1. Obama Can’t Redefine Sex: A federal judge slaps down another executive overreach., By The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2017, Pg. A14, Review & Outlook.

Among President Obama’s ironic legacies will be how frequently this former teacher of constitutional law has been called out by the federal courts for his aggressive abuse of executive power.

The latest rebuke came on the last day of 2016 in federal court in Texas. Judge Reed O’Connor sided with eight states and three private health-care providers that sued to block a new Health and Human Services rule. This rule defines the Affordable Care Act’s prohibitions against sex discrimination in a way that plaintiffs say will force doctors, hospitals and insurers that take federal funds to cover or perform abortions and gender-transition procedures even when this runs against their best medical judgment or religious beliefs.

The other part of this injunction had to do with the claims by the religious plaintiffs—including a Catholic hospital system and a Christian society of doctors—that the rule violated their rights. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government can infringe on religious exercise—but only where it has a compelling interest. Even when it does have a compelling interest, it has to choose the least restrictive way of pursuing it.

In sum, another federal court has found the Obama Administration guilty of imposing its policy choices by fiat rather than doing the hard work of democracy and persuading the elected representatives of the American people. Donald Trump, please take note.


2. François Fillon, Embracing His Catholicism, Challenges France’s Secular Tradition: Presidential contender taps conservative voters newly motivated by Christian heritage, spurred by social issues such as opposition to gay marriage and rising nationalism after Islamist terror attacks, By Stacy Meichtry and Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2017, Pg. A1.

In France, the strict separation between personal faith and public life, known as laïcité, is a pillar of national identity. However, a confluence of events—from the legalization of gay marriage to the more recent string of Islamist terror attacks—has many conservative voters looking to the country’s Christian heritage as a bulwark.

Mr. Fillon’s candidacy is seizing on that impulse. In publicly embracing his faith, the 62-year-old is tapping a wellspring of Catholic voters who have begun coalescing into a potentially decisive voting bloc.

His performance during the country’s first-ever conservative primaries provided the clearest sign yet of the revived Catholic vote. After lagging behind rivals for weeks, Mr. Fillon spent the homestretch of the race debating opponent Alain Juppé over which of them stood closer to the teachings of Pope Francis—a development Le Monde described as “unprecedented.”

The Catholic vote is shaping up to play an unusually prominent role in the general election in May, when polls predict Mr. Fillon will face-off against Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right anti-immigrant and anti-euro National Front party.

The rise of a Catholic vote in France is a measure of how deeply the continent has been shaken by a series of crises, from the arrival of migrant waves from the Middle East to the surge in political parties questioning the future of the European Union itself. Just over a decade ago, it was France that led a successful campaign to prevent any reference to Europe’s Christian heritage from being added to the European Union’s constitution.

Mr. Fillon has been careful to couch his talk of faith in language respectful to secularism. His support for Church teachings are personal choices, he says, not policy prescriptions. He has said he is personally against abortion but believes pro-choice laws shouldn’t be changed, and that he wouldn’t repeal the gay-marriage law but would revise sections that legalized adoption by gay couples.

In August, Mr. Fillon held a rally near his hometown, where he warned of a France “ashamed” of its history and reminded the crowd he had recently celebrated the Feast of the Assumption at the nearby Abbey of Solesmes.

“You just heard the bells ringing,” Mr. Fillon said, gesturing toward the Benedictine monastery. “A thousand years of history! How can you not feel the force, the power, the depth of this past that forged us, that gives us the keys to our future?”


3. Steady surge in number of Catholics in U.S. Congress, study finds, By Claire Giangravè, Crux, January 3, 2017.

The number of Catholics in the U.S. Congress has been steadily rising for the past 50 years, Pew research study finds. While the number of Protestants in Congress has been declining, dropping from 75% in 1961 to 56% today, the share of Catholics has increased from 19% to 31% in the same time frame.

The Congress has remained unvaried overall from a religious standpoint. The 115th Congress counts 91% of members who identify as Christians, comparable to the 95% of Christian members in 1961-62.

The study found that only 27% of Republicans in the new Congress are Catholic while 67% identify as Protestant.

Surprisingly the disparity is less stark in the Democratic Party, where 37% of members identify as Catholics and 42% identify as Protestants.


4. What Christians are finding as they return to the Nineveh Plain, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 3, 2017.

As villages on Iraq’s Nineveh Plain are liberated from Islamic State forces, the Christians who lived there have returned, only to find destruction and betrayal.

After ISIS took over much of Northern Iraq in 2014, tens of thousands of refugees fled eastward into Iraqi Kurdistan. Many have been living in temporary housing unfit for the winter season, relying upon aid groups for their basic needs.

Some of the Christians came from the Nineveh Plain, which lies between the city of Mosul – Iraq’s second-largest city and the current site of conflict between ISIS occupiers and coalition forces fighting to retake it – to the west and Iraqi Kurdistan to the east.

Recently, towns on the Nineveh Plain were liberated from ISIS control by a military coalition that included local militia.

But what they saw when they arrived home broke their hearts. Evidence of ISIS’s hatred and revenge was everywhere in the destruction of their homes. Graffiti on the walls of churches made threats like “we’re going to break your crosses” and “you have no place with us.”

The Syrian Catholic prelate of Mosul recently told the group Aid to the Church in Need that Muslim neighbors burned down 75 percent of Christian homes in the villages that have been freed from ISIS control.


5. Pope Francis to World’s Bishops: Have Courage to Protect the Innocent: In a letter signed on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Pope reminds them of the great suffering being inflicted on children by “the Herods of our own time.”, By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, January 2, 2017.

In his missive dated Dec. 28 and released today by the Vatican, the Holy Father did not make any overt reference to the unborn, but instead focused primarily on innocent children who are victims of such scourges as war, modern slavery, prostitution, and exploitation.

Citing statistics, he noted that 75 million children have had to interrupt their education due to crises; that in 2015, 68% of all persons who were victims of sexual exploitation were children; and that a third of all children who have to live outside their homelands do so because they are forcibly displaced.

“We live in a world where almost half of the children who die under the age of five do so because of malnutrition,” the Pope wrote, adding that in 2016 there were 150 million child labourers, many of whom live in conditions of slavery.

“According to the most recent report presented by UNICEF, unless the world situation changes, in 2030 there will be 167 million children living in extreme poverty, 69 million children under the age of five will die between 2016 and 2030, and 16 million children will not receive basic schooling,” Francis wrote.

He called on the faithful not to grow discouraged or lose hope but to imitate St. Joseph, listen to the voice of the Lord, and have the courage to protect the innocent “from the Herods of our own time”. 

The Pope also remembered the suffering of minors abused sexually by priests. “It is a sin that shames us,” he wrote. “Persons responsible for the protection of those children destroyed their dignity. We regret this deeply and we beg forgiveness. We join in the pain of the victims and weep for this sin. 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.”