1. Pope Francis Struggles to Escape Scandals of 2019: The pope starts new year dogged by crises that complicate his agenda.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2029, 7:00 AM

Pope Francis ended 2019 in embarrassment when he angrily slapped the hand of a woman who had pulled on his own while he was greeting pilgrims on New Year’s Eve. He began 2020 with a public apology for losing his patience and setting a “bad example.”

It was a fitting coda to a year in which the pope addressed one scandal—the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis—only to become embroiled in another, over the Vatican’s murky finances.

During 2019, Pope Francis responded by rolling out high-profile initiatives on combating sexual abuse, beginning with the defrocking of Cardinal McCarrick, the first cardinal to receive such a punishment in modern times.

The new rules for bishops and the lifting of the so-called pontifical secret were “very good moves toward greater accountability and transparency, but it’s the application that matters,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior analyst for Religion News Service and author of “Inside the Vatican.”

Pope Francis found time in 2019 to pursue his outreach to the Muslim world—becoming the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula—and promote his environmental agenda, with a three-week meeting of bishops on the challenges faced by the Amazon region. He also named more cardinals, with his nominees making up more than half of the electors for the first time, increasing the chance that his successor will be someone who shares his priorities.

But the lack of progress in taming financial mismanagement threatens to besmirch Pope Francis’ personal legacy, with potential long-term consequences for the institution, observers say. “If the pope doesn’t get the finances cleaned up, the problem will be left to his successor,” Father Reese said. “And at some point you lose the confidence of Catholic donors.”


2. Pope: Governments must ensure all have access to health care.

By Associated Press, January 3, 2020, 6:25 AM

Pope Francis called on governments Friday to ensure everyone has access to suitable health care.

In an annual papal message reflecting on the needs of ill people, Francis urged health care institutions and government leaders “not to neglect social justice out of preoccupation for financial concerns.”


3. Challenges to faith increase in courts: Believers fight for ‘free exercise’

By Alex Swoyer, The Washington Times, January 3, 2020, Pg. A1

Nowhere is faith more under assault than in the American courtroom, where the tensions inherent in the First Amendment are playing out in new and challenging ways.

What is happening, analysts say, is a testing of the boundaries of the two religion clauses in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

For years, the big questions dealt with the first part, known in legal circles as the establishment clause. Last year’s case over the massive World War I memorial Peace Cross on public parkland in Bladensburg, Maryland, was a classic example.

But the free exercise clause is increasingly getting attention as faith-minded Americans try to use it as a shield against government coercion.

The Christian bakers and florists who say laws prohibiting them from refusing service to same-sex weddings violate their values and trample their free speech rights because their cakes and floral arrangements represent artistic expression.

Mr. McConnell said anti-religious sentiment is bleeding into the Senate, where Democrats have criticized and voted against some of President Trump’s judicial nominees because of their doctrinal Christian beliefs.

“Powerful interests on the left want to shrink freedom of religion until it means freedom to go to church for an hour on Sundays as long as it doesn’t impact the rest of your life,” Mr. McConnell said.

The Supreme Court has a major religious liberty test this term out of Montana, where faith-based schools say the state cannot exclude them from its program of providing tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.


4. Massachusetts bill removing parental consent for abortions faces battle.

By Christopher Vondracek, The Washington Times, January 3, 2020, Pg. A6

Pro-life advocates in Massachusetts are hoping a bill to remove parental consent requirements for minors seeking abortions will remain stalled through the end of the legislative term, but are bracing for a fight if the so-called ROE Act reemerges.

“Massachusetts already has a law in place permitting abortions under pretty liberal circumstances,” James F. Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, told The Washington Times. “We’re not in favor of the current law … but there is no need to make it [abortion] even more accessible.”

The Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access (ROE) would allow the procedure after 24 weeks in order to preserve the health or life of the mother and in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities.


5. Take-Aways from the Pope’s “Great Swat” of New Year’s 2020.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 3, 2020

For those who follow Francis closely, the revelation that an 83-year-old Argentinian male has a temper wasn’t exactly a thunderclap, since we’ve seen it often enough before. Nonetheless, video of the incident went viral and became an internet sensation.

The next day, during his noontime Angelus address, Francis was musing on God’s patience, and then said we all lose our patience sometimes, himself included, apologizing for his “poor example” the previous evening.

What made the situation especially ironic was that Francis dedicated his homily at the New Year’s Day Mass to the issue of violence against women, saying at one point that “by how we treat a woman’s body, we can understand our level of humanity.”

Herewith, three quick take-aways from the “Great Swat” of New Year’s 2020.

PR Panache?

Imagine this scenario: A deep-pocketed Madison Avenue PR firm is posed a challenge. A major public figure is planning to deliver a strong message about violence against women, but in a holiday moment in which attention is likely to be directed elsewhere and to happier subjects. Given the familiarity of the issue and the inopportune timing, on its own that message isn’t likely to generate much media buzz.

What might the PR firm recommend to gin up some interest?

In all honesty, it would be hard to conjure anything more effective than what Francis actually delivered, even if it’s probably not quite the way a Madison Avenue agency would have counseled him to go about it.


Public figures often find themselves apologizing for one thing or another, and often their mea culpas don’t have much effect. They come off as formulaic and insincere, more an exercise in damage control than genuine contrition.

Francis, however, got a fair bit of credit for his insta-apology on New Year’s, seeming gracious and pastoral. The reaction illustrates one of the fixed laws of the universe when it comes to such matters.

To wit: “The effectiveness of an apology varies in direct proportion to whether most people believe you actually have anything to apologize for.”

Honestly, people watching the scene play out probably came away thinking that if anybody needed to apologize, it was the grasping woman rather than the pope.

A Thin Penumbra

In the various TV and radio bits I did about the New Year’s incident, probably the best question I got all night came from a CNN anchor who asked, “Where was Vatican security while all this was happening?”

It’s a great question, since it’s hard to imagine something similar happening to, say, a U.S. president. Secret service agents are trained to study faces in rope lines, to watch for anyone who seems overly clingy or aggressive, and to defuse such situations before they happen.

In general, however, over the course of roughly 25 years of covering popes, I have to say that the security membrane around them on such public occasions is much thinner than those which surround other major world leaders.

In part, that’s because popes think of themselves first and foremost as pastors, and don’t want to separate themselves from ordinary people any more than necessary. In part, too, it’s because popes believe that ultimately their security is in the hands of a much higher power. In part it’s also a cultural difference, because Italians are just generally more relaxed about such things.


6. Why Christians need to ‘let go of winning’

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Catholic Herald, January 2, 2020

Is religious liberty still a bedrock principle of American freedom? Are people of faith today ready to defend what has been called the nation’s first freedom? In Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America, Luke Goodrich has produced a marvellous primer for lawyers and lay men and women who answer unapologetically in the affirmative.

Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is one of the nation’s foremost religious freedom lawyers. Since joining Becket more than a decade ago, he has been part of the legal team that won four landmark religious liberty cases before the US Supreme Court: Little Sisters of the Poor v Burwell, Holt v Hobbs, Burwell v Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC.

With the perspective of a veteran advocate and the faith of a sincere and humble Christian, Goodrich sets forth a theology of religious freedom as revealed in Scripture. He also outlines the unique religious freedom challenges facing the United States, and practical actions that people of goodwill can take amid our society’s cultural-religious conflicts.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal adviser for The Catholic Association Foundation and co-host of the podcast Conversations with Consequences


7. NY governor says he’ll try again to legalize paid surrogacy; plan opposed by bishops.

By Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press, January 2, 2020

Prospective parents in New York could enter into paid surrogacy contracts under a proposal that the governor says he’ll try to pass again in 2020.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he will submit legislation to legalize gestational surrogacy as part of his 2020 State of the State agenda. Gestational surrogacy allows people to conceive a child who would be carried by a surrogate. New York is one of a few states that explicitly bans paid surrogacy contracts.

That bill would have permitted and regulated such contracts and imposed rules intended to protect surrogates, future parents and babies. The New York State Catholic Conference had argued that surrogacy contracts have been used to exploit surrogates around the world.

“Reproductive commerce is human exploitation. Commercialization denigrates the dignity of women by degrading pregnancy to a service,” the conference said in a June 10 statement.

The conference noted that in states where surrogacy is permitted, surrogate services are advertised, and surrogates are recruited –  most often on college campuses, in poor neighborhoods, and on military bases.


8. New Jersey dioceses extend deadline for victims fund.

By Mike Catalini, Associated Press, January 2, 2020, 4:00 PM

New Jersey’s Roman Catholic dioceses have given a six-week extension to childhood victims of sexual assault considering applying for compensation from a fund the church set up, the account’s co-administrator said Thursday.

Camille Biros, the co-administrator of the fund covering all five dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Newark, said in a phone interview that so far more than $9 million in 76 different cases has been paid out.

The new deadline for claims to be filed is Feb. 15. It had been Dec. 31.


9. North Dakota dioceses release list of accused clergy members.

By Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, January 2, 2020, 12:13 PM

North Dakota’s two Roman Catholic dioceses on Thursday released a list of 53 clergy members who have had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

Bishop John Folda of the Fargo Diocese said in a statement that the list is the result of a “thorough review” of files dating back to 1950. Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck said there have been no substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor that have occurred after 1989.


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.
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