1. The real Down syndrome problem: Accepting genocide. 

By George F. Will, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 15, 2018, Pg. A23

Iceland must be pleased that it is close to success in its program of genocide, but before congratulating that nation on its final solution to the Down syndrome problem, perhaps it might answer a question: What is this problem? To help understand why some people might ask this question, meet two children. One is Agusta, age 8, a citizen of Iceland. The other is Lucas, age 1, an American citizen in Dalton, Ga., who recently was selected to be 2018 “Spokesbaby” for the Gerber baby food company. They are two examples of the problem.

Now, before Iceland becomes snippy about the description of what it is doing, let us all try to think calmly about genocide, without getting judgmental about it. It is simply the deliberate, systematic attempt to erase a category of people. So, what one thinks about a genocide depends on what one thinks about the category involved. In Iceland’s case, the category is people with Down syndrome.

America, where 19 percent of all pregnancies are aborted, is playing catch-up in the Down syndrome elimination sweepstakes (elimination rate of 67 percent, 1995-2011). So is France (77 percent), which seems determined to do better. In 2016, a French court ruled that it would be “inappropriate” for French television to run a 2½-minute video (“Dear Future Mom”) released for World Down Syndrome Day, which seeks to assure women carrying Down syndrome babies that their babies can lead happy lives, a conclusion resoundingly confirmed in a 2011 study “Self-perceptions from people with Down syndrome.” The court said the video is “likely to disturb the conscience of women” who aborted Down syndrome children.

So, photos of Agusta and Lucas are probably “inappropriate.” It speaks volumes about today’s moral confusions that this — the disruption of an unethical complacency — is the real “Down syndrome problem.”


2. Vatican doctors photo of Benedict’s praise for Francis. 

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, March 14, 2018, 4:54 PM

The Vatican admitted Wednesday that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.

The letter was cited by Monsignor Dario Vigano, chief of communications, to rebut critics of Francis who question his theological and philosophical heft and say he represents a rupture from Benedict’s doctrine-minded papacy.

In the part of the letter that is legible in the photo, Benedict praised a new volume of books on the theology of Francis as evidence of the “foolish prejudice” of his critics. The book project, Benedict wrote, “helps to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, with all the differences in style and temperament.”

The Vatican admitted to The Associated Press on Wednesday that it blurred the two final lines of the first page where Benedict begins to explain that he didn’t actually read the books in question.

Vigano heads the Vatican’s new Secretariat for Communications, which has brought all Vatican media under one umbrella in a bid to reduce costs and improve efficiency, part of Francis’ reform efforts. The office’s recent message for the church’s World Day of Social Communications denounced “fake news” as evil and urged media to seek the truth.


3. Where does Catholic thinking on “gender theory” go from here?. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 15, 2018

Most of the time when Pope Francis speaks on a social or political concern, one understands immediately what he’s talking about. When the pontiff addresses poverty, for instance, or threats to the environment, or a “throw-away culture” that disregards the unborn, there aren’t many hoops to jump through to get the point.

Not so, however, when Francis addresses another frequent hobby horse: “Gender theory.”

Though that term has been in use in Vatican circles for at least the last quarter-century, reaching back to the era of St. Pope John Paul II, concern over it has intensified on Francis’s watch.

In a nutshell, it refers to theories which posit that male/female identities are not given in nature but rather socially and culturally constructed, and therefore can be revised based on one’s personal desires.

Francis clearly thinks there’s something worrying, and if there’s one thing Rome as a company town knows how to do, it’s to pick up on it when the boss is worried. Thus it’s little surprise that a March 12-13 conference at Rome’s Opus Dei-run Santa Croce University on “The Right to Education and to Teaching” included a paper on gender theory, during a panel chaired by German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the closest aide to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and the Prefect of the Papal Household for Francis.

In the wake of the presentation, two things seemed clear. The first is that it was a deft presentation of the state of affairs in Europe, and the Church’s current thinking about it. The second was that for the reflection about gender theory to go forward, the conversation eventually may need to be broadened.

The paper was prepared by Vincenzo Turchi, a professor of canon law and ecclesiastical law at the University of Salento in southern Italy, though it was read on his behalf on March 12 after Turchi suffered an accident and was unable to travel.

In general, when Vatican personnel over the years decry the rise of “gender theory,” they’re not really referring to a specific theory associated with a given thinker. Instead, they mean a broad intellectual and cultural push, which they see as posing three interrelated risks:

[1.]Eroding the idea that sexual identity and orientation are given in nature, proposing that orientation, and, by extension, sexual behavior, isn’t bound by objective moral norms but rather the result of contingent historical and cultural choices.
[2.]Encouraging the state to promote such a vision of gender in schools, thereby threatening the right of parents to be the primary educators of their children.

[3.]Under the guise of avoiding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, stigmatizing traditional religious and moral views and ending up becoming itself a form of discrimination.

As a footnote to the March 12 discussion, it seemed clear that resolving the tensions posed by gender theory involves a complicated intersection of law and policy, and probably will require having everyone with a stake in the discussion sit down and try to figure things out.

In that regard, it was striking that the lineup for the conference not only was composed almost entirely of male clerics, but it didn’t seem to include anyone who might be sympathetic to some of the ideas behind gender theory. Probably this wasn’t the venue, but one suspects that eventually, that conversation will have to take place.


4. On pope’s reform, two cardinals say don’t miss forest for the trees. 

By Claire Giangravè, Crux, March 15, 2018

When assessing the progress of reform to date under Pope Francis, it’s easy to get bogged down in particulars, such as who heads this or that Vatican department or the latest papal moves on Vatican finances. Two cardinals speaking at a conference in Rome this week, however, urged clergy and faithful to look past such details and to focus on the bigger picture.

Italian Cardinals Fernando Filoni, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Gianfranco Ravasi, who leads the Vatican’s Council for Culture, spoke on the day that marked the fifth anniversary of Francis’s election to the papacy.

Addressing the conference titled “Reforms in the Church, Reform of the Church,” taking place at the Vatican’s Urbaniana University March 13-15, Filoni emphasized the importance of a missionary Church.

“In essence, this meeting marks the determination of Pope Francis, by echoing its courage and passion, to make the ‘reform of the missionary Church that goes out’ concrete,” he told a packed auditorium. Filoni defined this as an “original and meaningful” expression, which the pope presented initially in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium as the primary condition to orient the Church toward a new evangelizing spirit.

Filoni emphasized that Francis does not understand reform in and of the Church as giving up the established elements of its tradition, or allowing it to be permeated by the “changing and contrasting winds” of secularism or relativism, which according to the prelate are taking over both the “real world” and the “world of the web.”

Instead, he said, Francis understands reform “as the effective missionary transformation of the Church,” calling it “the ‘reform of the Church’ that generates ‘reforms in the Church’.”

According to Filoni, the universal evangelizing mission of Christianity is made concrete by Jesus’ call to “go everywhere” and to all peoples in light of the Holy Spirit and “in dialogue with anyone.”

The call to dialogue was picked up by Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who made the need for the Church to intersect with society, technology and innovation a primary focus for reform, during his talk at the Roman event.

According to Ravasi, the concept of reform in the structural sense cannot be examined without considering a global vision of humanity, hence “it’s legitimate and important to have a social and cultural reflection” before moving to a more specific analysis.


5. Judge blocks Ohio ban on abortions due to Down syndrome.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press, March 14, 2018, 6:38 PM

A state law that prohibits doctors from performing abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome was placed on hold by a federal judge on Wednesday.

Judge Timothy Black said the law’s opponents are “highly likely” to succeed in arguing the law is unconstitutional because “federal law is crystal clear” that a state can’t limit a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy before viability. His ruling means the law won’t take effect next week, as scheduled, while the litigation proceeds.


6. Could Pro-Life Health Clinics Soon Access Title X Family-Planning Funds?: Trump administration announcement alarms Planned Parenthood, which fears it will have to compete with pro-life alternatives.

By Peter Jesserer Smith, National Catholic Register, March 14, 2018

The Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has changed the rules on Title X family planning in a bid to bring on board more providers of natural family planning and abstinence education.

But pro-life health and women’s care clinics, welcoming the gesture, expressed concern they would not be able to participate without a waiver from the broad contraception requirements for Title X grants.

HHS opened the annual competition for $260 million in Title X grants for 2018 with an announcement that listed comprehensive health services, natural family planning (NFP), fertility awareness and abstinence education as new priorities for Title X grants.

It also encouraged prospective organizations submitting grant proposals to partner with community-based and faith-based organizations and required training in reporting signs of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

But HHS guidelines that followed the announcement of Title X changes have a number of pro-life health centers questioning how they would be able to submit NFP and abstinence-education proposals for Title X, if they are expected to provide or refer for a broad range of contraception and sterilization services as part of the grant conditions.

Planned Parenthood in a statement complained that the new Title X priorities would lead women to go to providers that emphasize abstinence, do not provide the whole range of contraception, and counsel against abortion.

It noted the Title X announcement dropped all references to the Obama-era emphasis on contraception as the heart of family planning, including the requirement that grant recipients provide access to 18 FDA-approved methods of contraception, and mentioned natural family planning several times without noting popular “Long-Acting Reversible Contraception” (LARCs), such as the “birth-control shot.”


7. Planned Exclusion of Abortion in State Dept.’s ‘Human-Rights Report’ Earns Praise: Pro-life groups and Catholic and other Christian nonprofits have sent a letter of support to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but progressive politicians and organizations aren’t happy with the shift in direction. 

By Brian Fraga, National Catholic Register, March 14, 2018

A coalition of pro-life and family groups is urging the U.S. State Department to stick to its plan to not include abortion and other contentious issues as human rights in the department’s annual “Human-Rights Report.”

Almost 200 groups that include the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), Priests for Life, Human Life International and scores of Catholic and Christian nonprofits signed a March 5 letter to former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, congratulating him for “supporting a proper understanding of international human rights” in the department’s upcoming report.

As first reported by Politico, the State Department intends to remove passages that discuss family-planning issues in foreign countries, including how much access women in those countries have to contraception and abortion. The annual report is expected to be released imminently.

The move, reportedly ordered by a top aide to Tillerson, who was fired from his post by President Donald Trump Tuesday, marks a reversal from former President Barack Obama’s State Department, which promoted the idea that abortion is a human right, said Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM.


8. Learning from the White Rose. 

By George Weigel, First Things, March 14, 2018

Seventy-five years ago last month, Sophie and Hans Scholl and their friend Christian Probst were executed by guillotine at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison for high treason. Their crime? They were the leaders of an anti-Nazi student organization, the White Rose, and had been caught distributing leaflets at their university in the Bavarian capital; the leaflets condemned the Third Reich, its genocide of the Jews, and its futile war.

How did young people once active in the Hitler Youth come to recognize the evil of the Nazi regime and risk their lives to oppose it?

The 2005 Oscar-nominated film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days offers part of the answer.

What you won’t learn from the film, however, is that the triggering inspiration for their activism was the “Lion of Münster,” Archbishop Clemens von Galen, whose anti-Nazi preaching convinced the members of the White Rose that thought and discussion must give way to action. So, between June 1942 and February 1943, the White Rose produced and distributed six leaflets urging others to nonviolent resistance against the Nazi regime. To stand by silently, they claimed, was to be complicit in “the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure.” To do nothing was to truckle to Hitler; and “every word that comes out of Hitler’s mouth is a lie.”

The fourth pamphlet made a promise: “We will not be silent. We are your bad consciences. The White Rose will not leave you in peace.” And therein lies a clue to another inspiration for the Scholls and their friends: John Henry Newman and his writings on conscience.

There is a lot of talk in the Church these days about “conscience,” and Newman is invoked by many prominent personalities in those debates. So it might be useful for all concerned, including Church leaders in the Munich where the White Rose youngsters gave their lives for the truth, to ponder Newman’s influence on these contemporary martyrs.

What did the members of the White Rose learn from Newman about conscience? They learned that conscience could not be ignored or manipulated. They learned that the voice of God speaking through our consciences sets before us what is life-giving and what is death-dealing. They learned that conscience can be stern, but that in submitting to the truths it conveys, we are liberated in the deepest meaning of human freedom.

They learned that obedience to conscience can make us courageous, and that to strive to live an ideal with the help of grace is to live a truly noble life with an undivided heart.