1. Metro’s ban on religious-themed ads back in court. 

By Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, March 26, 2018, 7:00 AM

Metro’s ban on religious themed advertisements on public buses, trains and transit stations is at the center of a high-profile appeals court case set for Monday featuring the Archdiocese of Washington, two powerhouse attorneys and the First Amendment.

The case reached the court after Metro rejected an ad campaign the archdiocese intended to run during the 2017 holiday season with the message “Find the Perfect Gift.”

For decades, the transit system’s policy allowed a range of messages, including political satire and criticism of the Catholic Church. But in 2015, prompted by security concerns over anti-Muslim-themed ads, Metro banned issue oriented messages as well as any related to religion or politics.

The decision limited ads to commercial products and services, which bring in more than $20 million for the regional transit system that relies on funding from the District, Maryland, Virginia and federal government.

Backed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the archdiocese says in court filings that Metro’s policy banning ads that “promote . . . any religion, religious practice or belief” discriminates against religious organizations and is applied inconsistently.

Ads for a new yoga studio pass muster, the filings state, but not for a new parish hall. Gifts from Macys.com are in, but not from the archdiocese’s findtheperfectgift.org.

“The result is not anything like a clean distinction between commercial and non-commercial messages but a patchwork of exceptions,” according to the archdiocese.

Recent advertisements have featured the Salvation Army’s signature red kettle and language about how the Protestant-affiliated charity can improve the lives of recipients, but the archdiocese noted: “The Salvation Army’s objective is the salvation of souls, not recycling.”

The case will be argued by two former solicitors general: Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., representing Metro, and Paul Clement, representing the archdiocese. The two Washington lawyers last faced off in a 2016 Supreme Court case over a key element of the Affordable Care Act and pitted religious liberty against women’s access to contraceptive coverage.

The three-judge panel hearing the Metro case Monday includes Judges Judith W. Rogers, Brett Kavanaugh and Robert L. Wilkins.

Just before Christmas, a different three-judge panel of the same court upheld a lower court decision siding with Metro and keeping the ads off the sides of buses. That panel said the archdiocese’s argument that cited Christmas shopping advertisements was “grounded in pure hypothesis” and that it had not presented a “single example of a retail, commercial, or other non-religious advertisement on a WMATA bus that expresses the view that the holiday season should be celebrated in a secular or non-religious manner.”

If the court sides with the archdiocese, the Metro board could be forced to rewrite its rules. Jack Evans, the Metro board chairman and a D.C. Council member, has said the board has no interest in revisiting the policy.


2. Bill to prevent sex trafficking quickly chases users offline. 

By Stephen Dinan, The Washington Times, March 26, 2018, Pg. A1

President Trump hasn’t even put his signature to the bill Congress approved last week to fight sex trafficking, but its bite is already being felt in the online communities it was aimed at, with Craigslist and other major forums nixing their “personals” sections where people trolled for relationships, sex and other connections.

Former users rushed to share ideas about possible substitutes, while some of the companies took a chiding tone and told users to blame Capitol Hill.

The lawmakers behind the bill, dubbed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, said that was just fine with them.

“FOSTA set out to establish a meaningful criminal deterrent so that fewer businesses would ever enter the online sex trafficking industry. The bill hasn’t even been signed into law, and it is already working,” said Rep. Ann Wagner, Missouri Republican and sponsor of the House version of the bill.

Reddit, another large online community, updated its policies in the wake of the bill’s passage to ban forums that had hosted transactions for firearms, alcohol and other drugs, and “paid services involving sexual contact.”

That meant “subreddits” dubbed GunsForSale, Escorts, Hookers and WeedDeals were all nixed.

Users took the loss of their online communities badly.

Some said Reddit misunderstood what the pages were for, and there were no actual transactions taking place in the forums.

Most of all, the loss of communities sent users looking for alternatives.

Some online users suggested moving away from forums and toward person-to-person communications through smartphone apps. Others predicted a website based outside the U.S. might swoop in and take over the market.


3. Ohio’s Unconstitutional Abortion Bill. 

By The New York Times, March 26, 2018, Pg. A22, Editorial

While Donald Trump once said he was “very pro-choice,” since the start of his presidential campaign his stance on abortion has been consistent: It should be banned, no matter the consequences to women.

Ohio lawmakers have proposed legislation to ban all abortions, period, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life.

But the Ohio bill would not only cut off access to the procedure, it would also open the door to criminal charges against both abortion providers and women seeking the procedure.

This rash of radically unconstitutional bills is appearing by design. The anti-abortion movement has been trying to pass pre-viability abortion bans, like the Ohio bill, hoping that efforts to overturn them would lead to a challenge of Roe v. Wade that would end with the 45-year-old decision’s reversal in the Supreme Court.


4. Chinese prelates say proposed Vatican pact not a ‘deal with the Devil’. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 26, 2018

In Catholic circles high and low, a widely reported potential deal between the Vatican and China over the appointment of bishops is stirring varied reactions. While some hail the accord as a critically important way for the Church to deepen ties with a global superpower, others see it as capitulation in the face of a hostile atheist regime.

Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, … described the proposed agreement precisely as a “deal with the Devil,” saying, “This will be a shame in Catholic history that can never be washed away.” Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen has spoken in similarly harsh terms, insisting that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

To hear some leading Chinese Catholics tell it during a major Rome conference this week, however, the Chinese government is hardly the Devil, and the Church is gradually winning a place of respect in an evolving Chinese society.

The discussion unfolded during a two-day conference titled “Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation,” staged at Rome’s Jesuit-run Gregorian University. In some ways, the mere fact of the gathering was more important than any particular points made along the way, since not so long ago obtaining permission for senior Christian leaders to participate might have seemed implausible.

Instead, the lineup at the Gregorian seemed to suggest that a gradual thaw in Rome/Beijing relations is gathering force under Pope Francis, and few seemed anxious to slow things down.

At one stage, for instance, Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting, who serves as the coadjutor bishop of Yan’an, and who was ordained in 2010 with both government and Vatican approval, seemed almost dismissive of fellow priests who request political asylum in foreign countries on the basis of claims of religious persecution.

At another point, Xiaoting largely brushed off a question about whether the government attempts to control education in Church-run seminaries.

“We have not felt that there has been coercion by the government to impose a curriculum upon us,” Xiaoting said. “We felt we need to know more about the policies of the government, so we can defend our rights and create more space for the Church to develop, to sustain itself and also to expand in our society.”

Speaking during a panel session Friday morning, Xiaoting added that Beijing “is promoting a very precise plan to help the poor, which poses no contradiction at all with our teaching and also our practice,” and that Chinese President Xi Jinping “promotes the  concept of a common human destiny, which is similar to our concepts, emphasizing the common good and the welfare of all.”

Far from an implacable enemy of the faith, in other words, the Chinese government as presented by Xiaoting seemed an essentially neutral, even benevolent, arbiter of social life vis-à-vis the country’s various religious bodies.

The bulk of Xiaoting’s presentation was devoted to arguing that the Catholic Church in China is winning hearts and minds through an expanding array of social services, which represent an important form of “adaptation,” he suggested, using a government-approved word for religions that accept the need to be good Chinese citizens.


5. Dublin archbishop says papal visit will make Irish Church examine its failings. 

By Charles Collins, Crux, March 26, 2018

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said Sunday that the upcoming visit by Pope Francis for an international Catholic family gathering “has brought with it an examination of the failings of the Irish Church.”

On Wednesday, Francis announced he would visit the Irish capital from Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families, the Vatican-sponsored event which brings thousands of families together every three years.

It will be the first papal trip to Ireland since Pope St. John Paul II’s triumphal visit in 1979.

Since then, a series of cases of clerical sexual abuse and other scandals has weakened the moral authority of the once-dominant Catholic Church in the country.


6. Francis, the Anti-Strongman. 

By Paul Elie, Paul Elie, the author of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Reinventing Bach,” is a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, The New York Times, March 25, 2018, Pg. SR. 27, Opinion

In recent centuries, the pope has been both symbol and cipher for an authoritarian ruler. As Western governments became more expressive of the will of the governed, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church has been seen, by contrast, as a figure vested in bulletproof pre-modern absolutes, immune to electoral or popular pressures, accountable to God alone.

So it’s striking that in our time, Pope Francis has emerged as a counterweight to authoritarian rule, a pope who has set the office he holds in symbolic opposition to would-be autocrats.

The age of the strongman is at hand: Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Donald Trump in the United States all disdain checks and balances, the independent press and other forces that might counter a self-determined chief executive.

In these circumstances, Pope Francis has emerged as the anti-strongman. His choice of name evoked Francis of Assisi, humble patron saint of the poor. His decision to live in the Santa Marta guesthouse rather than the Vatican Palace suggested his essential simplicity. Paying his hotel bill in Rome, carrying his own briefcase onto Shepherd One: Here was a pope with both feet on the ground.

Francis has acted on his conviction that Catholic faith is less about the use of power to shape the social order — the stuff of present strongmen and past popes — than about straightforward efforts of kindness and generosity.

Symbolically, the papacy is meant to be a “contrast structure” to worldly forms of authority. Too often, it has been such a structure in the wrong ways: crabbed, self-protecting, aloof and denunciatory. Five years into his pontificate, Francis is no small-d democrat, no faultless leader — and no perfect pope. And yet in this pope, our upside-down age has a leader whose approach and example stand as reminders of what the sensitive exercise of power can look like.


7. As Vatican and China Talk, Taiwan Looks on Nervously. 

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, March 25, 2018, 4:08 AM

Five blocks from the Vatican, on the bustling, tourist-packed street leading to St. Peter’s Basilica, a Taiwanese flag flutters from the window of a third story suite of offices that house Taipei’s embassy to the Holy See.

These days, the staff inside are anxious. They know that one night they may have to lower that flag – red and blue with a white sun – for the last time.

As the Vatican and China move closer to a historic deal on the appointment of bishops, which would signal a warming of once-frigid relations, diplomats and scholars say Taiwan could lose the most from the deal.

The Vatican is one of only 20 states that still recognize Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China. Beijing insists that if countries want relations with it they must break ties with Taiwan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said last month that China had always been sincere in its efforts to improve China-Vatican relations.

A senior Vatican official said however that the accord on bishops “is not a political one,” suggesting that it does not include any formal link to diplomatic relations and that the Vatican will not be the next country to switch relations to China from Taiwan.

Catholic leaders in Taipei are also hopeful.


8. Young Catholics tell Pope Francis the church is indifferent and judgmental. 

By Amanda Erickson, The Washington Post, March 25, 2018, 3:25 PM

On Saturday, hundreds of young Catholics gathered to give Pope Francis a piece of their minds.

They called for a more transparent and “authentic” church, one with a bigger role for women and more wisdom about the benefits and challenges of technology. They called for more flexibility, too, arguing that “unreachable” moral standards should not be the only way to live an authentically Catholic life.

These findings were part of a 16-page report assembled by 300 young people at a week-long conference sponsored by the Vatican. It drew, too, on online submissions from 15,000 others.

“We, the young church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing,” the report said.

It was less clear how the group wanted the church to reframe its message. The young people, ages 16 to 29, did not find consensus on issues like contraception (artificial birth control is banned for all Catholics, even married couples), cohabitation before marriage (frowned upon) or abortion.

The report also pushed the church to find ways to connect to young people, who often feel “indifference, judgment and rejection” from the church.

Throughout, the report called on the church to incorporate women more fully into church leadership. Women cannot serve as priests, which means they’re absent from the church’s upper ranks. Young female Catholics said they feel alienated as a result.

The report also called on the church to accept that technology is a way of life for young people. The focus should not be condemnation, they wrote, but rather guidance on how to combat online addiction and use technology responsibly.


9. On Palm Sunday, pope urges youth to raise their voices. 

By Associated Press, March 25, 2018, 4:04 PM

Pope Francis on Palm Sunday urged young people not to be silent and let their voices be heard, even in the face of corrupt or silent elders.

The pope’s message comes on the heels of a meeting of young Catholics who told the Vatican they want a more transparent and authentic church, and a day after hundreds of thousands marched in youth-led rallies across the United States to demand greater gun control.

“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” Francis said. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. … There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive. “


10. The Catholic Church-Coming to a Starbucks Near You? 

By Reuters, March 24, 2018, 10:59 AM

It might be called Cappuccino Catholicism.

Young Catholics told their Church elders on Saturday that the faith should be spread in the places where they like to hang out, such as coffee bars.

“We would like the Church to meet us in the various places in which she currently has little or no presence,” reads part of a 12-page document written by some 300 young Catholic delegates from around the world, who met for a week at the Vatican.

“The Church should try to find creative new ways to encounter people where they are comfortable and where they naturally socialize: bars, coffee shops, parks, gyms, stadiums and any other popular cultural centers,” it said.

The delegates met in Rome to share their ideas and concerns with Vatican officials ahead of a synod, or meeting of bishops, in October, on the theme of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”.


11. Young people give Pope Francis a piece of their mind. 

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, March 24, 2018

Young Catholics told the Vatican on Saturday they want a more transparent and authentic church, where women play a greater leadership role and where obeying “unreachable” moral standards isn’t the price of admission.

In a fascinating final document from a weeklong Vatican-initiated conference, 300 young people from around the world joined by 15,000 young people online gave the older men who run the 1.2-billion strong church a piece of their collective mind.

They urged Pope Francis and the bishops who will gather at the Vatican in the fall to back their recommendations that church leaders must address the unequal roles of women in the church and how technology is used and abused. They warned that “excessive moralism” is driving faithful away and that out-of-touch church bureaucrats need to accompany their flock with humility and transparency.

The 300 young people who attended the conference were mostly selected by their national bishops’ conferences, universities or church movements. A handful of non-Catholics and non-Christians, as well as some atheists, also participated, and their views were incorporated into the final document.


12. Sex trafficking bill necessary step to protect women, children from enslavement. 

By Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, The Hill, March 23, 2018, 11:54 AM

With the passage by the Senate of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), Congress has come down decisively on the side of exploited women and children, and against website owners who intentionally support the sale of trafficking victims. Now, President Trump will have the chance to do the same.

FOSTA is fine-tuned to stop internet-enabled sex trafficking without dampening the freedom and exuberance of the Internet or exposing web-hosting sites to frivolous lawsuits. This is because the law would make the companies liable only if they knowingly supported the buying and selling of sex by traffickers as Backpage did. And even small, start-up tech companies have access to the computing power needed to perform advanced analytics and real filtering that stops bad actors and flags instances of criminal prostitution.  

One tech company that has consistently endorsed the bill, Oracle, describes Internet platforms as being designed and equipped to analyze exactly what comes across their sites, and that this capability can even be obtained as a service in the cloud. Oracle’s September letter to the Senate in support of legislative action explains that the success of internet companies hinges “on their ability to precisely analyze . . . data and content . . . and not just to “blindly run platforms with no control of content.” Other rich and influential industry giants, like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter, have long been lobbying hard against FOSTA, but have offered no workable, self-enforced solution.

Executives from Twitter, Google, and Facebook have faced scrutiny and criticism for their opposition to tougher measures against trafficking on their platforms, which may have been the catalyst to their surrender. In any case, prompt signing of the bill by President Trump will make it much less likely that criminal online traffickers can profit from exploitation and despair, and much more likely that thousands of women and children will be protected from enslavement and abuse.