1. Pope Francis issued a controversial document on the family. The D.C. archbishop has a pioneering plan to implement it. 

By Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post, March 16, 2018, 6:00 AM

Pope Francis made global news in 2016 with a high-level document on family life meant to bring the church into modern times. It emphasized the need for priests to welcome divorced Catholics who remarry outside the church and many others in what the church calls “irregular situations.”

Francis fans cheered his emphasis on inclusion. Critics rued his lack of clarity.

Two years later, Washington’s archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has released one of the most comprehensive responses from a Catholic leader on how to implement the pope’s more lofty and theoretical document.

Like the pope’s, Wuerl’s document sidesteps giving a specific answer to the question of whether Catholics who appear to violate classic teaching — getting remarried outside the church, marrying someone of the same gender, cohabiting — can receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, a core ritual in Catholic spiritual life that represents connection with God.

Instead Wuerl tells the 630,000 Catholics in the D.C. region — and their clergy — to focus on welcome, and on accompanying others in their lives at a time in history when many families feel unstable and social isolation is rampant.

Papal documents very rarely trigger specific responses from bishops, who are the ones leading local communities. But some say Amoris Laetitia has generated more interest than any papal document since Pope Paul VI’s 1968 “Humane Vitae,” about birth control, because it tackles areas such as marriage, divorce and sexuality that are undergoing enormous social change.

Wuerl’s stature as leader of the U.S. Capitol’s Catholics, his reputation for caution, and his decision to create this document underscores in a dramatic way what is being said at the highest levels: Family life in 2018 looks nothing like 1950’s America, and the church needs to get on with acting that way.

Wuerl, 77, said he would not have written a document like this one (called “Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family”) 20 years ago.

The church teaching hasn’t changed, he said, “but the conditions are different.” Family life, church life have been dramatically affected, he said, by contemporary social problems which are pushing people apart from one another. A more welcoming church has the potential to bring people together again, Wuerl said.


2. Pope Francis Is Beloved. His Papacy Might Be a Disaster. 

By Ross Douthat, Opinion Columnist, The New York Times, March 16, 2018, Opinion

He leads a church that spent the prior decade embroiled in a grisly sex abuse scandal, occupies an office often regarded as a medieval relic, and operates in a media environment in which traditional religion generally, and Roman Catholicism especially, are often covered with a mix of cluelessness and malice.

And yet in a remarkably short amount of time — from the first days after his election, really — the former Jorge Bergoglio has made his pontificate a vessel for religious hopes that many of his admirers didn’t realize or remember that they had.

What my friends and acquaintances respond to from this pope, rather, is the iconography of his papacy — the vivid images of humility and Christian love he has created, from the foot-washing of prisoners to the embrace of the disfigured to the children toddling up to him in public events.

So the idea of this pope as a “great reformer,” to borrow the title of the English journalist Austen Ivereigh’s fine 2014 biography, can’t really be justified by any kind of Roman housekeeping. Instead Francis’ reforming energies have been directed elsewhere, toward two dramatic truces that would radically reshape the church’s relationship with the great powers of the modern world.

The first truce this pope seeks is in the culture war that everyone in Western society knows well — the conflict between the church’s moral teachings and the way that we live now, the struggle over whether the sexual ethics of the New Testament need to be revised or abandoned in the face of post-sexual revolution realities.

The papal plan for a truce is either ingenious or deceptive, depending on your point of view. Instead of formally changing the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, euthanasia — changes that are officially impossible, beyond the powers of his office — the Vatican under Francis is making a twofold move. First a distinction is being drawn between doctrine and pastoral practice that claims that merely pastoral change can leave doctrinal truth untouched. So a remarried Catholic might take communion without having his first union declared null, a Catholic planning assisted suicide might still receive last rites beforehand, and perhaps eventually a gay Catholic can have her same-sex union blessed — and yet supposedly none of this changes the church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble and suicide a mortal sin and same-sex wedlock an impossibility, so long as it’s always treated as an exception rather than a rule.

At the same time, Francis has allowed a tacit decentralization of doctrinal authority, in which different countries and dioceses can take different approaches to controversial questions.

In effect he is experimenting with a much more Anglican model for how the Catholic Church might operate — in which the church’s traditional teachings are available for use but not required, and different dioceses and different countries may gradually develop away from each other theologically and otherwise.

This experiment is the most important effort of his pontificate, but in the last year he has added a second one, seeking a truce not with a culture but with a regime: The Communist government in China.

But the two truces are similar in that both would accelerate Catholicism’s transformation into a confederation of national churches — liberal and semi-Protestantized in northern Europe, conservative in sub-Saharan Africa, Communist-supervised in China. They are similar in that both treat the concerns of many faithful Catholics — conservative believers in the West, underground churchgoers in China — as roadblocks to the pope’s grand strategy. They are similar in that both have raised the specter of schism by pitting cardinals against cardinals and sometimes against the pope himself.

Francis’ inner circle is convinced that such a revolution is what the Holy Spirit wants — that the attempts by John Paul II and Benedict to maintain continuity between the church before and after Vatican II ended up choking off renewal.

They are right that the John Paul II paradigm was fraught with flaws and tensions; the ease with which Francis has reopened debates that conservatives considered closed has testified to that. But this pope has not just exposed tensions; he has heightened them, encouraging sweeping ambitions among his allies and pushing disillusioned conservatives toward traditionalism. Like certain imprudent medieval popes, Francis has pressed papal authority to its limits — theological this time, not temporal, but no less dangerous for that.


3. Abortion, free speech collide in Supreme Court dispute. 

By Mark Sherman, Associated Press, March 16, 2018, 6:21 AM

The state of California, prompted by abortion rights groups, worried that vulnerable, uninsured women were going to Informed Choices and other anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers expecting they would get comprehensive care. That prompted passage of a new law requiring crisis pregnancy centers that are licensed by the state to let their clients know that abortions and other medical services are available elsewhere, for little or no cost. It also requires unlicensed facilities to post signs disclosing they are unlicensed.

That law has led to a Supreme Court fight at the intersection of abortion and free speech. Christine Vatuone, the president of Informed Choices, said that posting such a sign in her licensed center’s waiting room or handing information to a client would force Informed Choices to act as “a billboard for the abortion industry.”

Vatuone, the Informed Choices president and CEO, disputed that women can be misled by what her center offers. If anything, more often the women who come in think abortion is their only choice.

Vatuone said it’s a myth that “every girl we see is a 16-year-old in a crisis pregnancy. The average age is in the 20s. Some are very excited. Others are scared to death. These women are lacking some kind of support and that’s why they end up here.”


4. 2 women offer differing views of crisis pregnancy centers. 

By Associated Press, March 16, 2018, 1:59 AM

Angela Jozwicki was in her early 30s and already had had an abortion when she used a store-bought test to confirm she was pregnant again in October 2015. She made an appointment for another abortion, because she was using drugs. But when the baby’s father didn’t show up to take her to the clinic for her appointment, Jozwicki changed her mind. “I decided I would keep that baby,” she said in a Supreme Court brief filed by The Catholic Association Foundation.

Jozwicki eventually found Soundview Pregnancy Services in Centereach, New York. She saw the baby on an ultrasound and returned weekly to meet with a staff member and watch videos about pregnancy and childcare. When it came time to have the baby, Jozwicki invited the staff member to be with her at the hospital. “I did not think she would come, but she was there,” she said.

The center has continued to work with her since her son, Cameryn, was born. With help, she was able to enroll in the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program and apply for financial aid. Counselors at the center also have helped bridge the divide that had opened between Jozwicki and her mother. Jozwicki and Cameryn are now living with her mother. Jozwicki said the center also provides support “so that I don’t turn back to drugs.”


5. Republicans push pro-life conscience protections in spending bill.

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, March 16, 2018, A4

Republican lawmakers and proponents of religious liberty are pushing to include legislation in the omnibus spending bill that would protect health care workers from being forced to perform abortions.

Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, said the Conscience Protection Act would provide a legal remedy for pro-life doctors, nurses, insurance providers and other health care workers who are coerced into participating in abortions under threat of losing their jobs.

The Conscience Protection Act would create a private right of action whereby workers who face discrimination because of their pro-life views can seek relief in federal court.

State and local governments that receive federal funding may not “penalize, retaliate against, or otherwise discriminate against a health care provider” on the basis of the provider’s willingness to “perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also supports the legislation. In a joint statement, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville said the Conscience Protection Act is “urgently needed to protect Americans from being forced to violate their deeply held convictions about respect for human life.”


6. Supreme Court to hear case on California’s FACT Act.

By Alex Swoyer, The Washington Times, March 16, 2018, Pg. A5

California lawmakers were convinced pregnant women in the state were being duped, showing up at crisis pregnancy centers to get information on abortion but instead met with a pitch to carry to term.

So they passed a law requiring the centers to post information about where women might obtain an abortion elsewhere — a move that, in the eyes of the clinics, undercuts everything they’re working toward, and infringes on their First Amendment rights to boot.

They’ll get a chance to make their case to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, asking the justices to nix a law that has even troubled some liberal activists, and that deeply disturbs pro-lifers.

California’s Reproductive Freedom Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, enacted in 2015, requires licensed pregnancy and women’s health facilities to provide notice to clients that abortion is an option and the state has family planning programs available to eligible women.

The law not only requires notification of state programs for abortion or contraception, it also requires crisis pregnancy centers that don’t have a medical license to advertise that fact to their clientele.

The pregnancy centers have already lost at the lower court level, where judges refused to block the law, saying the state’s law is “viewpoint neutral” because any clinic could be subject to the notices.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said the state’s notice doesn’t suggest a preference for abortion or contraceptive services, but only makes the option known.


7. Catholic Charities Battles to Serve Children and Adoptive Parents: Reframing the issue as a battle for ‘adoption choice’ is one strategy for making the case for Catholic Charities’ continued right to serve children and place them with families. 

By Peter Jesserer Smith, National Catholic Register, March 15, 2018

Across the country, local offices of Catholic Charities are similarly fighting in the courts, legislatures and public arena to preserve their adoption services against new legal pressures to close their doors because they abide by Catholic doctrine, which teaches marriage is the permanent, loving union of a man and a woman open to raising children.

The ACLU sued St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Michigan state agencies in September 2017 because the Catholic agency would not place children for adoption with same-sex couples, but only with a married husband and wife. The ACLU challenged the state’s practice of contracting with private religious-based agencies to place children and a 2015 law that allows agencies to act in accordance with their religious beliefs. The ACLU contended the law allows religious agencies, such as St. Vincent, to exclude same-sex couples from adopting, alleging it “reduces placement options for the most vulnerable children.”

Becket, a religious liberty public interest firm representing St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, has called the ACLU lawsuit a politically motivated maneuver that would harm children by eliminating providers and adding no new prospective parents to the state adoption system. 

As the case in Michigan continues to unfold, a same-sex couple in February lodged a lawsuit in federal court for the District of Columbia against Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Texas, because the Catholic agency would not allow them to adopt refugee children. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has also intervened in the case.

The USCCB is concerned that efforts to drive Catholic Charities out of adoption services will harm children, especially since the opioid crisis is now overwhelming state foster-care systems.

Emilie Kao, the director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, told the Register that they have seen an “intensifying” wave of legal challenges to Catholic adoption agencies since the mid-2000s.

Having an adoption agency close its doors has direct consequences for children, who have already been traumatized, Kao added. When Catholic Charities of Illinois was forced to close its doors over placing children with same-sex couples, “more than 2,000 kids were displaced.”

State protections for faith-based adoption providers are important, but they may not be enough.

Michigan passed a law in 2015, with the backing of the Michigan Catholic Conference, that was designed to protect adoption and foster agencies that receive state funds from being forced to violate their beliefs or close shop. But the ACLU’s federal case is designed to challenge that law and eliminate those safeguards.

Becket counsel Stephanie Barclay explained that if the ACLU loses its case against St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Michigan, the victory for religious liberty should add to a layer of legal protection in the federal courts.

The USCCB is also trying to make sure that faith-based adoption agencies, such as Catholic Charities, have an extra layer of protection at the federal level.

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., which the USCCB supports, is federal legislation designed to protect faith-based agencies’ ability to operate according to their own beliefs. The bill also threatens states with the loss of 15% of Social Security funding for child-welfare programs for discriminating against adoption providers.


8. Bishops urge federal protections for supporters of traditional marriage. 

By Catholic News Service, March 15, 2018

The chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees March 14 called the First Amendment Defense Act “a modest and important measure” because it protects those who believe marriage is “the union of one man and one woman.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, recently reintroduced the measure in the Senate.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “has been vocal in support of the legislation since its inception,” said a joint statement by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

People who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman, they said, “are increasingly having their religious freedoms jeopardized and even forfeited.”

“In a pluralistic society,” they continued, “faith-based charitable agencies and schools should not be excluded from participation in public life by loss of licenses, accreditation or tax-exempt status because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government’s view.”


9. American pro-life leaders urge Irish Prime Minister not to repeal abortion ban. 

By Christopher White, Crux, March 15, 2018

Ahead of a May referendum that would overturn Ireland’s ban on abortion, a group of prominent American pro-life leaders are urging Ireland’s Prime Minister to uphold his country’s 8th amendment.

On Thursday, a letter signed by 17 notable pro-life leaders was hand delivered to Prime Minister Leo Varadkar a day before he is scheduled to visit the White House for its annual Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.

“We are aware of the current debate in Ireland over abortion and the 8th Amendment and we believe that you, as the Prime Minister of Ireland, must be a voice for the most innocent and uphold the dignity and rights of each and every Irish citizen,” they wrote.

“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ireland has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world – and this is without abortion,” they continued. “Experienced practitioners and researchers in obstetrics and gynecology from all over the world have applauded Ireland’s 8th amendment and made it clear that women and their children are better off without abortion.”

The letter was signed by Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life; Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List; Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of Students for Life; and Catherine Glenn Foster, President of Americans United for Life, among others.

“Ireland has been a beacon of hope for America, that one day we too could have life-affirming laws that promote excellent healthcare for women and their children. You have the power to take a stand against the repeal of the 8th and protect women and their children from abortion,” the signees urged Varadkar.