1. Senate to take initial vote on bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks.

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, January 26, 2018, Pg. A2

The Senate will take an initial vote Monday on legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which pro-life activists say the unborn can feel pain and increasingly survive outside of the womb.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, lead sponsor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, said the United States should be ashamed to be one of only seven nations, along with China and North Korea, to allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The House passed the 20-week abortion ban in October for the third time in the last five years. The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans don’t have 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster from Senate Democrats, who blocked a similar bill in 2015.

The bill contains exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk.

A Quinnipiac University poll from 2014 found 46 percent of Democrats supported the pain-capable legislation, compared to 47 percent who opposed it. Overall, 60 percent of Americans said they approved of the legislation.


2. Pope, bishops back Venezuelan prelates charged with ‘hate crimes’.

Inés San Martín, Crux, January 26, 2018

Catholic bishops in Venezuela are raising their voices to defend two of their brother prelates, accused by President Nicolas Maduro of promoting hatred in homilies they delivered on the Feast of the Divine Shepherdess, Jan. 14, a popular Marian feast day in the country.

Pope Francis too showed his support, in the form of a private phone call to at least one of the bishops.

A day after the feast, as Maduro was addressing Venezuela’s Constitutional Assembly, he asked the country’s Supreme Court of Justice, Comptroller’s Office and Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate both the Archbishop of Barquisimeto, Antonio López Castillo, and the Bishop of San Felipe, Víctor Hugo Basabe, for “hate crimes.”

In their homilies, made available by the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference on Facebook, the prelates demanded an end to both hunger and corruption, which have plagued the country in recent years.

Through their Facebook page, the bishops’ conference of Venezuela shared close to 20 messages of support for the two accused bishops, coming from many Catholic actors.

Among them was Cardinal Baltazar Porras Cadozo of Merida, Venezuela, who was created a cardinal by Francis.

The president of the conference also released a statement, promising the bishops the support of Venezuela’s “pilgrim church” against any action that puts their lives or freedom of thought and action at risk.

The conference of Latin American bishops, CELAM, also sent a message of support, using a passage from the Gospel of Matthew as a headline: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”


3. Douthat, Ivereigh spar in Dallas over legacy of the Francis papacy.

By Christopher White, Crux, January 26, 2018

“The Papacy in the 21st Century: Where Are We, and Where Are We Going?” was organized by the University of Dallas as a part of their annual McDermott Lecture Series, and co-sponsored by DeSales Media of the Diocese of Brooklyn, in an effort to welcome civil, high-level conversation on the significance of this pontificate.

Ivereigh, who authored a 2015 biography of Francis, The Great Reformer, made a case for a “hermeneutic of continuity,” maintaining that “the Francis papacy builds very beautifully on Benedict’s papacy, and so much of what Francis is doing was foreseen, anticipated, and enabled by Pope Benedict.”

In response to the increasing tides of secularization, the Church had grown “distant, dogmatic, more interested in itself than humanity,” argued Ivereigh, taking “refuge in ethics,” rather than discipleship.

“We were converting our faith into an ideology, and what people knew about us was what we’re against,” Ivereigh said.

He went on to argue that the Francis papacy marks the start of a “global era,” in which the experience of the Latin American Church aims to change that narrative.

Douthat – whose opening remarks came in response to Ivereigh after losing a coin toss via a phone app – agreed that following the post-Vatican II years, there was a “very real opportunity in the ongoing crisis of the west for the Church….to offer to the world a different kind of center” that rejected both neo-liberalism, populism, and other various movements.

Yet, as he has argued in his columns in the New York Times and in a forthcoming book To Change the Church, Douthat urged caution over what he described as a “Catholic swing toward a more Anglican model of communion,” in the Francis era, which, in his view, has also reopened a host of other connected theological questions.

“I think his [Francis’s] at times carelessness and dismissiveness around doctrine and doctrinal continuity – doctrinal continuity that goes all the way back to the person of Jesus Christ…has led to a situation where the Church is lurching in certain ways to not literal, but a kind of de facto, schism on certain issues,” Douthat warned.


4. As Doctors Drop Opposition, Aid-In-Dying Advocates Target Next Battleground States.

By Melissa Bailey, Kaiser Health News, January 26, 2018, 5:15 AM

When the end draws near, Dr. Roger Kligler, a retired physician with incurable, metastatic prostate cancer, wants the option to use a lethal prescription to die peacefully in his sleep. As he fights for the legal right to do that, an influential doctors group in Massachusetts has agreed to stop trying to block the way.

Efforts to expand the practice, which is legal in six states and Washington, D.C., have met with powerful resistance from religious groups, disability advocates and the medical establishment.

But in Massachusetts and other states, doctors groups are dropping their opposition — a move that advocates and opponents agree helps pave the way to legalization of physician-assisted death.

The American Medical Association, the dominant voice for doctors nationwide, opposes allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medications at a patient’s request, calling it “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.”

But in December, the Massachusetts Medical Society became the 10th chapter of the AMA to drop its opposition and take a neutral stance on medical aid in dying.

The shifts come as doctors’ views evolve: Fifty-seven percent of U.S. doctors supported medical aid in dying in a 2016 Medscape survey, up from 46 percent in 2010.

Because of the medical society’s vote, Massachusetts is the state most likely to legalize medical aid in dying this year, predicted David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, a national group of 19,000 health professionals that has opposed such laws in every state.

Catholic groups provided much of the $5.5 million that opponents spent to defeat Massachusetts’ ballot referendum in 2012, outspending proponents by nearly 5-to-1.

The Boston Archdiocese did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. But at the time the referendum failed, a spokesman said the church could not afford to lose on this issue in a Catholic stronghold: “If it passes in Massachusetts,” the spokesman said, “it’s a gateway to the rest of the country.”


5. The challenges facing Sam Brownback, the next U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom.

By Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post, January 25, 2018, 12:09 PM

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback will be the next U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, after the Senate confirmed his nomination Wednesday on a close partisan vote.

His charge as the religious freedom ambassador, a position created 20 years ago by an act of Congress, is to confront the persecution of believers of many faiths, in a wide array of countries all over the world.

Human rights violations in China. Kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Religious law in Saudi Arabia. Persecution of Muslims in Burma, Christians in Pakistan, and Bahais in Iran. And the list goes on.

At home, the ambassador is supposed to raise concerns within the State Department about religious persecution in countries that the United States deals with.


Frank Wolf, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who helped enact the legislation 20 years ago that created this ambassadorship, turned to another aspect of Brownback’s long résumé in government to defend his nomination.

Wolf said that when the two of them served in Congress together, Brownback, who converted to Catholicism and also attends an evangelical church, stood out for his interest in issues of religion. “He was very much involved in human rights and religious freedom. He was always out in front. He and I were the first two members to go to Darfur during the genocide. He came back and he led the effort truly to declare what was happening there,” Wolf said.

Wolf, like several people who work on global religious freedom, named the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma as one of the first priorities for Brownback in the new job.


6. German bishops reject pope suggestion to tweak Lord’s Prayer.

By Associated Press, January 25, 2018

Roman Catholic bishops in Germany say they’ve debated Pope Francis’ suggestion to tweak the translation of the Lord’s Prayer, but will leave it unchanged.

France recently changed its translation of “lead us not into temptation” to “don’t let me fall into temptation,” which Francis has suggested was better.

The German Bishops’ Conference said Thursday there were strong “philosophical, exegetical, liturgical and, not least, ecumenical” reasons to leave it unchanged.


7. Pope Francis’ blind spot on sexual abuse.

By Thomas Reese, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2018

The overwhelming consensus in the media is that Pope Francis has a blind spot when it comes to sexual abuse.

He may be on the side of refugees, migrants, the sick, the poor, the indigenous and other marginalized peoples, but he just doesn’t get it when it comes to victims of abuse.

The evidence for this assertion is the pope’s unwavering support for Juan Barros, whom he appointed bishop of Osorno, Chile, despite accusations from victims that he witnessed and covered up abuse by the Fr. Fernando Karadima, the charismatic priest who in 2011 was found guilty by the Vatican of abusing minors in his upscale Santiago parish.

One of the few journalists to come to Francis’ defense is Austen Ivereigh, contributing editor at Crux and author of one of the best biographies of Francis.

“Victimhood doesn’t just elicit sympathy,” he writes, “it lends credibility, and confers moral authority. So, despite the fact that the bishops consistently and firmly deny that they witnessed Karadima’s abuse (and, in the case of Barros, that he ever received a letter detailing that abuse while serving as secretary to Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno of Santiago), and despite no verified evidence in any civil or canonical case so far that the bishops are lying, the charges against them have stuck in the media.”

“There are plenty of other questions to be asked about the victims’ case,” he concludes, “but few dare to do so for fear of being accused of ‘revictimizing’ them.”

I would argue that both Barros and the victims deserve their day in court, both in civil court and in ecclesiastical court.

The status quo is not working. Pope Francis needs to make dramatic changes in the way in which the Vatican investigates crimes, especially those by bishops.


8. Sex abuse prevention to feature at Vatican’s family meeting.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 25, 2018, 1:29 PM

The Vatican’s upcoming conference on families in Ireland will feature a seminar on child protection, after the church’s sex abuse scandal devastated the credibility of the Catholic Church in the country.

Pope Francis’ top adviser on protecting children from pedophiles, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, will head the seminar and survivors are expected to participate, said Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s laity and family office.

He told a Vatican press conference that details would be announced later this month.