1. Another Religious Test in the Senate.

By Eugene F. Rivers III, The Wall Street Journal January 4, 2018, Pg. A13, Houses of Worship
Mr. Rivers, a Pentecostal minister, is director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.

People often assumed that prejudice against Catholic politicians ended with the election of John F. Kennedy. Yet anti-Catholic bigotry is still with us. On Dec. 5 U.S. senators sent written questions to Brian Buescher, an Omaha, Neb., lawyer recently nominated by President Trump to sit on the U.S. District Court in Nebraska. Amid queries about judicial philosophy, two Democratic senators demanded answers about Mr. Buescher’s membership in the Knights of Columbus, a 140-year-old Catholic service organization.

Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono and California’s Kamala Harris didn’t ask about the group’s charitable work, which includes $1 billion of assistance and hundreds of millions of hours of service in the past decade. Rather, they wanted answers about what they called its “extreme positions.”

The senators cited the group’s support in 2008 for California Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. They also took issue with the group’s opposition to abortion.

As a leader of black Christians, I feel particularly strongly about the Knights of Columbus. For more than a century they bravely defended minorities. The group ran integrated hospitality and recreation centers for troops in World War I—the only charitable organization that did so. To confront prejudice in the teaching of history, in the 1920s the Knights commissioned books on black and Jewish history in America. They stood against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the height of its power, helping fund the Supreme Court case that defeated the Klan-backed ban on Catholic education in Oregon. The Knights spoke out against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany as early as the 1930s. Today they assist victims of Islamic State.

If Catholics like the Knights can be targeted, what should members of my Pentecostal church expect? We share traditional views on abortion and marriage. What about Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons and evangelical Christians? Even the Rev. Martin Luther King’s biblical beliefs would be anathema to Sens. Harris, Feinstein and Hirono. JFK, himself a proud Knight of Columbus, would be unacceptable too.

We non-Catholics must also stand up, if not for courage then for survival. When first they come for the Catholics, we can be certain that all of us are next, and that the respect for faith and diversity of belief that made this country a beacon of freedom is now under severe threat—even from those we entrust with its defense.


2. Pope Warns U.S. Bishops Over Unity.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2018, Pg. A3

Pope Francis warned U.S. Catholic bishops against disunity in the church, after months of conflict between the bishops and the Vatican over how to respond to the clerical sex abuse crisis.

Catholics “continue to suffer greatly” from clerical sex abuse and coverups by bishops, “as well as the pain of seeing an episcopate lacking in unity and concentrated more on pointing fingers than on seeking paths of reconciliation,” the pope wrote in a letter distributed to the bishops this week as they gathered for a spiritual retreat outside Chicago.

He also rebuked the bishops for “disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold” and admonished them to “break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander.”

Those were apparent allusions to accusations by a former Vatican diplomat that the pope ignored sexual misconduct by a U.S. cardinal. Many U.S. bishops have said publicly that they found the accusations credible.

Tensions between the Vatican and U.S. church leaders aren’t limited to sex abuse. Many of the bishops have resisted the pope’s relative leniency on divorce and his moves to de-emphasize church teaching on sexual and medical ethics in favor of issues such as the environment and economic inequality.


3. Trial of French Cardinal to Spotlight Church’s Handling of Sex-Abuse Cases.

By Noemie Bisserbe and Francis X. Rocca, Wall Street Journal Online, January 4, 2019, 5:30 AM

A trial of a French cardinal accused of failing to act on decades-old accusations of child sexual abuse by a local priest will spotlight how senior Catholic officials, including the Vatican’s top watchdog, have handled such cases.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, is charged with failing to report a crime and endangering minors, the first time a cardinal has stood trial for covering up abuse by priests.

In February, bishops from around the world will gather at the Vatican to discuss the prevention of sex abuse, following clerical-abuse scandals last year in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Australia.

The pope has faced criticism for supporting prelates accused of committing abuse or covering it up. He long defended Chilean Bishop Juan Barros against charges he covered up abuse, drawing outrage from victims and an extraordinary rebuke from his top adviser on child protection, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. The pope later admitted he had made “grave errors” in the matter and accepted the resignations of Bishop Barros and six other Chilean bishops in an effort to resolve the country’s abuse crisis. Bishop Barros has denied wrongdoing.

In August, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S. accused Pope Francis of ignoring restrictions that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had placed on then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington for sexual misconduct. The pope has declined to respond to the accusations.


4. Pope acknowledges damage of abuse crisis in letter to bishops.

By Chico Harlan, The Washington Post, January 4, 2019, Pg. A10

In a letter to U.S. bishops released Thursday by the Vatican, Pope Francis directly acknowledged the damage done to the Catholic Church by sexual abuse scandals and provided a lengthy explanation of his proposed response: one focused on discernment, unity and a “change in our mind-set.”

“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them,” Francis wrote. “This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful.”

The 3,600-word letter was largely prescriptive and spiritually oriented. It did not call for new measures to punish high-ranking clerics or hold them accountable — steps recommended by victim advocacy groups.

Instead, Francis made a case that the problem required more than “stern decrees” or “improving flow charts, as if we were in charge of a department of human resources.” He also referenced divisions within the U.S. ranks.

Tensions have grown between Rome and the U.S. church after a year of abuse-related scandals. When the pope was accused by a former diplomat of knowing about some of the alleged abuses of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a handful of U.S. higher-ups said the accusations were credible. Subsequently, Francis did not green-light an investigation into McCarrick requested by the head of the U.S. bishops conference, Houston’s Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. And the Vatican intervened to halt the U.S. bishops at their annual meeting in November from voting on new measures for handling abuse-related complaints.

Next month, bishops from around the world will meet in Rome for a summit on sexual abuse and the protection of minors. Francis in his letter did not mention that gathering but called for a “collegial and paternal” response, rather than one in which “some emerge as ‘winners’ and others not.”


5. Papal Exhortation as U.S. Bishops Face ‘Crisis of Credibility’.

By Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times, January 4, 2018, Pg. A6

Pope Francis told United States bishops on Thursday to set aside their differences so they could confront a widespread “crisis of credibility” stemming from the sexual abuse scandal.

In a letter addressed to American bishops, who are on a weeklong retreat near Chicago, Francis urged church leaders to listen to “the pain of our people,” overcome the conflicts among them and come up with solutions.

“Credibility will be the fruit of a united body,” Francis wrote in the letter, which was released to the news media on Thursday.

The closed-door spiritual retreat precedes a gathering at the Vatican next month of the heads of some 110 bishops’ conferences, aimed at finding common ground in dealing with a global scandal that is overshadowing Francis’s papacy.


6. Vatican press office shuffle could mean the age of a ‘papal spokesman’ is over. 

By Charles Collins, Crux, January 4, 2018

When Alessandro Gisotti, the interim head of the Vatican’s press office, greeted reporters on Feb. 2, he asked them for “patience” admitting he is likely to make some initial mistakes in a job with a steep learning curve.

The longtime Vatican Radio employee, who had most recently been running the social media for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, may seem an odd choice to replace the former Time magazine correspondent and Fox News personality Greg Burke, who resigned on Dec. 31.

The head of the press office has traditionally been known as the “papal spokesperson,” and since Spaniard Joaquín Navarro-Valls was appointed to the role in 1984, has been the public face of the Vatican as an institution.

This laying the blame at the press office was usually unfair – the press officer answered to the Secretary of State, and for decades their go to response to scandal has been “no comment.” Press officers around the world will tell you how important it is for them to have access to the head honcho and to be part of the decision-making process. This has not been the case at the Vatican since Navarro-Valls’s relationship with John Paul II.

Both Lombardi and Burke also had to deal with the unique problems posed by Francis, who loves to speak off-the-cuff on controversial subjects, and often does things without even telling his closest advisors, let alone the Vatican press office.

Which is why Gisotti’s appointment indicates a change in policy, and an effort to take the pressure of being “papal spokesman” from the Press Office.


7. Pro-Choice Myths Are Perpetuated by a New York Times Fetal-Personhood Story. 

By Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review Online, January 3, 2019, 2:55 PM

Just days after Christmas, the New York Times editorial board released a lengthy feature on threats against abortion rights, asserting that the pro-life movement has invented the concept of “fetal personhood” in order to erode female autonomy.

The series delves into extremely rare applications of state legislation protecting the unborn — bills that criminalize drug abuse by pregnant mothers, for example — to illustrate the left-wing claim that American women are living in a “Handmaid’s Tale” created by opponents of abortion.

But this attempted bombshell exposé is in fact a compilation of half-baked pro-choice myths, historical inaccuracies, and philosophical elisions mashed together to create a bludgeon against the pro-life movement, toward which the Times evidently harbors significant animosity.

An overwhelming majority of pro-life people agree with the Times, for instance, that laws penalizing women for having suffered a miscarriage or a stillbirth are unacceptable. And yet the entire series rests on a straw man: Abortion opponents rejoice when pregnant women are thrown in jail, because they care more about punishing the errant than about protecting human life.

Far from being a thoughtful reflection on the competing legal rights of mother and fetus, the Times series offers little more than blatant fearmongering, with the help of exceptionally uncommon horror stories that it uses to demonize the pro-life perspective.


8. The Supreme Court Should Protect Unborn Children with Down Syndrome.

By O. Carter Snead and Mary O’Callaghan, The Public Discourse, January 2, 2019

It is time for the United States Supreme Court to provide some much-needed clarity to the vexed jurisprudence of abortion that has bedeviled the American public square for nearly forty-six years. Even without revisiting the highly controversial precedents of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court could do some real good by confirming the modest proposition that the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution—originally aimed at advancing the cause of equality among people—does not forbid states from acting to prevent invidious and lethal forms of discrimination against the disabled.

Last month, the Supreme Court garnered attention when it declined to decide whether the Medicaid Act provides individual Medicaid recipients with a right to sue over funding decisions. The suits arose when Kansas and Louisianawithdrew funding from Planned Parenthood after a series of investigative videos showed Planned Parenthood representatives discussing the sale of fetal tissue in graphic, coarse, and shocking fashion. In a dissent from the denial of certiorari, Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch, noted that the cases had “nothing to do with abortion,” but rather a narrow question about whether and how states can condition participation in Medicaid programs. Justice Thomas suggested that the Court may have chosen not to resolve this unsettled legal question merely because the case bore a “tenuous connection to [the] politically fraught issue” of abortion, an approach that disserves lower courts, the states, and Medicaid patients.

This Friday, the Court will have the chance to prove that view wrong as it once again considers whether to review a case affecting abortion in a direct but modest way. The case concerns House Enrolled Act 1337, an Indiana law that prohibits performing abortions solely because the unborn child has Down Syndrome or another disability. The act similarly proscribes sex- and race-based abortion and requires providers to inform women considering abortions of these prohibitions.

We have been here before, and history has taught us in the bleakest of terms the chaos and moral depravity that flow from this way of thinking. The stakes associated with the Court’s silence are too high, and it therefore has a duty to correct this error with all haste.