1. China Keeps Tight Rein on Bishop as Vatican Deal Looms: Underground prelate allowed limited role in Holy Week as Beijing works to heal rift with Rome. 

By Eva Dou, The Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2018, Pg. A6

Chinese officials allowed an underground Catholic bishop to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass after concerns about his treatment risked upsetting efforts by Beijing and the Vatican to end a decadeslong rift.

Communist Party officials had summoned Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin on Monday, raising worries among his followers that he would be detained through Holy Week as he was at this time last year.

After two days of tense negotiations, the two sides reached a compromise over Bishop Guo’s Easter appearances, and he quietly celebrated Mass on Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, with priests in his diocese, people familiar with the matter said.

The role of Bishop Guo has loomed large in the broader negotiations regarding the appointment of bishops and the pope’s role in China’s Catholic Church. Bishop Guo is one of two Vatican-appointed bishops who have been asked by the Holy See to step aside and make way for Beijing-backed clerics, according to people with knowledge of the talks. He has said he would step down if the pope commands it.

The Vatican and Beijing have agreed on the terms of a deal on the appointment of bishops that would help end their rift, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

A Vatican spokesman said on Thursday that the signing of an agreement wasn’t imminent.

After the Mass on Thursday, officials with the United Front Work Department took Bishop Guo to the port city of Xiamen, 186 miles to the south, in part to keep him away from reporters who have descended on Luojiang with Easter’s approach and the Vatican-Beijing compromise looming, the people said.


2. Bishop’s fate highlights China’s power amid Vatican talks. 

By Yanan Wang, Associated Press, March 30, 2018, 8:35 AM

The twin-spired church in this southern Chinese village was packed with more than a thousand Catholics observing Good Friday, but the bishop who tends to the congregation was not among them. Just a day earlier, government agents had taken him away.

Bishop Guo Xijin is at the center of talks between the Vatican and the atheist Communist Party that will likely yield a deal on who appoints bishops in China. The move would be historic, uniting the country’s Catholics for the first time since Beijing and the Holy See severed relations nearly seven decades ago.

At a pre-dawn Mass on Thursday, Guo had urged congregants at the Saiqi church to be brave and keep the faith. “Full of comfort and hope, we are inspired to more bravely face struggles and offer our love to God,” he told them.

Not long after, government agents arrived and for the second time during Holy Week took Guo away for what they described as a “vacation” — a euphemistic term in China for an enforced disappearance.

For years, China’s Catholics have been split between those who follow state-authorized churches outside the Vatican’s authority and those who attend underground churches that swear fealty to the pope. Guo is the head of one such underground diocese.

Under the deal being discussed, the Vatican is expected to recognize seven Beijing-appointed bishops not chosen by the pope, and Guo and one other underground bishop would step aside.

Guo’s exile serves as a stark reminder of the power of a state that has been seeking to center the people’s devotion on the ruling party.

It also highlights how high-level deliberations in the marble-columned splendor of the Vatican City and in Beijing’s walled leadership compound could have reverberations in places like rural Saiqi for generations to come.

A Vatican official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal the content of the talks with China acknowledged there were downsides to the potential deal. The official said it would limit the Holy See’s activities in China and cede power to Beijing to nominate bishops, with the pope only able to exercise what amounts to a papal veto.


3. Pope Francis did not tell journalist hell does not exist, Vatican says. 

By Lori Johnston, The Washington Post, March 30, 2018, 7:22 AM

Setting off widespread confusion, an Italian journalist said Pope Francis told him “hell does not exist, the disappearance of sinful souls exists,” a claim the Vatican denied Thursday. The Vatican press office says that although the pope met with La Repubblica co-founder Eugenio Scalfari, Francis did not give an interview to him, according to Thomas Rosica, an English-language spokesman for the Vatican.

It’s not the first time that Scalfari, who has said he is an atheist, has made claims about the pope’s views, but the reference to the pope’s views on hell spread on social media during Holy Week.

The Vatican released a statement calling the article by Scalfari “the fruit of his reconstruction,” Rosica said.


4. Unpacking a non-interview pope ‘interview,’ this time on Hell. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 30, 2018, Opinion

Pope Francis, however, has never needed the help of news cycles or choreographed moments to draw attention – and, it has to be said, sometimes he displays a remarkable capacity to upstage even himself when those moments do roll around.

Holy Thursday this year served up a classic example of the pope stepping on his own story. The big news was supposed to come from two cornerstone liturgical moments, the pope’s Chrism Mass with priests in St. Peter’s Basilica and the Last Supper Mass, including the traditional foot-washing ceremony, at Rome’s best-known men’s prison, Regina Coeli.

Instead, Vatican-watchers spent most of the day talking about Hell.

The frenzy unfolded in the wake of yet another maybe, maybe-not papal “interview” with legendary 93-year-old Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari – a self-professed non-believer, who repeated in his write-up of this latest exchange with the pontiff that he regards Jesus as “a man, and no more than a man.”

It was the fifth meeting between the pope and Scalfari, and, as on earlier occasions, Scalfari did not tape his conversation or take notes at the time. That didn’t stop him, however, from publishing a blow-out version of the exchange in the form of a Q&A in La Repubblica, the newspaper he founded, creating the impression of quoting the pope verbatim and at length.

And, also like before, the Vatican swiftly (and, by now, predictably) washed its hands of the whole thing. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke issued a statement mid-afternoon Rome time on Thursday, saying Scalfari’s piece was not a “faithful transcript” of the pope’s words.

From a news point of view, the most explosive portion of the alleged interview came when Scalfari described Francis saying that Hell doesn’t exist, and that sinning souls which refuse to repent simply disappear. The headline-form takeaway was along the lines of, “Pope says no such thing as Hell.”

Three things suggest themselves about the situation, which can only be described as border-line surreal.

First, there’s basically zero plausibility that Francis actually said what Scalfari cites him as saying on Hell, at least as quoted, since Francis has a clear public record on the subject – he actually talks about Hell more frequently that any pope in recent memory, and he has never left any doubt that he regards it as a real possibility for one’s eternal destiny.

Second, one has to wonder why, since the pope was quoted saying something that so clearly distorts a core matter of Catholic teaching, and that also seems blatantly at odds with his personal thinking, didn’t the Vatican issue a stronger denial?

Yes, Burke’s communique says the quotes can’t be trusted, but nowhere does he explicitly come out and say, “The pope didn’t say that and doesn’t believe it.” Why not?

At a raw level, the Vatican probably doesn’t want the embarrassing spectacle of being forced to release a statement along the lines of, “Just to confirm, the pope believes in Hell.” The satires and snarky tweets to which such a thing undoubtedly would give rise aren’t much fun to contemplate, at least if you’re part of the Vatican communications team.

There may also be a personal dimension behind the soft approach.

I remember asking a cardinal close to Francis after the first Scalfari “interview” appeared in 2013, the big headline from which was Francis denying that God is Catholic, why the Vatican hadn’t come down harder.

The cardinal said he’d asked Pope Francis the very same question, and here was the pope’s answer: “You know, by now he [Scalfari] is quite old … we have to be gentle with him,” which is consistent with the pope’s repeated pleas to respect and cherish the elderly.

Third, the real question is why Francis keeps putting himself in this position at all.

There’s no law, after all, that says he has to talk to Scalfari.

Without too much speculation about the pope’s inner motives, what seems clear is that Francis is less concerned about precision in such a situation than with dialogue, and he appears to believe that even if he may be misrepresented or misquoted – or, even if he lets the doctrinal fine points slide, for the sake of keeping the back-and-forth going, and gives off a false impression of what he really thinks -it’s still worth it to be in conversation with Scalfari and the cultural world he represents.

In miniature, that would seem to be Francis’s model for dialogue generally – friendship first, clarity later.

That approach, obviously, has a downside, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

While that debate goes on, here’s a tip: The next time you hear about a bombshell papal interview, do a keyword search for the name “Scalfari.” If it pops up, you’ll know the story won’t be over until we get the Vatican’s next kid-gloves attempt to deny the story, without denying the man behind it.


5. Vatican Rebukes Journalist Who Quoted Pope as Denying Hell. 

By Reuters, March 29, 2018, 12:33 PM

The Vatican on Thursday rebuked a well-known Italian journalist who quoted Pope Francis as saying hell does not exist.

The Vatican issued a statement after the comments spread on social media, saying they did not properly reflect what the pope had said.

Eugenio Scalfari, 93, an avowed atheist who has struck up an intellectual friendship with Francis, met the pope recently and wrote up a long story that included a question-and-answer section at the end.

The Vatican said the pope did not grant him an interview and the article “was the fruit of his reconstruction” not a “faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words”.

Scalfari, the founder of Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, has prided himself on not taking notes and not using tape recorders during his encounters with leaders and later reconstructing the meetings to create lengthy articles.


6. China-Vatican Deal Seen Soon, Chinese Paper Says. 

By Reuters, March 29, 2018, 8:26 AM

An agreement between China and the Vatican could be signed as soon as the end of this month as talks have reached the final stages, a Chinese state-run newspaper reported, citing a senior Chinese Catholic.

Catholics in China are split between “underground” communities that recognize the pope and those belonging to the Catholic Patriotic Association where bishops are appointed by the government in collaboration with Church communities.

Negotiations have reached “the final stages,” Bishop Guo Jincai, secretary-general of the government-run Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, said, according to the state-run Global Times in a report late on Wednesday.


7. Vatican-China Accord on Naming Bishops Not Imminent, Dialogue Continues-Vatican. 

By Reuters, March 29, 2018, 9:57 AM

The Vatican and China are not about to sign an accord on the appointment of bishops, but dialogue between the two sides continues, the Vatican said on Thursday.

A statement followed reports in China quoting a bishop backed by the Beijing government as saying that a long-awaited deal would be signed by the end of March.

A senior Vatican source said earlier on Thursday that the Vatican still did not know precisely when a Chinese delegation was due to come to Rome.


8. Doctor-assisted suicide close to becoming law in Hawaii. 

By Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press, March 29, 2018, 9:37 PM

Hawaii lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that would make it the latest liberal-leaning state to legalize medically assisted suicide.

The all-Democratic state Senate voted 23-2 to pass the measure that has already cleared the House. It allows doctors to fulfill requests from terminally ill patients for prescription medication that will allow them to die.

The governor has said he will sign the bill, which would make Hawaii the sixth state to legalize the practice, plus Washington, D.C.

The legislation includes safeguards intended to prevent abuse, but opponents said it puts the poor, elderly, sick and disabled at risk.

Doctor-assisted deaths are legal in California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington state and the District of Columbia.

Critics say they are concerned that the option will lead to hasty decisions, misdiagnoses and waning support for palliative care, in which dying people can be sedated to relieve suffering.


9. Pope Washes the Feet of Inmates, Reveals He Has Cataracts. 

By Associated Press, March 29, 2018, 1:42 PM

Pope Francis urged inmates at a Rome prison on Thursday to never let their hopes be clouded like cataracts cloud the eyes — and revealed that he suffers from the condition and has to have surgery for it next year.

Francis, 81, disclosed the news as he bid farewell to inmates and staff at the Regina Coeli prison, where he washed the feet of 12 prisoners in a Holy Thursday ritual.

Francis frequently uses his visits to prisons to encourage inmates not to lose hope, and he repeated that Thursday by telling the prisoners that they must clear their eyes every day so they can see and spread hope.

“At my age, for example, cataracts come and you don’t see reality well. Next year I have to have an operation,” he said.

He said the same thing happens with life, when disillusionment, errors and fatigue cloud the soul. Francis urged the inmates to do a daily cleansing of their view on life — a “cataract surgery for the soul” — so they can keep hope alive.


10. Why Texas Ban on Brutal Dismemberment Is Central to US Abortion Debate. 

By Kenneth Paxton, Kenneth Paxton is the attorney general for the state of Texas, National Catholic Register, March 29, 2018, Commentary

As attorney general of Texas, I recently filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals defending Senate Bill 8, our state law banning live dismemberment abortions. A district court struck down the law, which passed the Texas Legislature with an overwhelming bipartisan majority and the backing of numerous medical professionals.

The district court’s tortured legal reasoning reveals a deeper incoherence in the 45-year-old so-called constitutional right to an abortion.

S.B. 8 banned the barbaric practice of killing the unborn by dismemberment in the womb. It takes place in the second trimester and onwards, at which point the baby is easily recognizable as a small human, sporting fingers, toes, arms, legs and developed facial features. The abortionist gropes around inside the uterus using forceps to — literally — tear the living unborn baby limb from limb. It is as slow and cruel a death as it sounds. It has no place in a civilized society.

However, the lower court’s decision is not just legally false. This case also exposes the irresolvable tension between the invented right to abortion and the dignity of human life. In 1973, Roe v. Wade essentially mandated abortion on demand; later cases like Casey and Gonzales moderated Roe in significant ways, allowing for laws like S.B. 8. Undoubtedly, this is a good thing — it allows us to stamp out procedures that are particularly cruel and inhumane (like live dismemberment).

Nevertheless, repeated court battles over the authority of states to regulate abortion have a certain logical ridiculousness at their heart. In an indirect way, they recognize abortion’s gravity while ultimately ignoring the underlying truth: A child in the womb is a human being. 

S.B. 8 has moral and legal justifications enough to stand on its own, and I am confident that it will. But in the last analysis, abortion is a degradation of the value of human life, subjecting something inherently precious to the arbitrary will of another person. It is fundamentally inconsistent with the equal dignity of all people, a principle that President Abraham Lincoln called the “sheet anchor” of American government.

America is ordered to the preservation of our self-evident, God-given rights — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Abortion deprives human beings of the most fundamental right, the one without which all others are meaningless.

Fortunately, America also has a proud tradition of bringing its laws into harmony with this foundational truth about human nature. If past is prologue, our laws and courts will soon recognize the rights of the unborn.