1. Pope may be mum, but count on it: Vatican’s watching Iranian drama.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, January 4, 2018, Opinion

Generally speaking, almost anytime there’s a tense situation unfolding someplace in the world, you can count on popes to add their voices to appeals for peace and calm. How much difference such fervorinos actually make may be open to question, but they’re usually as regular as clockwork.

That rule of thumb makes it noteworthy that as a cycle of street protests in Iran nears the end of its first full week, having broken out last Thursday and so far leaving a reported 21 people dead in clashes between protesters and police, there’s been virtually no comment from the Vatican.

Word to the wise: None of this, in the slightest, means the Vatican isn’t paying attention.

On the contrary, there are few diplomatic relationships in which the Vatican has invested greater effort in recent years than the one with Tehran, seeing it as fundamental not only to a series of thorny situations around the world, including Syria and nuclear disarmament, but also to a broader quest to avoid a much-feared “clash of civilizations.”

On Tehran’s side too, there are plenty of clear signs it takes its ties with Rome seriously. For one thing, Iran’s diplomatic relations with the Vatican predate Washington’s by 30 years, and they survived the shock of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 uninterrupted. Here’s a little-known but telling fact: Still today, Iran has more diplomats accredited to its Vatican embassy than any other nation except the Dominican Republic.

Given all that, the Vatican’s caution on wading into the fray over the developing protests may be understandable.

For one thing, the situation in the Iranian streets now is not clear-cut, at least in terms of what the consequences of speaking out might be. Were the pope to say something perceived as encouraging the protests, it might lead to more violence and coarsen relations with Tehran in the bargain; if the Vatican remains silent, it could be seen as appeasement of Tehran in the face of legitimate aspirations for greater democracy and economic opportunity.

Further, a destabilized Iran would have consequences for the entire region.

There’s also the principle – admittedly, one sometimes more honored in the breach than the observance, but still a principle – that Church commentary on the political affairs of a country ought to come from the local bishops rather than the papal representative there.

Finally, there’s also the hard truth that the Vatican has another constituency it must consider before making any public statement on Iran, which is the country’s Christian minority. The situation is tenuous, with small historic Christian groups tolerated but consigned to a sort of second-class status, while more recent converts to Christianity from Islam can face open persecution and violence.

Given how the stars appear aligned, it’s not clear the smart money would be on Francis saying anything too dicey on Monday. Even if he does decide discretion is the better part of valor, you can be sure that doesn’t mean Vatican officials aren’t in a full, upright and locked position in terms of monitoring the latest Iranian crisis.


2. Report: Government funds largest source of Planned Parenthood revenue.

By Christine Rousselle, Catholic News Agency, January 4, 2018, 5:00 AM

Planned Parenthood reported that it received more than $500 million in government funding last year, while performing more than 300,000 abortions across the United States.

The country’s largest abortion provider released its 2016-2017 annual report this weekend, reporting that while the organization is seeing fewer patients than in previous years, revenue from government sources remains mostly stable. The report also showed increased excess revenues for the organization.

In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Planned Parenthood saw 2.4 million patients at its 600 health centers, and performed 321,384 abortions. Though the number of abortions decreased slightly from the prior year, Planned Parenthood’s abortion numbers have increased 10 percent over the past decade, despite seeing about 600,000 fewer patients. In 2006, Planned Parenthood reported that they performed 289,750 abortions, and served 3.1 million patients.

Planned Parenthood’s excess revenue increased from the prior fiscal year, from $77.5 million to $98.5 million, an increase of 27 percent.

Despite seeing fewer patients, Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding has increased by 61 percent in the past decade, from $336.7 million in 2006 to $543.7 million in 2016.

CEO Cecile Richards bemoaned a “historic threat” to Planned Parenthood in the report, stemming from legislative efforts at the state and federal level to regulate or defund Planned Parenthood.

Despite defunding efforts, the organization received only two percent fewer tax dollars in 2016 than in 2015. “Government Health Services Reimbursements & Grants” constituted the largest source of funding for Planned Parenthood in 2016-2017, providing 37 percent of the organization’s revenue.  


3. Choosing life, and sometimes debate: The governor is trying to close Kentucky’s last abortion clinic.

By The Washington Times, January 4, 2018, Pg. B2, Editorial

Abortion mills are going out of business across a wide swath of the heartland. Kentucky has only one left, and the Republican governor, Matt Bevin, is trying to close it.

The EMW Women’s Clinic in Louisville was cited last year for performing abortions without a license, because it was not in compliance with a state law that requires it to have hospital and ambulance service agreements for patient emergencies. Such a requirement is necessary, the governor’s office says, “to protect the health, welfare and lives of women in Kentucky.”

Lawsuits are pending, against the backdrop of continuing  controversy over so-called “Choose Life” automobile license plates….Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are trying to prevent states and the District [of Columbia] from selling them, arguing that such plates constitute the states “taking sides” in the long-running abortion controversy,  and amounts to state-sanctioned speech.

The plates have been controversial since the first ones went on sale in Florida in 1998.

Legislation authorizing a choose-life plate was adopted last year in Michigan, but Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, vetoed it because, he said, the license plates had the potential to bitterly divide millions of Michiganders.”

A vision of hundreds of bodies littering the Michigan landscape, with thousands of debating citizens choking impassable interstate highways, has not deterred governors in other states, though debate has sometimes been fierce.


4. FEMA reverses policy to allow damaged religious institutions to seek relief.

By Christopher White, Crux, January 4, 2018

After months of legal appeals and pressure from religious institutions devastated by recent hurricanes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on Tuesday that houses of worship are now eligible to receive federal relief.

In an updated “Policy Assistance Program and Policy Guide,” the agency said “private nonprofit houses of worship are now eligible for disaster assistance as community centers, without regard to their secular or religious nature.”

The agency also noted that the new policy would be applied retroactively to claims made “on or after August 23, 2017,” so as to include relief for buildings damaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

As previously reported by Crux in September, the religious liberty law firm Becket filed suit on behalf of three churches seeking federal funding to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey devastated their Texas properties. At the time, FEMA had refused funding due to the fact that houses of worship were barred from federal relief.

Soon after the original suit was filed, President Donald Trump released a tweet offering his support for the churches seeking federal funding.

“Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others),” he wrote in a tweet on September 8.

Hurricane Harvey is estimated to have caused nearly $200 billion dollars in damage, and Hurricane Irma is believed to have caused up to another $65 billion. In response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has collected over $38.5 million for hurricane relief, and the Knights of Columbus, a principal sponsor of Crux, has pledged $1.4 million for church repairs in Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


5. The Zealous Faith of Secularism: How the Sexual Revolution Became a Dogma.

by Mary Eberstadt, First Things, January 1, 2018

To be Christian today is to be a sailor in search of an astrolabe. And no wonder: We are in open, roiling, uncharted waters, so looking up to fixed points would help. One other way to orient ourselves is to peer down beneath the currents and focus on what’s done most to shape the “post-Christian” or “ex-Christian” world: the sexual revolution. 

That the revolution is what’s catapulted us to this place is a fact that more and more analysts now affirm. What may be less obvious, though just as important, is what the widespread Western embrace of the revolution has wrought not only in individual lives, but macrocosmically: It has given rise to an increasingly systematic, zealous, secularist faith. We cannot understand either the perils or opportunities of Christianity today without first understanding this developing, rival body of beliefs with which it contends.

According to the dominant paradigm shared by most people, religious and secular alike, the world is now divided into two camps: people of faith and people of no faith. But this either-or template is mistaken. Paganization as we now know it is driven by a new historical phenomenon: the development of a rival faith—a rival, secularist faith which sees Christianity as a competitor to be vanquished, rather than as an alternative set of beliefs to be tolerated in an open society.

In sum, secularist progressivism is less a political movement than a church, and the so-called culture war has not been conducted by people of religious faith and people of no faith. It is instead a contest of competing faiths. One believes in the books of the Bible, and the other in the evolving, figurative book of orthodoxy about the sexual revolution.

This vocation of religious opposition is necessary not only for the protection of the Church, but also for the sake of the sexual revolution’s real and many victims. The new church of secularism, rooted in a false anthropology that mismeasures humanity and deprives it of redemption, generates human misery throughout Western societies. The malign consequences of secularist doctrine are playing out especially tragically among the young. The scene on many American campuses, to offer one example, has become surreal, replete with demonstrations and high emotional drama and seemingly inexplicable animosities. But why are more and more students behaving so bizarrely in the first place?

Today’s world, like Diego’s then, overflows with human damage. Today’s world, like his, has now raised up whole generations of men and women subjected to an inhuman account of human life. The resulting deformations are everywhere, and confusion can’t help but abound. Even so, the secularist faith remains vulnerable for the same reasons that a once-triumphant Marxism did: because its promises are false and its anthropology deluded.

The church that the sexual revolution has built is thriving, all right, and those outside need to know what’s in there. But its pews are packed with casualties—every one of them a convert waiting to happen, for the Church that does keep its promises.