1. Pope to bishops: Maintain ‘zero tolerance’ for child abuse, By Frances D’Emilio, The Associated Press, January 2, 2017, 2:08 PM.

Pope Francis has exhorted Catholic bishops worldwide to do what’s needed to ensure children are protected from sexual abuse by clergy.

The Vatican on Monday released the text of a Dec. 28 letter Francis sent to bishops about injustices to children. They included slave labor, malnutrition, lack of education and sexual exploitation, including abuse by priests.

Expressing the church’s regret, and begging forgiveness, the pope denounced the “sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power.”

Francis also asked bishops for “complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst.”

“Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated,” the pope said. “In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to ‘zero tolerance.’”


2. Can Pope Francis’s legacy be rolled back? Well, yes and no, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 2, 2017.

Whatever the span turns out to be, we really don’t have to wait  to tackle the question being asked by the bergoglisti, which is whether Francis’s legacy can be “rolled back.” For anyone familiar with a little bit of Church history, the obvious answer is “yes and no.”

The “yes” part is easy.

Certainly, a new pope can bring a different outlook and sense of priorities, which may in some ways represent a break with his predecessor. Those cheering Francis most loudly today, in fact, often do so precisely because they believe he’s a change from the direction set under John Paul II and Benedict.

Here, however, is the “no” part: Catholicism isn’t a zero/sum tradition, in which veering in one direction for a while means repealing what came before.

Today, for instance, many Catholic progressives feel that Francis is recovering parts of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which they regard as having been delayed or interpreted away for several decades.

Yet even if that’s true (and many would argue it’s not), the reason Francis has something to recover in the first place is because Vatican II was still there, still part of the Church’s memory and experience.

No, Francis’s papacy is not going to unhappen. People inspired by him are not going to disappear, and his example will continue to be a point of reference long after he’s gone, just as with countless other popes, movements, saints, thinkers, and so on. Their influence may wax and wane, but it’s perpetually open to being revived and reapplied.

In sum: You can’t unring the bell in the Church, but you can add some other bells to the mix. Over time, the collection of all these different impulses generally produces something in Catholicism resembling balance.

Given that, the meaningful question instead is how we’ll see Francis’s legacy once it’s fully formed – and, of course, which new bells the cardinals who will assemble one day in the Sistine Chapel decide to ring.


3. EEOC settles religious accommodation case, over exemption for hospital workers from flu shot requirement, By Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post blog: The Volokh Conspiracy, January 2, 2017, 10:00 AM, Opinion.

From an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission news release about an interesting religious accommodation claim:

“Saint Vincent Health Center will pay $300,000 constituting back pay and compensatory damages to a class of six aggrieved former employees and provide substantial injunctive relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ….

In its lawsuit, EEOC alleged that in October 2013, Saint Vincent Health Center … implemented a mandatory seasonal flu vaccination requirement for its employees unless they were granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Under the policy, employees who received an exemption were required to wear a face mask while having patient contact during flu season in lieu of receiving the vaccination. Employees who refused the vaccine but were not granted an exemption by the Health Center were fired, according to EEOC’s lawsuit.

From October 2013 to January 2014, EEOC alleged, the six employees identified in its complaint requested religious exemptions from the Health Center’s flu vaccination requirement based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and the Health Center denied their requests. When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, the Health Center fired them. According to EEOC’s lawsuit, during this same period, the Health Center granted fourteen … vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons while denying all religion-based exemption requests.”

The settlement provided that, “if the Health Center chooses to require employee influenza vaccination as a condition of employment, it must grant exemptions from that requirement to all employees with sincerely held religious beliefs who request exemption from the vaccination on religious grounds unless such exemption poses an undue hardship on the Health Center’s operations.” And it also provided that the health center could not require that exemption requests be certified by clergy members. Title VII, the EEOC reasoned, “forbids employers from rejecting accommodation requests based on their disagreement with an employee’s belief; their opinion that the belief is unfounded, illogical, or inconsistent in some way; or their conclusion that an employee’s belief is not an official tenet or endorsed teaching of any particular religion or denomination.”

The EEOC is quite right in concluding that an employer can’t require a note from your minister as a condition of an exemption; people with sincere religious beliefs need to be treated equally, regardless of whether their beliefs are shared by their church hierarchy. Whether the EEOC is right that the employer can grant the exemption without “undue hardship” to itself, or to its other employees or patients, is a factual question, and one that won’t be resolved in court, given the settlement; but the general framework that the EEOC is using here is indeed the one that Title VII’s religious accommodation requirements call for. Whether those are good requirements is a separate question, which I’m happy to leave to readers.


4. Silence: Scorsese’s Spiritual Masterpiece, By William Doino Jr., First Things, January 2, 2017.

It has taken almost thirty years for Martin Scorsese to film Silence, Shūsaku Endō’s novel about Catholic missionaries in feudal Japan. But the director’s patience has paid off, for Silence is as well-crafted a movie as any he has made, and may well be his masterpiece.

Beautifully filmed and acted, Silence is as powerful as it is ambitious. Like the novel, it explores the nature and inscrutability of God; the passion of missionary endeavor; the depths of faith and despair; martyrdom and apostasy; sin and redemption; mercy and intolerance; and the clash of civilizations.

Silence brings to the screen the story of the brutal persecution of Christian missionaries and converts in seventeenth-century Japan. Endo was himself a Japanese Catholic convert, and cared deeply about the history of his people. Scorsese—who was raised Catholic and once aspired to become a missionary—yearned to tell their story. His film does full justice to Endō’s novel, and will likely surpass its cultural impact.


5. Pope: 2017 will be good if people do good; decries terrorism, By Frances D’Emilio, The Associated Press, January 1, 2017.

Pope Francis in his New Year’s greetings Sunday declared 2017 will be good to the degree that people do good and reject hatred, as he prayed for those courageously dealing with terrorism gripping the world in “fear and bewilderment.”

“The new year will be good in the measure in which each of us, with the help of God, tries to do good, day by day, that’s how peace is created,” Francis told a crowd of 50,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his noon blessing and New Year’s Day remarks.

“Unfortunately, violence has struck even on this night of well-wishes and hope,” he said, referring to the attack on an Istanbul nightclub filled with New Year’s revelers early Sunday that left 39 dead and dozens wounded.

“In sorrow, I express my closeness to the Turkish people, I pray for the numerous victims and wounded, and for all the nation in mourning,” Francis said.

He then prayed that God will sustain “all men of goodwill who courageously roll up their sleeves to deal with the plague of terrorism and this bloodstain which is gripping the world in a shadow of fear and bewilderment.”

Earlier, during his homily during New Year’s Day Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis lamented “narcissist hearts” in societies becoming “cold and calculating.”


6. ‘Church Militant’ Theology Is Put to New, and Politicized, Use, By Samuel G. Freedman, The New York Times, December 31, 2016, Pg. A12.

As the Trump administration prepares to take office, the use of Church Militant theology has gone well beyond its religious meaning and has taken on a political resonance. To fully grasp what “church militant” means in this highly politicized atmosphere, it helps to examine the broader movement and the role of a traditionalist Catholic website called — to no surprise — ChurchMilitant.com.

Michael Voris, the senior executive producer of ChurchMilitant.com, said the website’s positions were a righteous defense of patriotism and morality on behalf of people who believe those virtues have been attacked by liberals, secularists and global elites.

The term has roots in the early centuries of the church, when the Catholic community — living and dead — was envisioned as having three parts. These were later called the Church Triumphant (composed of those in heaven), the Church Suffering or Church Penitent (those in purgatory) and the Church Militant (those on earth).

“When you heard the expression ‘the Church Militant,’ it didn’t bring to mind a call to arms or some kind of mobilized, militant action in the way we understand the term now,” said John C. Cavadini, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. “A lot of the struggle of the Church Militant is against interior temptations that lead you to greed and all kinds of spiritual pathologies. And it’s about engaging in acts of mercy. Part of the victory of the Church Militant is the victory of love. It didn’t have the triumphalist and militarized connotation that’s been attached to it now.”

While some of the core issues for ChurchMilitant.com are staples of traditionalist Catholics — advocating the Latin Mass, for instance — others map neatly onto the secular political landscape. And they do so in a highly strident way.

ChurchMilitant.com, for example, has dismissed climate change as a hoax. It likened the Black Lives Matter movement to “the new fascism.” Hillary Clinton, whom it routinely calls “Killary,” was “Satan’s mop for wiping up the last remaining resistance to him in America.” Mr. Voris has described social-welfare programs as a system in which “half the people of America” pay no taxes and “get things handed to them.”


7. Federal judge issues injunction against Obama administration abortion, transgender regulations, By David Weigel, Washington Post, December 31, 2016.

A federal judge in Texas handed a victory to conservatives Saturday, issuing a temporary injunction to stop an Obama administration regulation that would prevent discrimination in health care on the basis of “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy.”

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas by President George W. Bush, sided with conservative plaintiffs who argued that the administration’s rule violated religious freedom. In his opinion, first published by BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner, O’Connor argued that the conservatives had shown that the ruling would harm them, and that the administration lacked a basis for its definition of gender identity.

As they prepare for a busy 2017 legislative push, congressional Republicans have criticized the Obama administration’s flurry of final-year regulations and drafted legislation to undo some of it. It was unclear on Saturday evening how the Obama administration would respond to the injunction, which was O’Connor’s second ruling against the administration on gender identity.

While the Affordable Care Act did not include expansive language about gender identity, the administration has, since 2013, issued a series of rulings making it easier for transgender Americans to use government services in accordance with that identity.


8. Pope urges the faithful to help youth find purpose, By The Associated Press, December 31, 2016.

Pope Francis strolled through St. Peter’s Square Saturday evening during the last frigid hours of 2016, exchanging New Year’s Eve greetings with the faithful.

During the evening prayers, the pope called on the faithful to help young people find purpose in the world, noting the paradox of “a culture that idolizes youth” and yet has made no place for the young.

“We have condemned our young people to have no place in society, because we have slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future,” Francis said.

More than responsibility, the pope said the world owed young people “a debt” because they have been deprived of “dignified and genuine work” that would allow them to take part in society, instead condemning them “to knock on doors that for the most part remain closed.”


9. At close of 2016, Pope says selfishness should be a thing of the past, By Elise Harris, Catholic News Agency, December 31, 2016, 10:15 AM.

During a prayer service for the close of 2016, Pope Francis said the arrival of a new year should serve as an opportunity to toss out attitudes of selfishness and exclusion, focusing instead on how to imitate God’s closeness to each person through his incarnation.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be naïve. We know that we are tempted in various ways to adopt the logic of privilege that separates, excludes and closes us off, while separating, excluding and closing off the dreams and lives of so many of our brothers and sisters,” the Pope said Dec. 31.

In looking to the infant born in Bethlehem, “we should acknowledge that we need the Lord to enlighten us, because all too often we end up being narrow-minded or prisoners of all-or-nothing attitudes that would force others to conform to our own ideas,” he said.

“We need this light, which helps us learn from our mistakes and failed attempts in order to improve and surpass ourselves,” he said, adding that this light comes from the courageous and humble awareness of the people who repeatedly find the strength “to rise up and start anew.”

Pope Francis spoke to attendees of his annual Dec. 31 Vespers liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which the ancient “Te Deum” hymn is sung to give thanks for the year that is ending. The Eucharist is also exposed for a few minutes of silent adoration at the end of the prayer.

In his homily, he said that what is “so surprising” about God’s plan for salvation is that he accomplishes this “through the smallness and vulnerability of a newborn child.” In Christ, God didn’t take on “a human mask,” but shared completely in our human condition, he said.


10. Debating ‘Amoris Laetitia’: A Look Ahead, By Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Catholic Register, December 30, 2016.

It was officially the Jubilee of Mercy, with its attendant graces. But 2016 was more the “Year of Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). Its ongoing reception may well produce a year ahead of increasing acrimony and division.

The controverted section of Amoris Laetitia is Chapter 8, which deals with the pastoral care of those who are in “irregular” situations, most specifically those Catholics who have been sacramentally married, civilly divorced and now are living in a new conjugal union, either common-law cohabitation or civil marriage. They are living conjugal lives while being validly married to someone else. The traditional pastoral practice of the Church has been that such couples may not receive absolution in the sacrament of confession unless they are willing to cease that conjugal relationship — either by separation, or, if that is considered impossible, by abstaining from conjugal relations. Without at least an intention to do so, there would be lacking the required purpose of amendment, and perhaps even contrition.

Dated for the feast of St. Joseph (March 19) and the anniversary of the installation of Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia was released on April 8. It came very quickly. Despite being the longest papal document ever published in the entire history of the Church, the first draft arrived at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) from the papal household in early December 2015, barely six weeks after the conclusion of the second synod. Given that such post-synodal apostolic exhortations often appear two years after the relevant synod, the rush to get such a long and complex document to press was remarkable. It meant that widespread consultation in the drafting was avoided.

What, then, does Amoris Laetitia say? Pope Francis strongly suggested that what the Church had taught in the past no longer held, but he did not explicitly teach that. Indeed, following the style of the synod’s final report, he did not explicitly mention holy Communion for “irregular” couples at all.

When the Holy Father and others insist that no discrete doctrine was changed in Amoris Laetitia, they are correct. That the Holy Father would like the teaching to change can be reasonably inferred from Amoris Laetitia, but he does not teach that, and reading the pontifical mind is not determinative for establishing a magisterial teaching.

Amoris Laetitia takes a curious editorial approach for a document of unprecedented length. It does not engage forthrightly the controverted issue at hand, but rather avoids a direct discussion. This is evident in the use of footnotes, which are both ambiguous and misleading. Several key footnotes do not in fact support the text where they appear, citing only portions of passages to pervert their plain meaning.

Yet the most astonishing editorial decision of Amoris Laetitia is not the deceptive footnotes that appear, but the encyclical that does not appear. There is not a single reference, in the main text or even in the footnotes, to Veritatis Splendor.

St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical on the foundations of Catholic moral teaching is the principal magisterial document on the moral life since the Council of Trent.

The reason for the startling omission is evident.

While it might be possible to square the general approach of Amoris Laetitia with the specific teaching of Familiaris Consortio (see Buenos Aires guidelines), the approach to the moral life proposed in Amoris Laetitia is at odds with the teaching of Veritatis Splendor.

The drafters of Amoris Laetitia persuaded Pope Francis that it was better to pretend that Veritatis Splendor had never been written. That was a mistake (see the following on the dubia of the four cardinals).

Over the summer, the predictable outcome of deliberate ambiguity came to pass. The German bishops said that those in “irregular” situations could approach the sacraments. The Polish bishops said they couldn’t. The Vatican did not step in to clarify. There seemed to be an effort to leave the whole matter behind.

When official texts are unclear, there is a long-standing practice of submitting questions — dubia — to the competent authority for clarification.

In September, four cardinals submitted five questions (dubia) to the Holy Father, asking him to clarify that the teaching of Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor had not been changed by Amoris Laetitia. Interestingly, only one of the five questions dealt with the former, while four dealt with what Amoris Laetitia refused to deal with, namely Veritatis Splendor. In November, after the Holy Father chose not to answer the dubia, the four cardinals released them publicly, creating a firestorm of attention.

Perhaps most remarkable in the year of Amoris Laetitia are the voices that have gone silent.

The usual voices that one might expect to further explicate the argument of Amoris Laetitia have not done so. The congregations for the faith and for liturgy — most relevant to the doctrinal and sacramental questions involved — have not offered a word in support of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.

The most vigorous support has come from secondary spokesmen who have not been above attacking the motives and good faith of those who oppose the approach of Amoris Laetitia.

To date, the defenders of Amoris Laetitia have not offered arguments as much as undemonstrated assertions and appeals to authority. Without a convincing argument to demonstrate why Amoris Laetitia does not run afoul of Veritatis Splendor, which it prima facie does, attacking those who raise questions remains only a short-term political tactic.

The magisterium is not, over the long term, shaped by such tactics.


11. Critics of ‘Amoris’ need to look at concrete cases: The discussion of Chapter 8 of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ regarding divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be about its application to concrete cases. Yet its critics cannot see this talk as anything but endorsing divorce, and the chasm between those two approaches is real., By Austen Ivereigh, Crux, December 30, 2016.

Astonishingly, some Catholics continue to see the debate over Pope Francis’s document on the family, Amoris Laetita, entirely in abstract terms of whether or not the Church should conform itself to the world in the matter of divorce.

As Burke puts it: “If I’m bound to someone in a marriage and I’m living in a marital way with someone else, in adultery, pastoral care should be directed to helping me free myself from the sin of adultery. It’s no help to me whatsoever and a positive harm to me to tell me, ‘That’s all right, go ahead, and you can live that way and still receive the Sacraments.’”

All of this seems straightforward and compelling  – so much so that huge numbers of quite intelligent Catholics have been persuaded by it – until you realize that not all divorced and remarried people can simply be regarded as adulterers, and that Amoris never issues any kind of sweeping invitation to them to receive the sacraments.

To take an obvious example, a woman abandoned by her abusive husband who remarries to provide for her children might be in the same legal category as the philandering playboy who ditches his wife for a younger model, but no one could claim that both are in the same moral category.

At no point does Amoris say – as Burke puts it – “that’s all right, go ahead, and you can live that way and still receive the Sacraments.” It says that many such cases require an individual discernment because they cannot simply be lumped together as ‘adultery.’

At the heart of Chapter 8 is a very old-fashioned, and Thomist, idea of conscience as a dialogue between the moral norm and the person before God. Amoris quotes Aquinas to the effect that the more we descend into the details of situations, the more general principles will be found to be defective; the law is necessary, in other words, but not sufficient.

The accompaniment that Amoris envisages is, essentially, a formation of conscience in which a person grows in prayer and faith, and the truth about their lives comes to the fore, naked before God’s judgement.

The law remains the law; doctrine is intact. Marriage is for life; divorce is a terrible scourge, a great wrong. But together priest and divorcé take into account attenuating factors or particular circumstances, recognizing that even in an objective situation of sin it’s possible to grow in grace and charity, with the help of the Church.

In other words, we have here two radically divergent approaches: one which seeks to discern and integrate, attentive to the different circumstances, the other which seeks to apply the law uniformly and refuses even to discriminate between different cases, for fear it will lead to conforming to divorce.

One sees with the eyes of mercy, upholding the law and the ideal, yet attentive to individuals; the other is blinded by an obsessive concern for the defense of the law and is simply uninterested in individuals.