1. Vatican Is Set to Begin U.S. Archbishop’s Trial.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2019, Pg. A3

The Vatican plans to try Archbishop Theodore McCarrick as early as this coming week , in order to make a final decision on his fate before next month’s Vatican summit on sex abuse, according to people familiar with the matter.

Vatican officials understand that Pope Francis wants them to act swiftly in the matter, to keep the U.S. archbishop’s fate from overshadowing the summit, scheduled for Feb. 21-24, these people say.

Archbishop McCarrick, who in July became the first man in nearly a century to lose the title of cardinal after a church investigation found credible an accusation that he had abused a teenager in the early 1970s, is charged with abusing at least three minors, as well as sexually harassing adult seminarians.

If the judges find Archbishop McCarrick guilty and he chooses to appeal, a final decision will be made by the cardinals and bishops who sit on the CDF at a meeting in mid-February, according to the plan.

The ordinary procedure in such cases allows 60 days to present an appeal, but in this case, the pope is expected to approve an abbreviated process in order to resolve the matter in time for the late-February abuse summit.


2. Religious-bias rule is a new hazard for foster programs , Funding of S.C. group in peril over its longtime ban on non-Christians.

By Laura Meckler, The Washington Post, January 7, 2019, Pg. A1

The Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, S.C., makes clear from the start that only Christian parents need apply for its foster-care program. On its forms, candidates are asked to offer personal testimony of their faith or salvation.

“Our existence and identity is tied to our faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ,” said Reid Lehman, Miracle Hill’s president and chief executive. He said the ministry would drop out of the foster-care program rather than work with parents who aren’t Christian.

That policy, in place for 30 years, runs counter to an Obama-era regulation barring religious discrimination in the federally funded foster-care program. Now, with Miracle Hill’s funding threatened, the Trump administration is being asked by the governor of South Carolina to let Miracle Hill participate anyway.

It’s the latest clash in a long-running debate over religious freedom and government social services, as three successive administrations have considered how much religion is too much religion when agencies are collecting taxpayer funds. The Trump administration’s response in the South Carolina case will signal whether it will adhere to modest limits imposed by the Bush and Obama administrations or whether it will allow religious entities a freer hand.

It also represents a test of the Obama policy, put into place in the final days of that administration. The fact that the Trump administration has yet to give South Carolina an answer suggests the question may be a difficult one even for some conservatives.


3. In symbolic gesture, Egyptian president inaugurates cathedral, mosque.

By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press, The Washington Post, January 7, 2019, Pg. A7

Egypt’s president on Sunday inaugurated a new cathedral for the Coptic Orthodox Church and one of the region’s largest mosques in a highly symbolic gesture at a time when Islamic militants are increasingly targeting the country’s minority Christians.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a general-turned-president, has made sectarian harmony a cornerstone of his rule, fighting Islamic militancy while advocating equality between the overwhelming Muslim majority and Christians, who account for 10 percent of Egypt’s 100 million people.

“This is a historic and important moment,” said el-Sissi inside the cathedral. “But we still have to protect the tree of love we planted here together today because seditions never end.”

El-Sissi’s widely publicized policy to staunch sectarianism, however, has done little to protect Christians in rural Egypt, where Muslim extremists frequently attack their homes and businesses or force them to leave their homes after violent disputes. Critics and activists say discrimination against Christians there is often tolerated by local authorities and branches of the security agencies. Christians also complain of stringent restrictions on the construction of churches.

The ceremony, attended by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and a host of Arab dignitaries, included recorded video messages of support from the region’s top Christian clerics as well as Pope Francis.

Speaking in Italian, Pope Francis said: “With joy I greet all of you on the joyful occasion of the dedication of the new Cathedral of the Nativity, built in the new administrative capital. May the prince of peace give to Egypt, the Middle East and the whole world the gift of peace and prosperity.”


4. The death of Hong Kong bishop a potential crisis for Church in China.

By Charles Collins, Crux, January 7, 2019

This comes to mind after the sudden death of the Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung of Hong Kong on Jan. 3 of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 73, leaving the diocese vacant for the first time since it transferred to China in 1997.

Yeung’s death comes at a critical junction in relations between the Vatican and China, and the choice of his replacement will be closely watched by both the Communist authorities in Beijing and the country’s estimated 13 million Catholics.

On Sep. 22, the Vatican and China signed a “provisional agreement” on the appointment of bishops, officially recognizing eight prelates named by the Chinese government. According to most reports, the agreement – the details have not been publicized – allows the Chinese government to propose bishops, with the pope only getting a veto on the choice, one which he would be under a lot of pressure not to utilize.

Since the signing of the deal, the Chinese authorities have done nothing to alleviate these concerns, and have ramped up their campaign against the Church, arresting priests who refuse to join the Patriotic Association, detaining bishops, demolishing religious buildings, and publishing rules prohibiting minors from attending religious services.

The crackdown is not isolated, and in conformity with President Xi Jinping’s efforts to exert greater Communist Party control over all aspects of religious life in China.


5. Pope risks rare double ‘own goal’ in case of Argentine bishop.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, January 6, 2019

In many ways 2018 was a tough year for Pope Francis with the explosion of fresh clerical abuse scandals in several parts of the world, and in light of news that an Argentine bishop working at the Vatican at Francis’s personal invitation has been accused of sexual abuse, 2019 doesn’t appear to be starting off any easier.

In fact, the case of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta threatens to become a rare double “own goal” for the pontiff, creating self-inflicted wounds on two critically important reform fronts: the abuse crisis, and the Vatican’s pledge of greater financial transparency and accountability.

The Zanchetta saga began in July 2013, when Francis nominated him the bishop of Orán in the northern part of Argentina. Three years later, Zanchetta left the diocese, citing problems of health that didn’t allow him to deliver adequate pastoral care to such a geographically dispersed territory.

Francis accepted Zanchetta’s resignation just three days after it was offered in August 2017, suggesting to many observers there was some perceived rush to get him out of Orán. There were whispers of some serious problems between Zanchetta and his clergy, but that’s about as far as it went in terms of explaining what had gone wrong.

Insiders, therefore, have known for a long time that the real action in terms of financial reform has to be at APSA, and so far there’s been little indication of fundamental change. For sure, the pope appointing an “assessor” to APSA mostly to get him out of hot water back home doesn’t really come off as a stirring statement of commitment to change.

On both clerical abuse and financial reform, therefore, Francis is arguably opening 2019 already down 0-2, scoring twice for the other team (and on the same play, no less). The good news for the pontiff is that it’s still early, and the year to come will afford plenty of chances to get back in the game.


6. Pope says that despite shadows, Church reflects light of Christ.

By Elise Harris, Crux, January 6, 2019

Marking the Catholic feast of the Epiphany, when, according to the Bible, the three Magi – also called the three wise men or the three kings – found the infant Jesus and brought him gifts after following a star, Pope Francis on Sunday urged Catholics to imitate them in seeking the light of Christ, not that of the world.

When looking at the list of influential leaders at the time of Jesus’ birth such as Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, King Herod and the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, it might be tempting “to turn the spotlight on them,” the pope said in his Jan. 6 homily for the Epiphany.

However, the word of God came “to none of the magnates, but to a man who had withdrawn to the desert,” he said, referring to John the Baptist. The surprise in this, Francis added, is that “God does not need the spotlights of the world to make himself known.”

With just a week left in the liturgical season of Christmas, which ends next Sunday with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Pope Francis urged faithful not to mist the opportunity “to offer a precious gift to our King, who came to us not in worldly pomp, but in the luminous poverty of Bethlehem. If we can do this, his light will shine upon us.”

The pope’s Christmas season comes to a close this week with his annual speech to diplomats on Monday and next Sunday’s baptism of newborns for Vatican employees, held in the Sistine Chapel.


7. Bishop Faces sex-Abuse Allegations, An Argentine given top post by Pope Francis is suspended as Vatican conducts investigation.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, January 5, 2019, Pg. A7

An Argentine bishop who holds a high Vatican post is under investigation for possible sex abuse, presenting a new challenge to Pope Francis as he struggles to respond to the Catholic Church’s clerical-abuse crisis.

Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta had been suspended from his job at the Vatican’s office of financial administration, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Friday, pending the outcome of a preliminary investigation by officials in the bishop’s former diocese of Orán, Argentina.

The Vatican said accusations of abuse emerged only a few months ago, after the bishop’s appointment to his job here in late 2017. But Bishop Zanchetta’s association with Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine who created a high-ranking Vatican job for him, mean his case could further undermine the pope’s credibility on abuse. A string of controversies has resulted from the pope’s support or alleged support for bishops accused of abuse or abuse cover-ups in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Australia.

The Vatican spokesman declined to offer details on the accusations against Bishop Zanchetta, including whether they involved abuse of minors or harassment or other misconduct with adults. Argentine media have reported accusations from priests of the bishop’s former diocese including sexual abuse inside the diocesan seminary and financial improprieties during his tenure there.


8. Unfinished 2019 business in America’s ongoing First Amendment wars over religious liberty.

By Richard Ostling, Get Religion, January 3, 2019

On Dec. 10, Business Leaders in Christ filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Iowa for removing the group’s on-campus recognition on grounds of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This club for business students requires its leaders to uphold traditional Christian beliefs, including that “God’s intention for a sexual relationship is to be between a husband and wife.” See local coverage here.

These sorts of disputes across the nation are thought to be a factor in religious citizens’ support for Donald Trump’s surprise election as president. And the Iowa matter is a significant test case because the Trump Department of Justice filed in support of the club Dec. 21, in line with a 2017 religious liberty policy issued by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

More broadly, what does the American nation believe these days regarding religious freedom? 

For context, journalists will want to tap sources that insist religious liberty (in scare quotes) is an illicit power grab by the religious right. 

Note this symptomatic 2016 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (.pdf here), or typical broadsides by Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, liberal evangelical Jonathan Merritt, Andrew Seidel at Religion News Service or Katherine Stewart, care of The New York Times

On the other side, note Mary Eberstadt’s book “It’s Dangerous to Believe” (Harper, 2016).


9. Double Lives, The Peril of Clerical Hypocrisy.

By Kenneth L. Woodward, Commonweal Magazine, November 9, 2018

“Anger, shock, grief, shame.” These were the opening words of Cardinal Blase Cupich’s August letter to Chicago Catholics after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical abuse in that state. Cupich, who headed the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children, wanted readers to know he understood their feelings—indeed, that they had every reason to be angry, shocked, and ashamed. This was the second abuse scandal American Catholics had to digest this last summer, coming not long after the revelation that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused minors and young adults for decades. Soon there would be a third scandal: a letter from a former papal nuncio charging that Pope Francis himself was complicit in covering up McCarrick’s sexual transgressions and demanding that he resign. And so began another round of Catholic anger, shock, grief, and shame.

Strong feelings can be a spur to action. But they can also foster misreadings of the facts, blur judgment, and trigger rash reactions. Unfortunately, in too many instances, that is what has happened. For example: we’ve all read newspaper articles, editorials, and op-eds in which it is claimed that the Pennsylvania grand jury found that three hundred priests had sexually molested at least a thousand children over seven decades. In fact, what the panel found was enough evidence to indict the clerics and other church personnel named. While I have little doubt that most of the accused are guilty, the fact remains that the grand jury did only what grand juries are supposed to do: find evidence to make formal allegations. Which is why the relatively small number of the accused who are still alive and able to defend themselves demanded that their names be blacked out on the published report. Until found guilty, they have a right to their good names. But a great many lay Catholics are too shocked, angry, and ashamed to acknowledge this.

A final suggestion: stop treating cardinals and bishops as royalty rather than, as Francis has preached, as servants of the church. This is a particular failing of wealthy, politically conservative Catholics favored by outmoded organizations like the Knights of Malta that are basically in the business of trading hefty donations for face time with Catholic hierarchs. It came as no surprise that Viganò’s letters were shepherded into print by wealthy right-wing Catholic funder Timothy R. Busch, cofounder and host of the Napa Institute, which—for $5,000 a pop—brings disgruntled conservative Catholics together with like-minded American bishops for Latin-language liturgies, George Weigel lectures, and “after dinner cigars” with the archbishop of San Francisco. For invited prelates, the week is free.