis on Sunday asked for prayers for the 46-year-old man named Edwin who he said was “ignored by all, abandoned, even by us.” The pontiff said on Jan. 20 “a few meters away from St. Peter’s Square, because of the cold, a Nigerian homeless man was found dead.” Early last week, temperatures in Rome dropped below freezing at night.
A day after the Vatican said that Francis, 84, was suffering again from sciatica, a nerve inflammation that can affect the lower back and legs, the pope skipped a scheduled Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. But he appeared in the Apostolic Palace library to give his blessing and offer remarks about the Gospel and about the plight of those with no home.
2. California’s ban on indoor worship upheld by appeals court, By Associated Press, January 24, 2021
A federal appeals court has denied a Southern California church’s request to overturn the state’s coronavirus restrictions barring worship services indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a newspaper report Saturday.
The Sacramento Bee said Friday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals leaves the door open for addressing Gov. Gavin Newsom administration’s limits on church attendance if a California county is in a less-restrictive COVID-19 tier.
A three-judge panel ruled against South Bay United Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista over public health orders that restrict religious services from being held inside while virus case rates and hospitalizations remain high.
3. Joe Biden’s Catholic Moment, By Ross Douthat, The New York Times, January 24, 2021, Pg. SR11
Now we have Biden. Many emergent forces are changing liberalism’s relationship to religion — wokeness, secularization, even paganism. But the new president personally embodies none of them. Instead he has elevated his own liberal Catholicism to the center of our national life.

A decade ago it was a commonplace to regard liberal Catholicism as a tradition in decline. Its period of maximal influence, the late 1960s and 1970s, had been an era of institutional crisis for the church, which gave way to the conservative pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Conservative Catholics felt that liberal ideas had been tried and failed, liberal Catholics felt that they had been suppressed.
But then Francis gave the liberal tendency new life, reopening controversies that conservatives assumed were closed and tilting the Vatican toward cooperation with the liberal establishment and away from associations with conservatism.

On the other hand, liberal Catholicism sometimes achieves its feeling of universality by simply claiming for itself the whole Catholic-influenced world — sure, he’s no longer a practicing Catholic, but did you know that Dr. Anthony Fauci was educated by Jesuits? — without regard to whether that influence actually amounts to much more than a vague spirituality, a generic humanitarianism.
Which means that the liberal Catholic worldview is constantly in danger of simply being subsumed into political liberalism, with all religious distinctives shorn away — as Joe Biden’s past pro-life positions have now been entirely subsumed, for instance, by his party’s orthodoxy on abortion. Or alternatively, it’s in danger of being effectively taken over from within by rival forms of faith, like the new progressive orthodoxies that are likely to set our Catholic president’s agenda on the social questions of the day.
4. Liberal Christianity Ascends With Biden’s Faith, By Elizabeth Dias, The New York Times, January 24, 2021, Pg. A13, Opinion
Mr. Biden, perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century, regularly attends Mass and speaks of how his Catholic faith grounds his life and his policies.
And with Mr. Biden, a different, more liberal Christianity is ascendant: less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality.

Mr. Biden’s support for abortion rights is already causing tension in the Catholic church. Even before the inaugural ceremony had finished, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued an extensive statement criticizing Mr. Biden for policies “that would advance moral evils,” especially “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”
5. Vatican urges equal access to vaccines amid production delay, By Elise Ann Allen, Crux, January 24, 2021
As vaccine distribution plans slow down throughout the North America and Europe due to delays in production, the Vatican has called for equitable disbursement, urging wealthy countries to refrain from buying up all the doses, leaving none for poorer nations struggling to contain their own outbreaks.
In a Jan. 22 statement signed by the Pontifical Academy for Life’s president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and chancellor, Monsignor Renzo Pegoraro, they said that “Faced with the very serious problems that are arising in relation to the production and distribution of the vaccine for COVID-19,” the academy “strongly reaffirms the urgency of identifying suitable systems for transparency and collaboration.”
“There is too much antagonism and competition and the risk of severe injustices,” they said.
6. Latest papal health scare doesn’t mean the end, but it may mean change, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 24, 2021, Opinion
At least so far, media outlets and online chatter appear to be reacting to the Vatican’s latest announcement that Pope Francis has had to pull out of public events with admirable (and, frankly, atypical) calm.

Sciatica is not life-threatening, it doesn’t shorten the lifespan, and it doesn’t pose the risk of either physical or mental incapacity. That’s not to say it’s trivial – as Francis himself said talking about it in 2013, “I don’t wish it on anyone!” – but it’s not the sort of thing that raises questions about the pope’s ability to govern.
That said, the fact that these spikes in sciatica may be occurring with greater frequency could have implications going forward not for whether Francis can lead, but how.
To take a small example, many adults with sciatica find that their pain tends to be worse in the morning after spending several hours stationary in bed. The Vatican may be forced to tweak the pope’s schedule, shifting some events usually held in the mornings to the afternoon and early evening to allow Francis to be more at ease.
In addition, one trigger for sciatica pain often is remaining stationary in one position for too long, whether it’s standing or sitting. That could mean that Francis increasingly won’t lead major liturgies or events that take a long time, delegating those tasks to others.

Moreover, not only does sciatica not impair the pope’s ability to govern, there’s a sense in which it may actually help. Many observers believe that the pace of financial reform in the Vatican, for example, accelerated through the second half of 2020 to some degree because, without trips or the usual stream of visiting dignitaries, Francis simply had more time to focus on internal administration.
7. Despite question marks, Vatican bank verdict is still a watershed, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 23, 2021, Opinion
We’ve been down this road before, of course, but nevertheless we witnessed what’s being hailed as a landmark moment this week for financial reform in the Vatican when a longtime former president of the Vatican Bank, along with the bank’s lawyer, were sentenced to eight years and 11 months in jail for their roles in a $70 million fraud.
The lawyer’s son, who was also charged in the scheme, got five years and two months.

This is not only the first time that such a senior Vatican official has been convicted of financial crimes, it’s also the first time such a prosecution has been entirely the Vatican’s initiative. In the handful of cases in the past when the Vatican has prosecuted someone for such an offense, the case actually began as an Italian civil investigation or was reported by outside parties, with the Vatican more or less forced to react.
In this instance, however, from the initial report to the verdict, this was a Vatican undertaking, suggesting that the reforms of the Vatican bank launched under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and amplified under Pope Francis have taken hold.
In other words, this looks like a good news story vis-à-vis reform, right? Well, hold on.
First of all, despite headlines claiming, “Vatican official given eight-year sentence for fraud scheme,” which makes it sound as if Caloia was headed to jail immediately after the verdict was proclaimed, it’s not so.
In the Vatican’s system of criminal justice, which is based largely on Italy’s, a sentence isn’t actually imposed until the defendant has exhausted his or her appeals. There are two levels of appeal in the Vatican, and sometimes the hearings necessary to reach a verdict can drag on for years.
Caiola right now is 81, while the elder Liuzzo is 97. Their ages, combined with the procedural complexities, render it fairly unlikely that either man will ever see the inside of a jail cell. Caloia’s lawyers say they’ve already filed his appeal.

In other words, this isn’t so much accountability for the present as for the past. It’s not the same as if somebody as high up as Caloia were convicted for, say, the London real estate scandal that’s still unfolding on Pope Francis’s own watch.
Nonetheless, the truth is that few victories or defeats are ever truly complete. Whatever the question marks may be, the Caloia conviction represents a warning to anyone in power today that however long it takes, they can never be sure a knock on the door won’t come someday if they put their hands in the cookie jar.
8. Biden pledge to codify Roe v Wade ‘disturbing’ and ‘tragic,’ bishops say, By John Lavenburg, Crux, January 23, 2021
The U.S. bishops’ conference pro-life chairman has called President Joe Biden’s intent to codify Roe v. Wade “deeply disturbing and tragic,” in response to a statement made by the second-ever Catholic president on Friday.
The statement from the White House – signed by both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris – was made Friday for the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case, which made abortion legal.
“It is deeply disturbing and tragic that any President would praise and commit to codifying a Supreme Court ruling that denies unborn children their most basic human and civil right, the right to life under the euphemistic disguise of a health service,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas said in a statement.
9. The Challenge of Unity, Sustained and driven by our own faith and convictions, the Catholic faithful of America should now collectively gather alongside Archbishop Gomez in striving for national unity and reconciliation — and in reminding our new president that these laudable goals are attainable only if he is willing to moderate his own political extremism in the crucial areas of life, sexuality and religious liberty, By National Catholic Register, January 23, 2021, Editorial
The most fundamental challenge, however, will be how Biden plans to achieve this much-needed unity.

Certainly too many hearts have been hardened — on both sides of the political divide in the U.S. — by the outcome of the closely contested presidential election and the rancor generated throughout society over the past year by the unanticipated coronavirus pandemic and the protests for racial justice triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis policemen. Many Americans look now to President Biden to put his words into action and question how he might work to soften hearts and renew souls.

Yet there are some critical areas where President Biden’s commitment to love of neighbor and the common good seems profoundly deficient, most notably in the area of abortion.

Biden’s commitments in the areas of contraception, marriage and gender identity similarly violate the common good, and if pursued necessarily will transgress against the religious liberty of Catholics and other believers whose faith upholds the sanctity of human life and the immutable truths of human sexuality.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles was compelled to draw attention to these shortcomings, in the statement he released on Inauguration Day in his capacity as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Sustained and driven by our own faith and convictions, the Catholic faithful of America should now collectively gather alongside Archbishop Gomez in striving for national unity and reconciliation — and in reminding our new president that these laudable goals are attainable only if he is willing to moderate his own political extremism in the crucial areas of life, sexuality and religious liberty.
10. Will The Catholic Church Pass the Joe Biden Test?, The U.S. bishops’ collaboration with the new administration on areas of common ground cannot be accompanied by actions that spread confusion over Catholic teaching in other areas., By Tim Busch, National Catholic Register, January 22, 2021, Opinion
How will the Catholic hierarchy treat a president who rejects aspects of Catholic moral teaching?
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is striving to provide the answer. In the wake of the election, Archbishop José Gomez, the USCCB’s president, stated that Biden’s policy positions create a “difficult and complex situation.” While professing to be Catholic, Biden has pledged to advance distinctly un-Catholic policies on religious freedom, human sexuality and abortion, including pledging to make Roe v. Wade“the law of the land.” Archbishop Gomez subsequently established a special working group of bishops tasked with coordinating the Church’s interaction with — and stance toward — Biden and his administration.
Yet the hope of coordination is already fading.
On Inauguration Day, the USCCB issued a strong statement expressing hope that Biden reverses his immoral plans to expand abortion. Shockingly, one of the bishops’ conference’s own members, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, responded by condemning the statement and not Biden’s policy positions. This sends a message of confusion and contradiction on a clear moral issue.
This incident comes on the heels of another one. In late November, mere days after the working group’s creation and shortly before his elevation to cardinal, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., waded into one of the most charged parts of the discussion.
Speaking with a reporter, Cardinal Gregory declared that he would allow Biden to receive Holy Communion. The cardinal’s words send a strong message of confusion to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. They give the appearance that, at least in Washington, Biden’s rejection of Catholic teaching is acceptable and undeserving of rebuke. Yet that is not what the Catholic Church teaches.

The Catholic Church lays claim to truth, but when push comes to shove, will it defend that truth?  If it doesn’t Catholics lose confidence in the integrity of the Church’s teaching; non-Catholics get the sense that the Church stands for nothing.
Tim Busch is the founder of the Busch Firm in Irvine, California, and founder of the Napa Institute, a Catholic lay organization.
11. In a first for Spain, Jesuits admit to decades of sex abuse, By Aritz Parra and Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 22, 2021, 11:56 AM
The first comprehensive internal inquiry on sex abuse allegations by a religious order in Spain has identified 81 children and 37 adult victims of 96 Jesuits since the late 1920s, a much higher number than the cases that had so far been publicly known.
Associations of victims are welcoming the disclosure, but they see it falling short since the names of perpetrators or those who covered up the abuses weren’t disclosed. They also want the Jesuits’ inquiry to lead to proper criminal cases against the few abusers that are still alive and a detailed plan to compensate their victims.
12. Kentucky governor allows ‘born-alive’ bill to become law, By Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press, January 22, 2021, 5:01 PM
A bill meant to preserve the lives of newborns, including any infant born after a failed abortion, cleared a final hurdle when Kentucky’s governor allowed it to become law without his signature.
The measure’s lead Republican sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, said Friday he was grateful that Gov. Andy Beshear didn’t veto it. But he was disappointed the Democratic governor chose not to sign it.
13. Honduras seeks to lock in constitutional ban on abortion, By Associated Press, January 22, 2021, 5:33 PM
Honduran lawmakers are moving to lock in the country’s ban on abortions by making it explicit in the constitution.
The charter already states that “those who are yet to be born will be considered born, for the purposes of the law.” An amendment adopted Thursday by a large majority in the congress adds that an abortion “by the mother or any other third party” is prohibited.
Further, legislators want to make it difficult to end the ban. The amendment adds that the article could be changed only by a three-quarters majority of the congress, and decrees that “any laws passed subsequently that contradict this article will be null and void.”
14. Archbishop José Gomez: A Profile In Episcopal Courage, By George Weigel, First Things, January 21, 2021, Opinion
During their annual meeting in November of last year, a critical mass of the Catholic bishops of the United States recognized that Joe Biden’s election to the presidency had brought the Church to a critical point.

The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, decided to appoint a Working Group on Engaging the New Administration, which would propose a plan of action in light of this unprecedented challenge to the Church’s sacramental and moral coherence. The Working Group would be chaired by the USCCB vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit; its bishop-members would include the chairmen of the relevant USCCB standing committees; and it would make its recommendations to conference president Gomez as soon as possible.
In two meetings the Working Group quickly reached consensus and formulated their recommendations to Archbishop Gomez. As Gomez later reported to the bishops, the Working Group proposed two initiatives. The first would be a letter to the new president from Archbishop Gomez, writing as a pastor. The letter would promise support for the new administration in areas of agreement. It would also identify administration policies, including abortion, that the bishops believed violated human dignity, and it would urge the new president to reassess his positions on these questions. The second initiative proposed by the Working Group was the development of a conference statement on the Church’s eucharistic coherence.
The latter remains to be developed—and will be—but Archbishop Gomez agreed with the Working Group’s recommendation that an approach to the new president be made as soon as possible. Rather than a letter, Gomez opted to issue a public statement on the day of Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
The day before the inauguration, however, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark put intense pressure on Archbishop Gomez to make no statement, as did the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Archbishop Gomez resisted those pressures and planned to release his statement at 9 a.m. on Inauguration Day, three hours before the new president was sworn into office. Then the Secretariat of State of the Holy See intervened, demanding that the statement’s release be delayed. The charitable interpretation of this unprecedented interference in the proposed action of a national conference of bishops is that it reflected a Vatican concern that the first Catholic statement on the new president come from the pope himself (as it did shortly after noon on January 20, in an anodyne message of congratulations). It might also be speculated, not unreasonably, that representations were made to the Vatican, and perhaps to Pope Francis himself, by some of those who had tried to badger Archbishop Gomez into silence.

By any reasonable standard, Archbishop Gomez’s statement was balanced and measured; absent the controversy that erupted before and after its release, some would likely have argued that it was too balanced and too measured. The controversy, however, underscored the statement’s firm, clear, and unambiguous stance on the “preeminent priority” of the life issues—and thus heightened the impact of those parts of the statement that the dissident cardinals may have found so objectionable that they tried to quash the entire document.
Later on Inauguration Day, Cardinal Cupich issued a statement, followed by a series of tweets, deploring Archbishop Gomez’s statement as “ill-considered,” a “surprise to many bishops,” and the result of “internal institutional failures” on the part of the USCCB. Whether these harsh judgments reflect opinion in Rome as well as Chicago is not clear. In any case, they do not bear careful scrutiny.

The suggestion that Archbishop Gomez was somehow acting independently of the bishops’ conference and thus in an irresponsible way is itself unfair and irresponsible. The archbishop’s statement was crafted in response to the recommendations of the Working Group he had appointed in November.

In his often-moving inaugural address, President Biden called us to “end this civil war that pits red against blue” and declared his belief that “we can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” I doubt that Archbishop José Gomez was given an advance copy of the president’s address. But, providentially, his statement on Inauguration Day was a pastor’s invitation to President Biden to do just that: to open his soul to the fullness of Catholic truth. The archbishop deserves great credit for having the courage to do that, as do the many, many cardinals and bishops who supported him—and who will continue to work to turn this inflection point into a moment of evangelical Catholic renewal, irrespective of the costs.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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.
Subscribe to the TCA podcast!

“Conversations with Consequences” is a new audio program from The Catholic Association. We’ll bring you thoughtful dialogue with the leading thinkers of our time on the most consequential issues of our day. Subscribe today or listen online and enjoy our entertaining and informative weekly episodes.