1. China Razes Territory, Dismantling a Culture, Authorities take down once-bustling Uighur neighborhoods to create a compliant economic hub.

By Josh Chin and Clément Bürge, The Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2019, Pg. A1

In this old Silk Road city in western China, a state security campaign involving the detention of vast numbers of people has moved to its next stage: demolishing their neighborhoods and purging their culture.

Two years after authorities began rounding up Urumqi’s mostly Muslim ethnic Uighur residents, many of the anchors of Uighur life and identity are being uprooted. Empty mosques remain, while the shantytown homes that surrounded them have been replaced by glass towers and retail strips like many found across China.

China’s Communist Party has waged an aggressive campaign in Xinjiang to counter what it says are violent, extremist tendencies among the region’s 14 million Turkic Muslims, most of them Uighurs.

To realize its “deradicalization” goals, authorities have detained what United Nations experts say have been as many as a million Muslims in a network of internment camps—and subjected the rest to mass digital surveillance


2. States Try to Effectively Ban Abortions.

The New York Times, March 21, 2019, Pg. A26, Editorial

Lost in the anxiety this year over the fate of Roe v. Wade is the reality that state legislatures nationwide are already taking steps to effectively ban all abortions.

Not even three months into 2019, lawmakers in a dozen states have proposed so-called heartbeat bills, which would outlaw abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and thus make it all but impossible for nearly all women to get the procedure. Six of those bills have passed in at least one legislative chamber, and on Friday Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky signed one into law. Hours later, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Kentucky law, which was to have taken effect immediately.

The court’s action is not surprising. Courts are nearly guaranteed to block these laws — because they’re flagrantly unconstitutional. (With its Roe decision, the Supreme Court enshrined the right to an abortion up to around 24 weeks of pregnancy.) For that reason, heartbeat bills were not given much thought until recently.

Given that these bills are so unambiguously unconstitutional, they might seem pointless. But their purpose is clear: to show the anti-abortion voting bloc that conservative lawmakers are willing to do anything — including waging expensive and most likely fruitless legal battles — to keep women from exercising their right to abortion. A heartbeat bill might never go into effect, but if conservatives keep pushing increasingly extreme pieces of legislation, they might ultimately win the war by bringing about the demise of Roe. They’re certainly betting on it.


3. Pope Francis wants psychological testing to prevent problem priests. But can it really do that?

By Julie Zauzmer, Washington Post Online, March 21, 2019, 7:56 AM

As the Catholic Church quakes through one sexual abuse scandal after another, Pope Francis recently announced a policy he wants to implement on a worldwide scale: No man should become a priest without a psychological evaluation proving he is suited to a life of chastity.

In the United States, most men seeking to enter a Catholic seminary undergo psychological testing, often a battery of questions that probes their deepest secrets and can last for days.

As Francis elevates the visibility of this type of testing, it raises the question of just how this profiling works and whether any psychologist can truly determine a young man is cut out for a lifelong vow to abstain from sex or is likely to commit sexual crimes. As it stands, there is no single agreed-upon method for conducting these assessments of priests. There is also no reliable way of measuring the tests’ effectiveness at weeding out problem priests.

“Standard psychological testing, it’s not very good in ferreting out sexual difficulties among the general population,” said Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a Catholic University professor who formerly led St. Luke Institute, a mental health facility for priests. “There isn’t much. We’ve been working hard to figure out what to do, how do we better understand sexuality.”


4. Mississippi Governor Set to Sign ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Law.

By The Associated Press, March 21, 2019

Gov. Phil Bryant says he’s not worried about lawsuits as Mississippi prepares to enact one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.

The Republican governor is scheduled to sign a bill Thursday to outlaw most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.

Georgia and Tennessee are among the states considering similar bills. Kentucky’s law was immediately challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union when Republican Gov. Matt Bevin on March 14, and a federal judge has temporarily blocked it.



5. New poll shows anti-Christian persecution a ‘very severe’ global concern.

By Christopher White, Crux, March 21, 2019

According to a new poll, an increasing number of Catholics believe anti-Christian persecution is a “very severe” global concern.

Results from an annual survey conducted by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need USA released this week reveal that 46 percent of U.S. Catholics believe the issue to be a severe concern, up from only 30 percent last year. The survey also found that 58 percent of Catholics identify as “very concerned” about the plight of Christians around the globe, also up from 41 percent last year.

Yet despite the general increase in awareness and concern, the same data reveal that most U.S. Catholics believe that attention to the issue is lacking on both the local level and national levels of the U.S. Church.

According to data from Aid to the Church in Need, the right of religious freedom is gravely threatened in 38 countries around the globe, and according to a 2018 report by Open Doors USA, there are more than 215 million Christians persecuted worldwide, and one in 12 live in countries where Christianity is “illegal, forbidden, or punished.”

In response to the latest data, Marlin urged Catholics to invest in new efforts to raise awareness of this issue, both at the parish and diocesan level.

“There is a need to better inform and galvanize the faithful,” he said. “There is an obligation to keep the spotlight on the seriousness and pervasiveness of Christian communities being persecuted around the world.”


6. Proper Liturgy Needs Doctrinal Truth.

By Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., Crisis Magazine, March 21, 2019

Liturgical thought today seems to downplay the importance of doctrine while elevating the significance of practice. The harmony of lex orandi as the criterion of lex credendi is questioned. Dogma and liturgy seem to have parted company. We have to choose which side we are on: doctrine and its pastoral application together or merely the latter severed from doctrinal truth. Many a difficult moral case, to be sure, cannot easily be solved. Yet, doctrine seems “rigid”—to use Pope Francis’s oft-repeated accusation. For some, no clear answer seems forthcoming—even after much contemplation. We must act in obscurity. The world is like a “field hospital” where urgent cases must first be dealt with the best way we can. The rules don’t apply to everyone.

Resolute authors resort to probabilism or even “probabiliorism”—to what is safe or more than safe. The first emphasizes freedom, the latter safety. If these solutions do not work, we turn to consequentialism. This means a moral action is right if its consequences are what we want. Another option is historicism: each age has its own solution that can contradict the answers of an earlier age. A “pastoral” solution to complex problems that does not appeal to truth is close to what used to be called casuistry or even sophistry. The abstract moral principle is applied to a particular case. Particular cases usually have many contingencies about them that mitigate or increase responsibility for the gravity of the act. In any case, we have to make a decision. The good of the believer requires it. If the law is not clear, we are free to take the side of liberty—in dubiis, libertas. Under such circumstances, quite a few will accept the Machiavellian solution—we make evil our good.

The liturgy that is revealed to us as the true way to worship the Father is cast in the twofold form of a supper and a sacrifice. In addition to this context, we have the resurrection of precisely the whole person, body and soul. In the end, we are not just souls or bodies. We are made whole. We remain whole. Msgr. Robert Sokolowski had it right. Truth only exists when it is actually known as truth. The “Eucharistic Presence” is the central act of our liturgies. Its only validity is its truth as handed down to us, the one sacrificial banquet that frees us to accept the eternal, Trinitarian life.

Plato was right. We should spend our lives “singing, dancing, and sacrificing.” We should experience the perfection of human life when we dine together as friends because we can no longer be called servants when we are adopted sons of God and friends of Christ, true God and true Man.

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of many books including The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press.


7. Vatican makes overtures on eve of Italy visit by China’s Xi.

By Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press, March 20, 2019, 12:27 AM

The Vatican is greeting the visit to Italy of Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week with a new round of overtures and says the “door is always open” to dialogue.

Italian media have been speculating for days about the possibility of a meeting between Xi and Pope Francis during Xi’s March 21-24 visit. But there has been no word from either side. China and the Holy See haven’t had diplomatic relations for more than a half-century.

When asked Tuesday about Xi’s visit to Italy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said: “Our door is always open.” But he noted that both sides would have to express a willingness to meet.

At a briefing Wednesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao said the sides were working on improving relations based on “constructive dialogue” and “building mutual trust.”

The Vatican has been working across a variety of fronts to build on relations stemming from the historic provisional agreement reached in September between Beijing and the Holy See over bishop nominations.

China’s estimated 12 million Catholics are split between those belonging to the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is outside the pope’s authority, and an underground church loyal to the pope. Underground priests and parishioners are frequently detained and harassed.


8. Pope Francis’ Appointments: A Key Measure of His Pontificate.

By Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Catholic Register, March 20, 2019

The death of Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels last week, the day after the sixth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, drew attention to the importance of appointments in defining a pontificate.

Cardinal Danneels of Brussels, Belgium, was appointed to the post by St. John Paul II in 1979 — and created a cardinal in 1983 — and remained there for 31 years, until his retirement in 2010. He was the grandest of the European liberal prelates and in the early 1980s was entrusted with key assignments under John Paul.

Appointments matter more than most things that a pope does. The appointment of Cardinal Danneels reflected that John Paul often appointed the leading bishops of stature in their respective countries, even if they were of a different theological or pastoral approach. John Paul, who was accused by his critics of insisting upon a narrow line in the bishops he nominated, appointed not only Cardinal Danneels in Brussels, but Carlo Maria Martini in Milan, Joseph Bernardin in Chicago, Roger Mahony in Los Angeles and Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann in Germany.

Neither have his appointments been recognized as qualitatively as those of Ratzinger, Casaroli, Gantin, Martini, Lustiger and O’Connor. There is no equivalent to the operational efficiency brought by Dziwisz, nor the polished professionalism in communications brought by Navarro-Valls. The pontificate of Pope Francis is much more controlled by the Holy Father himself and a tight circle around him.

It is even the case in Brussels, where the now-eulogized Cardinal Danneels was far more consequential a leading liberal than the current archbishop, a rather more pedestrian man appointed by Pope Francis.


9. Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Exhortation Will Take Form of Letter to Youth, The Pope will sign the document on March 25 but it won’t be published until some time later.

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, March 20, 2019

The post-synodal apostolic exhortation will be entitled Vive Cristo, esperanza nuestra, taken from the first words of the document in Spanish rather than the usual Latin, the Vatican announced today in a statement.

It also said the document will “take the form of a ‘Letter to Youth’” which the Pope will sign this coming Monday, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, during his one-day visit to the Marian Shrine of Loreto.

“With this gesture,” the statement continued, “the Pope intends to entrust to the Virgin Mary the document that seals the work of the Synod of Bishops held in the Vatican, from 3 to 28 October 2018, on the theme: ‘Young people, faith and vocational discernment.’” 

The Vatican did not specify when the text will be made public, saying simply that it will be “published after the March 25 signature and presented, as is customary for a magisterial document, during a press conference at the Holy See Press Office, details of which will be given in the coming days.”


10. Betsy DeVos Strikes a Blow for Religious Freedom.

By Frederick M. Hess & Brendan Bell, National Review Online, March 20, 2019, 1:28 PM

Last week, Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education will stop enforcing a provision in federal law that has long barred religious organizations from contracting with private schools to provide federally funded “equitable services,” such as tutoring and professional development. In a letter to Congress, DeVos explained that she was acting in accordance with the Supreme Court’s 2017 verdict in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.

In Trinity Lutheran, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri had engaged in unconstitutional discrimination by denying a church-run preschool access to a publicly funded program for playground improvement. Under the Constitution’s free-exercise clause, the Court found, otherwise eligible entities cannot be disqualified from a public benefit “based solely on their religious status.”

In a press release accompanying her announcement, DeVos declared that, “Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization.” This is not a theoretical problem. To take but one example, up to now, parochial-school teachers could not attend a federally funded workshop at Catholic University. In that sense, DeVos’s policy change is long overdue.

The new policy has the potential to immediately benefit many of the millions of educationally disadvantaged students who attend private schools, and its significance will only grow if efforts to expand private-school choice continue to flourish. It didn’t spark the commentary or contention that have greeted so many of DeVos’s other actions, but it’s a sensible, overdue act of good stewardship and we ought not overlook it.

Frederick M. Hess is the director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Brendan Bell is the education-policy program manager at AEI.