1. A mother and son were sentenced to prison in Russia. Their only offense is believing in God., By The Washington Post, March 1, 2021, Pg. A20, Editorial
Last week a 69-year-old woman, Valentina Baranovskaya, and her 46-year-old son, Roman Baranovsky, were sentenced to two and six years in prison, respectively, in the Siberian region of Khakassia. Their offense? They belong to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that is nonviolent, eschews subservience to the state, refuses military service, does not vote and views God as the only true leader. In a 2017 ruling, Russia’s Supreme Court outlawed the faith as “extremist,” and adherents have been mercilessly persecuted ever since.

The persecution of Ms. Baranovskaya and her fellow believers is not different from that meted out to “enemies of the people” under Stalin. Just as during the Great Terror, when there is a knock on the door, these nonviolent religious worshipers must feel a ravine open at their feet. Perhaps Mr. Putin could explain to them why, decades after Soviet communism died, its cruel practice of tormenting people for their beliefs is being repeated.
2. Biden wants to rebuild the U.S. refugee program. Trump’s damage makes it a daunting task., By The Washington Post, March 1, 2021, Pg. A20, Editorial
REFUGEE ADMISSION to the United States has represented the biggest single legal immigration program for this country for decades, and an extraordinarily successful one. Former president Donald Trump set out to gut it, and he largely succeeded.

Across the country, long-established agencies, faith-based and otherwise, spent most of the four years of the Trump administration laying off resettlement workers and closing local offices. To cite one such example: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had more than 70 refugee resettlement offices when Mr. Trump took office. Today, it has 40, and many of those have trimmed their staffs given the unprecedented cuts by the Trump administration, which slowed refugee admissions to a trickle.

3. Benedict XVI addresses resignation conspiracy theories, Iraq, and Biden in new interview, By Catholic News Agency, March 1, 2021, 2:30 AM
Benedict XVI addressed conspiracy theories about his resignation as pope, Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq, and Joe Biden in an interview with an Italian newspaper published on Monday.
The pope emeritus told Corriere della Sera that he stood by his decision despite criticism from his friends in an interview released on March 1, a day after the eighth anniversary of the end of his pontificate.
“It was a difficult decision. But I made it in full consciousness, and I think I did the right thing,” the 93-year-old former pope told the journalist Massimo Franco during a private visit. 

In the interview, Benedict also said that he was praying for the success of Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq this week.
He said: “Unfortunately it falls at a very difficult time that also makes it a dangerous trip: for security reasons and for COVID. And then there is the unstable Iraqi situation. I will accompany Francis with my prayers.”
According to the Italian newspaper, Benedict also commented on U.S. President Joe Biden, saying “It is true, he is Catholic and observant. And personally he is against abortion,” but “as president, he tends to present himself in continuity with the line of the Democratic Party … And on gender policy, we still don’t really understand what his position is.”
4. ‘Not a good idea:’ Experts concerned about pope trip to Iraq, By Nicole Winfield and Samya Kullab, Associated Press, February 28, 2021, 2:57 AM
Infectious disease experts are expressing concern about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq, given a sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health care system and the unavoidable likelihood that Iraqis will crowd to see him.
No one wants to tell Francis to call it off, and the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by welcoming the first pope to the birthplace of Abraham. The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a sorely-needed spiritual boost to Iraq’s beleaguered Christians while furthering the Vatican’s bridge-building efforts with the Muslim world.
But from a purely epidemiological standpoint, as well as the public health message it sends, a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic is not advisable, health experts say.
Their concerns were reinforced with the news Sunday that the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, the main point person for the trip who would have escorted Francis to all his appointments, tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating.
5. Pope prays for liberation of 317 kidnapped Nigerian students, By Associated Press, February 28, 2021
Pope Francis on Sunday decried the kidnapping of 317 students from their boarding school in northwest Nigeria and prayed for the girls’ quick release.
Addressing the public in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said he was adding his voice to others including Nigeria’s bishop in condemning what he described as “the vile abduction” of the girls.
Police on Friday in Nigeria said gunmen had abducted the students from their boarding school. Several large groups of armed men operate in the area and are known to kidnap for ransom money and the release of their jailed cohorts.
6. Iowa religious freedom bill sets ‘highest standard’ for government, backers say, By Kevin J. Jones, Catholic News Agency, February 27, 2021, 3:01 PM
An effort to restore strong religious freedom protections in Iowa has the backing of the state Catholic conference and others who say there should be a high threshold for any state interference with the free exercise of religion.
While the legislation does not mention LGBT issues, LGBT advocates have tried to portray it as harmful and discriminatory.
“We support the bill and have supported similar proposals for several years,” Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 26. “Our view is that the bill provides a standard of review for the court when there’s a conflict between the First Amendment’s protection of free exercise of religion and a law.”
“This is not a license for anyone to discriminate. It doesn’t grant anyone any new rights,” Chapman said. “It simply gives people and institutions an argument in court.”
Iowa’s proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, numbered S.F. 436, would allow the government substantially to burden religious exercise only if it can prove that there is a compelling state interest and that this burden is “the least restrictive means of furthering that government interest.”
7. High court tells Santa Clara it can’t bar in-person worship, By Associated Press, February 26, 2021, 9:26 PM
The Supreme Court is telling California’s Santa Clara County that it can’t enforce a ban on indoor religious worship services put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The high court issued an order Friday evening in a case brought by a handful of churches.
The justices, in early February, told the state of California that it can’t bar indoor church services because of the pandemic. The justices said at the time that the state could cap indoor services at 25% of a building’s capacity and continue to bar singing and chanting.

The justices’ unsigned order Friday said that their action was “clearly dictated” by their order from earlier this month. The court’s three liberal justices dissented.
8. USCCB opposes lack of pro-life protections in COVID relief bill, By Catholic News Agency, February 26, 2021, 11:02 AM
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is opposing the COVID relief package currently under consideration in the House, over its lack of pro-life protections.
In a digital campaign, the USCCB wrote that although the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 “addresses the needs of many vulnerable people related to the pandemic,” it lacks pro-life “Hyde” protections against funding of abortions and abortion coverage. 
The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding legislative provision that prohibits the use of taxpayer funding for elective abortions. If Hyde language is excluded from the bill, that would erase this limitation and allow for possible increased funding of abortion.
9. Vatican prosecutors have cell phone of ‘Becciu’s spy’, By The Pillar, February 26, 2021
Vatican prosecutors are in possession of the cell phone of Cecilia Marogna, the woman at the center of one of several overlapping Vatican financial scandals, according to an Italian media report. The handover suggests new kinds of evidence could be brought forward in the expected trial of Marogna, but raises questions about the legal means used to obtain it.
On Friday, the Italian newspaper Il Giornale reported that Marogna’s cell phone had been passed to Vatican City’s chief prosecutor, Alessandro Didi, in January. The handover came after Marogna’s arrest in Milan in October, but it also came after the Vatican dropped its extradition request for her to be handed over to face trial.
Marogna began her association with the Vatican dates back to 2015, when, she says, she wrote to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then sostituto at the Secretariat of State, offering her services as a consultant. Her work has been characterized as operating a private global intelligence network and acting as a kind of personal spy for the now disgraced Cardinal Becciu. She says she worked as a geopolitical analyst and security consultant for the Vatican.
She has been accused by prosecutors of embezzling hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican, linked to payments she received through her Slovenia-registered company.

TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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