1. Congress passes legislation targeting websites that host prostitution ads. 

By Tom Jackman, The Washington Post, March 22, 2018, Pg. A5

The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill, already approved by the House, that would enable prosecutors to pursue websites that host advertisements for prostitution. The bill, awaiting President Trump’s signature, was hailed by anti-sex-trafficking groups and law enforcement as an important step in fighting online prostitution of teenagers.

Senators passed the bill 97 to 2, without amendments, meaning it can be immediately signed into law by the president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Trump applauded the passage of the bill, said it was “an important step forward,” and that the president looked forward to putting “an end to this scourge,” but she did not explicitly say he would sign the bill. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were the only “no” votes.


2. Vatican stages UN event to protest ‘genocide’ against Down Syndrome. 

By Christopher White, Crux, March 22, 2018

While the United Nations has a stated commitment to protecting and promoting the lives of those with Down Syndrome, the Holy See believes some in the international community are abetting what one Washington Post columnist recently termed a “genocide” against such individuals.

At a United Nations event on Tuesday in anticipation of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, charged delegates with failing to uphold protections enshrined in international agreements to protect those with disabilities.

The event, “No Room in Rural Villages, Cities and Homes for Those with Disabilities? Are Girls and Boys with Down Syndrome Being Left Behind?” was sponsored by the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations, and took place as part of the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women.

The event comes at a time when some European countries have stated goals to “eliminate” Down Syndrome, which Auza decried as euphemistic, noting that “elimination” really means parents “choosing to end the life of their son or daughter.”

Among the panelists were Mary O’Callaghan, a developmental psychologist from the University of Notre Dame who has a son with Down Syndrome; Patricia White, also a mother to a Down Syndrome son, and co-founder of the Lumind Research Down Syndrome Foundation; Mikalya Holmgren, the first woman with Down syndrome to participate in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant; and Randall Wright, the director of Summer in the Forest, a new documentary about the L’Arche community for persons with disabilities – all of whom offered firsthand accounts of lives being improved by living with, or around, those with Downs.


3. ‘Lettergate’ debacle unnecessary, but useful in surfacing tensions. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 22, 2018

Now that “Lettergate,” the surreal affair regarding a letter from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, has reached its denouement with the resignation of Monsignor Dario Viganò from the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, it seems time to draw some big-picture conclusions.

First, the most obvious: If you’re sitting on a letter from a pope, even an emeritus one, you’ve really only got two choices about what to do with it. Either you publish the entire thing, or you keep it to yourself.

No matter how private you may believe the communication is, there’s no such animal as a pope letter that won’t eventually get out once someone makes a big public deal of it, which is exactly what Viganò did in this case. He clearly wanted the headline of “Benedict says idea of rupture with Francis is foolish,” and he also wanted the theological credentials of Francis to be acknowledged by one of the finest theological minds ever to hold the papacy.

Those are understandable desires, but the price should have been clear – you’ve got to release the full text, including Benedict declining to comment on the series and complaining about the inclusion of an essay by Father Peter Hünermann, a liberal German theologian who had been critical of Benedict over the years.

Second, Viganò’s fate would seem to suggest Francis may be rethinking his typical inflexibility when people he’s chosen are under fire.

When Monsignor Gian Battista Ricca faced criticism as the prelate of the Vatican bank, Francis stood by his man, as he’s done so far with Bishop Juan Barros in Chile. Yet in this case, Viganò’s resignation was accepted quite swiftly, and over a scandal that’s hardly as serious as accusations of sexual misconduct (Ricca’s case) or covering up sexual abuse (Barros’.)

Third, Viganò is a classic illustration of the rule that the king’s henchman is rarely a popular guy, especially with the people whose heads he’s chopping off.

Perhaps the broad lesson on this front is that if you take a slash-and-burn approach to a workplace – however justified or essential doing so may be, in some cases – it’s probably unrealistic to expect a safety net when times get tough.

Fourth, Viganò’s departure creates a further opportunity to internationalize the communications apparatus at the Vatican. His English was not the best, and he often seemed more concerned with what Avvenire and La Stampa thought (two Italian papers) than the New York Times and Le Monde.

 A more international figure at the helm could give the Vatican a broader outlook – especially if, as rumored, Irish Bishop Paul Tighe, currently the number two official at the Council for Culture, becomes Viganò’s successor.

Fifth, the basic fault line between Francis’s fans and critics that colors how pretty much everything with regard to this papacy is seen is also shaping how people perceive the lettergate debacle.

At one level, “lettergate” probably will go down as one of the most unnecessary Vatican scandals of all time, an affair that could have been easily avoided with a bit more forethought about the wisdom of releasing only an expurgated version of Benedict’s text.

On the other hand, it’s also brought to light real tensions, both within the Secretariat for Communications about what “reform” actually means, and also in the broader church about to what extent Francis’s and Benedict’s visions are truly in harmony. In that sense, perhaps, it’s provided useful food for thought – including for Viganò, who now seems destined to have a bit more free time on his hands.


4. Vatican Media Chief Quits Over Use of Letter From Retired Pope Benedict: Pope Francis chose Msgr. Dario Viganò in 2015 to overhaul the Holy See’s media operation. 

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2018, 12:57 PM

The head of the Vatican communications office resigned over the promotional use of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI, an incident that has undermined the credibility of a media operation that is being reorganized under Pope Francis.

The pope chose Msgr. Dario Viganò in 2015 to oversee the merger of the Vatican’s media outlets and modernize their operations. Msgr. Viganò’s resignation stems from the publication last week of portions of a letter the monsignor had received from retired Pope Benedict commenting on a new series of academic studies, published by the Vatican press, of Pope Francis’ theological ideas.

The retired pope’s quoted comments, which were widely reported at the time, played down his differences with his more liberal successor and attested to an “interior continuity between the two pontificates, notwithstanding all the differences in style and temperament.”

But later in the week, it was reported that a photograph of the letter distributed to journalists had been altered to blur lines in which Pope Benedict stated that he was too busy to read or comment substantially on the books in question.

On Saturday, the Vatican published Pope Benedict’s entire letter, including a section in which he criticized the Vatican for including among the authors of the book series a German theologian who he said had “virulently” attacked his teaching and that of his predecessor, St. John Paul II, particularly on questions of moral doctrine.


5. Abortion Speech Law Case Heard at Supreme Court; Pro-Life Advocates Anticipate Win. 

By Brandon Showalter, The Christian Post, March 21, 2018, 7:50 AM

Hundreds of pro-life advocates assembled on the steps of the Supreme Court to rally in support of crisis pregnancy centers, contesting a California law which compels them to advertise and promote abortion.

The nation’s highest court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the case of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.

At issue is whether or not a California statute, the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (also known as the Reproductive FACT Act), which requires pro-life pregnancy centers to provide specific information to their patients, including the availability of free or low-cost abortions, is constitutional. 

Kate Anderson, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom — the group representing NIFLA in the high court inside — told The Christian Post on the steps of the Supreme Court that the issue is indeed about the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech.

“No American should be coerced by the government to speak a message that violates their beliefs. And that’s exactly what’s happening here,” Anderson said.

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association — which filed an amicus brief in support of NIFLA — concurred, noting the wider implications for vulnerable people.

“This case gets at the heart of the First Amendment but it’s also about the broader issue: What kind of society are we going to create for women?” McGuire told CP.

“I think there’s a real potential for harm to women if the ruling goes the wrong way.”

The TCA brief contains testimonials from 13 women who hail from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, each of whom came to a pregnancy center and were assisted with their pregnancies and went on to succeed both professionally and as women.

“These centers embody the reality that we are the ones who want to love them both, if you will. Not just seeing babies born, but seeing their mothers flourish,” McGuire said.

“And the women in our brief, I think, testify to the fact that these centers really do help women be very empowered as mothers and in many cases straighten out their lives, so there’s a lot at stake.”


6. US Supreme Court Dubious About Calif. Law Targeting Crisis-Pregnancy Centers: During March 20 oral arguments, justices on both sides of the court’s ideological divide indicated concern about the law’s constitutionality. 

By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register, March 21, 2018

Justices on both sides of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ideological divide sharply questioned a California law that requires licensed pregnancy centers to post contact information for free abortions.

During the March 20 oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the state pregnancy centers asserted that the California Reproductive FACT Act violated the protections set forth in the Free-Speech Clause of the First Amendment. And liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as Justice Anthony Kennedy, the high court’s closely watched “swing vote,” appeared sympathetic to the clinics’ predicament.

“Justices across the spectrum expressed skepticism about the California law,” said Mark Rienzi, the president of Becket, the public interest group that has played a lead role in a string of landmark religious-freedom cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Becket also represents EWTN Global Catholic Network, the Register’s parent company, in its legal challenge to the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate.

“Justice Kennedy had several strong questions indicating that he thought California had deliberately targeted pregnancy centers,” Rienzi told the Register.

Responding to the charge that the law had been specifically tailored for pregnancy centers and did not mandate similar rules for other medical providers, Justine Kagan said, “If it has been gerrymandered, that’s a serious issue.”

Justice Kennedy wanted to know whether the disclosure law would apply if an unlicensed center posted a billboard with the words, “Choose LIfe.” Must the clinic also post the mandated 29-word notice about its unlicensed status?

When Michael Farris, the clinics’ lawyer, agreed that the notice would be required, Kennedy suggested the statute posed an “undue burden” on the clinics’ speech rights, and “that should suffice to invalidate the statute.”