1. Vatican doctrine chief: No need to correct pope on divorce, By Associated Press, January 9, 2017.

The Vatican’s doctrine chief says there is no need to correct Pope Francis over his outreach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics because “there is no danger to the faith” in what he has said.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was responding to a public request from four conservative cardinals for the pope to clarify his position contained in the controversial document “The Joy of Love.”

“Pope Francis asks us to discern the situation of these people who are living in an irregular situation, that is not according to the doctrine of the church on marriage, and he asks us to help these people to find a path for a new integration in the church according to the conditions of the sacraments, of the Christian message on matrimony,” Mueller said.

Mueller has ruled out letting these divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion, though he agrees that they must be integrated into the life of the church. His comments therefore don’t stray from that position, suggesting he is simply taking a more conservative interpretation of the pope’s intentionally vague document.


2. Pope on Europe’s identity crisis: Rediscover your roots, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 9, 2017, 6:06 AM.

Pope Francis urged Europe on Monday to rediscover its true identity as the continent copes with refugee waves, Britain’s exit from the EU and the “homicidal madness” of religious-inspired violence.

“Europe as a whole is experiencing a decisive moment in its history, one which it is called to rediscover its proper identity,” Francis said. “This requires recovering its roots in order to shape its future.”

He called for the creation of a new European humanism to update the very concept of Europe as a unified community of shared common values that was born from the ashes of World War II.


3. Ireland Reconsiders Its Constitutional Ban on Abortion, By Sinead O’Shea, The New York Times, January 9, 2017, Pg. A5.

An assembly of Irish citizens convened by Parliament is considering changes to one of the most divisive policies in the country: the near-total ban on abortions, which has been enshrined in Ireland’s Constitution since 1983.

The group, a 100-member Citizens’ Assembly led by Mary Laffoy, a Supreme Court judge, does not have the power to change the law. But its mandate from Parliament — to examine the full range of medical, legal and ethical issues surrounding abortion — suggests a willingness to revisit the ban, one of the most stringent in the Western world.

Over the last three months, the assembly has received more than 13,500 comments from the public — more than 1,000 of which have been published online so far. It pored over these submissions at the Grand Hotel Malahide over the weekend, along with testimony from experts, and is scheduled to issue a report later this year.

Abortion was already illegal in Ireland before 1983, but the Eighth Amendment gave “the right to life of the unborn” equal status to “the right to life of the mother” under the Constitution. The amendment was enacted through a voter referendum, and can be altered — or abandoned — only via another referendum.

That said, Ireland remains a conservative society, and the Roman Catholic Church opposes any change in the law. “We believe that every unborn child, irrespective of his or her medical condition or the circumstances of his or her birth, has the right to be treated equally before the law,” the bishops’ conference said in a statement.

The Eighth Amendment has been subject to legal and political challenges over the years.

In 1992, Ireland’s highest court upheld the right to an abortion if the mother’s life is at risk, including from suicide, but how to interpret that right remains in dispute. In 1992, voters approved an amendment to the Constitution to allow women to travel abroad for abortions and to receive information about abortion services abroad. And in that year, and again in 2002, voters rejected amendments that would have removed the threat of suicide as grounds for a legal abortion.


4. Pope throws down gauntlet to religions: No killing in God’s name, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 9, 2017.

In his annual address on Monday to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis signaled that 2017 will be a year in which his press for peace gathers steam, and laid down a clear challenge to all religions to reject killing in the name of God.

From the beginning, it was inevitable that history’s first pontiff named “Francis,” for the great 12th and 13th century apostle of peace, would see himself as a “peace pope.” On Monday, Pope Francis signaled the press for peace will continue to be a top-shelf priority in 2017, pleading for an end to the “homicidal madness” of terrorism and war.

In particular, Francis issued a challenge to religious leaders of all faiths to reject, once and for all, the idea that killing in the name of God can ever be justified.

“Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence,” Francis said.

Referring to terrorist attacks and other acts of violence that erupted throughout 2016 in places such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and even the United States, Francis said, “We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power.”

“I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name,” the pontiff said.

Francis pledged his own ongoing commitment to trying to build bridges among faiths, citing his visits in 2016 to the synagogue of Rome and the mosque of Baku in Azerbaijan, his first-ever encounter with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba, and his trips to Armenia and Georgia that had a heavy emphasis on Catholic/Orthodox relations.

The comments came with his annual address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, generally considered the pope’s most important foreign policy speech of the year, and seen as a reliable indication of which issues and places will loom especially large for the pope and his diplomatic team in the year to come.


5. Planned Parenthood Doesn’t Need Our Taxes, By Ian Tuttle, National Review Online, January 9, 2017, 4:00 AM, Opinion.

The baby abattoir gets plenty of money from private sources, and Congress can redirect the public funds to other health-care centers.

Planned Parenthood is the recipient of more than $500 million annually in taxpayer dollars ($528.4 million in fiscal year 2013–14), or about 40 percent of its annual revenue. Under the Hyde amendment, the organization is technically prohibited from using this money to finance abortions. In reality, the amendment simply provides a $500-million cushion atop which Planned Parenthood can conduct its slaughterous business — and the technical separation of funds depends entirely on Planned Parenthood being scrupulous in its accounting, which it isn’t, to put it mildly. (It’s worth noting, too, that the most recent Democratic presidential nominee promised to end the Hyde amendment, which was an admirably honest middle finger to well over half the country.)

It goes equally unremarked that Planned Parenthood is the happy beneficiary of extraordinary private largesse. In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in November, for example, celebrities such as Katy Perry and Amy Schumer encouraged their social-media followers to donate to Planned Parenthood “in Mike Pence’s name.” John Oliver used his HBO show (which has an across-all-platforms audience somewhere in the single-digit millions) to do the same. In September 2015, children’s author Daniel Handler gave Planned Parenthood $1 million.


6. How a pro-life group will hold members of Congress accountable, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 8, 2017.

March for Life Action hopes to not only record pro-life votes, but also to record initiatives by members such as sponsorship of pro-life bills and speaking out about a pro-life matter on the House or Senate floor.

As the 115th Congress is underway, a pro-life group is touting a new means of holding pro-life members accountable – a scorecard.

“The Scorecard will help ensure accountability of Members to their constituents while identifying true defenders of the unborn in U.S. Congress,” March for Life Action announced on Wednesday.

“At March for Life Action we aren’t just looking for politicians who vote pro-life – we are looking for pro-life champions in the mold of Henry Hyde,” Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the pro-life group March for Life Action, stated.

Hyde was a congressman who successfully inserted into federal policy a prohibition on Medicaid dollars funding abortions. The Hyde Amendment has been supported by members of Congress in both parties for 40 years.

Other advocacy groups, including National Right to Life and Planned Parenthood Action, use scorecards to inform voters of how members of Congress vote on various issues.

March for Life Action hopes to not only record pro-life votes, but also to record initiatives by members such as sponsorship of pro-life bills and speaking out about a pro-life matter on the House or Senate floor.

McClusky noted that “we aren’t just looking to maintain the pro-life status quo by only tallying votes.”

A stream of pro-life legislation is expected to come up in Congress after the change of presidential administrations.

One of the first bills expected to come up in Congress is the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would expand prohibitions of federal funding of abortions and solidify the Hyde Amendment’s policy, which has been passed every year by Congress as a rider to appropriations bills, as permanent federal law.

Other bills that are expected soon include a pain-capable bill banning abortions when the unborn baby has been found to feel pain, at around 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The House has previously passed a pain-capable bill and voted to defund Planned Parenthood, but both initiatives failed to receive the necessary votes to move through the Senate.


7. Pope Says Will Not Increase Security on Travels Despite Risks, By Reuters, January 8, 2017, 1:12 AM.

Pope Francis says he realises he may be the target of an attack but that he will continue to travel without bulletproof vehicles or heavy security because he wants to get close to people.

Unlike his predecessors, who used bulletproof popemobiles or limousines, Francis uses ordinary cars on international trips, often in contrast to the leaders who greet him.

“I am aware of the risks involved,” he said in the introduction to a new book by Italian author Andrea Tornielli.

“Maybe I’m reckless but I must say I don’t have any fear for myself but I’m always worried about the safety of those who travel with me and above all that of the people that I meet in various countries. There is always the risk of a rash gesture by a madman. But the Lord is always there,” he said.

The book, called “Travelling,” is about the 17 trips to more than 25 countries outside Italy that Francis has made since his election in 2013. He is expected to make as least two international trips this year, one to Portugal, and another to India and Bangladesh.

“I can’t bring myself to move around in bulletproof cars or in closed popemobiles with bulletproof glass,” he said.

In Brazil in 2013, his small car was swamped after the driver took a wrong turn.

“I fully understand the needs of security and am grateful (to security forces) but a bishop is a pastor, a father, and there cannot be too many barriers between him and the people,” he said.

“Because of this, I said from the start that I would travel only if I could have contact with people.”

For the past two years, Italian police have notably increased security in the area around the Vatican, a sovereign state in the middle of Rome, following attacks by Islamist extremists in Europe.

But Francis still uses an ordinary blue Ford Focus when he visits parishes in Rome and insists on light, low-key security.


8. Church’s history of defending immigrants must continue, By Christopher White, Crux, January 8, 2017.

Kicking off this year’s National Migration Week, which began on January 8th, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that this is an opportunity to “create a culture of encounter where citizens old and new, alongside immigrants recent and longstanding, can share with one another their hopes for a better life.”

For over 25 years U.S. Catholics have used the week to highlight the Church’s efforts to serve immigrants and refugees who make up an increasingly large sector of the U.S. Church.

In the midst of a heated national debate on immigration, Church leaders are now speaking out to remind us that this is no mere national policy debate, but one that has immediate and profound consequences for our local communities.

Across the country, Catholics in Minnesota, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Nebraska, Michigan, Seattle, Cincinnati, and more are hosting vigils, inter-faith prayer services, and other events as part of National Migration Week.


9. Can the Catholic Church save democracy in Congo?, By Karen Attiah, The Washington Post, January 6, 2017.

The Catholic Church might have just delivered a divine glimmer of hope for Congo’s democracy. Last month, Congolese bishops helped forge a deal between members of President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party and members of the opposition that would see Congo hold elections by the end of 2017. Crucially, the pact states that the embattled Kabila will step down after elections. If the accord is implemented, it would ensure that Congo would see its first democratic transition of power since its independence in 1960.

But fragile as it is at this juncture, the agreement is still a godsend. While a good portion of Western commentary has made only passing reference to the mediating role of the Catholic bishops, their role has been crucial — and it underlines the importance of Christian institutions in Congo’s post-independence politics. In fact, history shows that Congo’s Catholic clergy very well might be the force to prevent Africa’s second-largest nation — and the surrounding Great Lakes region — from falling into the abyss.

For decades, the Catholic Church has been a force for democracy and grass-roots civic action in what is now formally known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire.

If the United States wants to help ensure that Kabila respects the new accord, it should take a page from its 1992 playbook and increase its engagement with Catholic clergy in the coming months. …Christian communities around the world should also rally behind the Congolese’s church’s efforts. Congo has the largest Catholic population in Africa, with around 40 percent of its 67 million people identifying as adherents. A rallying of public support for the accord by the church may be the best way of pressuring Kabila to organize elections and step down without bloodshed.


10. Pope treats homeless to lunch as he marks Epiphany, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 6, 2017.

Pope Francis treated a few hundred homeless people and refugees to a simple sandwich lunch on Friday, and urged the faithful to find God in the peripheries of society, not its palaces.

Francis celebrated Mass marking Epiphany, the biblical tale of the three wise men who set out to find the infant Jesus and offer precious gifts. At the end of the service, homeless people and refugees joined volunteers to hand out 50,000 booklets with biblical tales of God’s mercy to pilgrims gathered in a frigid St. Peter’s Square.

Francis said he too wanted to give the faithful the gift of God’s mercy for the coming year.

He then offered some 300 needy people a simple lunch of a sandwich and drink, the Vatican said, part of his long-running outreach to the poor and homeless who live around the Vatican.

During this Christmas season, Francis has emphasized the humble setting of Christ’s birth while criticizing a church that is closed in on itself, its wealth and its achievements. It’s a message Francis has repeated during his papacy, faulting those who are obsessed with Christianity’s rules and morals over God’s mercy, particularly to society’s most marginal.

Francis criticized those who are “anesthetized” to God’s mercy, who want to “control everything and everyone” and fear any challenges to their wealth and achievements.

They suffer, he said, from “a bewilderment born of fear and foreboding before anything that challenges us, calls into question our certainties and our truths, our ways of clinging to the world and this life.”

Francis’ pastoral outreach, particularly to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, has been criticized by conservatives who have argued that church teaching prohibits these Catholics from receiving Communion. Francis says God’s mercy is infinite and that the Eucharist isn’t a prize for the perfect, but medicine for wounded souls.


11. Death penalty was on the decline in America in 2016, By Catholic News Agency, January 6, 2017.

The year 2016 marked a major decline in the number of executions and sentences to capital punishment in the United States, a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center says. Georgia had nine executions, Texas seven, Alabama two, and one each in Missouri and Florida, the report said.

The year 2016 marked a major decline in the number of executions and sentences to capital punishment in the United States, a new report says.

Last year there were 20 executions in the U.S., the lowest level in 25 years. The peak was in 1999, when 98 persons were executed.

Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.

The popularity of the death penalty also hit new lows.

The Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of Americans favored capital punishment for convicted murderers, an apparent one-year drop of seven percentage points, and down from a peak of 80 percent in 1995. About 42 percent of Americans said they opposed it, according to a 2016 poll.

Voters in three states voted to retain the death penalty or place it in the state constitution. However, the report said local elections showed support for prosecutor candidates who are less aggressive in pursuing the death penalty.