1. Commentator sees ‘thin results’ from Pope’s financial ‘shock therapy’.

By Crux, July 31, 2017

Perceptions of setbacks and power struggles, the recent exits of two key financial officials, and a Vatican trial for misappropriation of funds in which a cardinal at the heart of the affair has not been charged or even investigated, all have prompted some observers to start writing obituaries for the pontiff’s plans for a sweeping reform of Vatican finances.

One of Italy’s most respected political journalists didn’t go quite that far on Saturday, but writing in Corriere della Sera, considered the country’s paper of record, Massimo Franco declared that the “shock therapy” Francis imposed on Vatican finances has yielded “thin results,” and that things are drifting back toward what Vatican insiders call “normality,” meaning the situation prior to the initial reforms three years ago.

In particular, Franco said that the Secretary of State, the Vatican’s powerful central coordinating department, is reacquiring its traditional supremacy with regard to financial management. Curbing that domination originally was considered among the pillars of Francis’s reforms.

According to Franco, advocates of a return to “normality” now foresee a serious trimming-down for Pell’s department.

“Five or six people would be enough, not the elephantine and over-paid structure that they tried to put in place,” one source said, described by Franco as a “prelate close to the pope.”
Finally, Franco cited a recent piece of evidence that the Secretariat of State is winning the internal battle over control. Recently Monsignor Luigi Mistò, an Italian who’s temporarily heading the Secretariat for the Economy, gave an interview to Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference.

“The economic reform … underway with the support of the Secretariat of State,” Mistò said, “has already obtained important results.”


2. Pope Calls for Greater Commitment to Fight Human Trafficking.

By Associated Press, July 30, 2017, 6:24 AM

Pope Francis is urging the world to show a greater commitment to fighting human trafficking, which he called “a form of modern slavery.”

The pope made the appeal during his traditional Sunday prayer on the U.N.’s world day against trafficking.

Francis said “every year, thousands of men, women and children are innocent victims of labor exploitation, and sex and organ trafficking.” He added: “This is ugly. It is cruel. It is criminal.”

He called on the world to renew its commitment to battling “this abhorrent plague, a form of modern slavery,” and to pray that the traffickers “change their hearts.”

The International Labor Organization estimates that 21 million people around the world are victims of forced labor, including victims of human trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation.


3. Abortion foes on offense in states after GOP wave.

By Reid Wilson, The Hill, July 30, 2017, 4:12 PM

The Republican wave that swept over states across the country last November has put abortion rights proponents on a back foot, as abortion foes have passed about 50 new restrictions on access and expanded waiting periods and consent measures in state legislative chambers this year alone.

“We are seeing a heavy level of activity around abortion restrictions,” said Elizabeth Nash, who runs state-level programs at the Guttmacher Institute, which backs abortion rights.

Anti-abortion advocates say the new measures are part of a long-term strategy to restrict the number of procedures performed every year — a strategy some hope will lead all the way to the Supreme Court.

“This year’s series of sessions have been very sure and steady for the pro-life movement, bolstered by state leadership changes in some states. Some states now have a pathway to do more pro-life activities,” said Sue Swayze, director of the National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus. “There’s an uptick in activity.”

Legislators in Ohio, Iowa, South Dakota and Montana passed new laws banning abortions after 20 weeks. Tennessee passed a similar law, though in a different form. Abortion opponents say they expect similar measures to come up next year in Virginia and Missouri.


4. ‘God’s ACLU’ Seeks Freedom for the Faithful: The Becket Fund’s head on why religious liberty extends beyond church—and why the ‘Slants’ case helps believers. 

By Tunku Varadarajan, Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, The Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2017, Pg. A9

Montse Alvarado is the executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based nonprofit law firm. It’s named for Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who was assassinated in 1170 for refusing to let the church in England do the bidding of King Henry II.

Advocates for religious liberty in America are part of what might be seen as the second wave of rights activism in the courts, the first being the wave that began in the 1950s and ’60s with litigation over the rights of minorities, women and criminal suspects, among others. In the past 25 years, conservative and libertarian groups have applied lessons that the liberal vanguard learned about how to select test cases for litigation as a way to steer the law. The focus today is still on the individual, but on his right to own guns, send his children to the school of his choice, or—Ms. Alvarado’s field of concern—worship freely and live a full religious life uncramped by the state.

Ms. Alvarado’s point goes to the heart of the different ways in which religious liberty is perceived in America. The progressive or liberal approach is to equate free exercise of religion with the freedom to worship and to deny that it has anything to do with how a person organizes his life. The Becket Fund and others assert that most religions have complete codes governing not only worship but other aspects of conduct. This comprehensive Way of Life—which leads a devoutly Christian baker to decline to decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding, for instance—commands much more from believers than progressives will allow.

On the whole, Ms. Alvarado is buoyant “without being complacent” about the future of religious liberty in the U.S. The end of the Obama administration, she believes, should bring some respite to the faithful. “His administration was definitely hostile to conscience rights,” she says. “If you look at a lot of the writings his administration put out, you’ll see they were really focused on worship, the importance of being able to practice within the four walls of a church. But they were hostile to religious speech, hostile to religious exercise, anything within the workplace. They’d say, ‘You shouldn’t have this job. You’re a second-class citizen if you’re unwilling to perform same-sex marriage services, or to accept the contraceptive mandate, or hand out these drugs. That makes you unfit for a specific position in the market.’ ”

Ms. Alvarado describes this kind of hard line on religious exercise as “unprecedented, unlike anything we’d seen before in our country.”

Does the Trump administration offer better prospects for religious freedom? Ms. Alvarado pauses before answering: “This administration isn’t necessarily one way or another on these issues. But Trump’s campaign promises were awesome.” She cites an executive order President Trump issued that should protect the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns, from the ObamaCare contraceptive mandate. But she also says the Justice Department has yet to “work out the kinks” in the matter.

Even so, Ms. Alvarado is hopeful about the new administration. “The way they talk about religion is as religious liberty, not as freedom of worship,” she says. “They’re not limiting the right. For religious freedom, you’re looking at the robust version.”


5. The Latest on the death of British baby Charlie Gard.

By Associated Press, July 28, 2017, 8:45 PM

Catholic groups and right-to-life organizations are expressing their sadness at the death of Charlie Gard, the 11-month-old baby whose parents launched a long legal battle to have him seek experimental medical treatment in the United States.

The Catholic Association, a religious organization that campaigns against abortion and assisted suicide, also offered its sympathies. Maureen Ferguson, its senior policy adviser, said “our hearts go out to the Gard family, who not only have suffered the loss of their precious baby boy, but have had to endure the interference and obstruction of the courts.”