1. Mr. President, Meet Pope Francis: When Trump goes to Europe next month, he should visit the Vatican. 

By Javier Martínez-Brocal, The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2017, Pg. A15

Donald Trump will make his first presidential visit to Europe in May, to meet with NATO leaders in Brussels and attend a G-7 summit in Sicily. The White House would be wise to add another stop to the trip: Vatican City. Officials at the Holy See tell me that Pope Francis is ready to meet with Mr. Trump. Despite differences on defining issues, the president and the pope also share some common ground. Visiting the Holy Father could pay off for the White House more than one may think.

Before any meeting with the pope, however, Mr. Trump would want to appoint an ambassador to the Holy See. The Vatican will closely study this choice. Rather than using the post to reward a political donor or make a statement, the president would be wise to pick a career diplomat fluent in Spanish—Francis’ native tongue—or Italian. Choosing a serious ambassador would send a message that this White House wants to work with the Vatican on geopolitical issues.

Mr. Trump should rest easy: No one expects that meeting with Francis will result in a full convergence of views. The two won’t see eye to eye on climate change or Mr. Trump’s travel ban. Perhaps they might find agreement, however, by focusing their conversation on some of the downsides of globalization.

It’s hard to imagine two leaders with more-different styles—and even harder to picture President Trump and Pope Francis forging a close bond. But improved communication in a relationship that has suffered for lack of understanding could pay dividends.


2. The Strange Persistence of Guilt.

By David Brooks, The New York Times, March 31, 2017, Pg. A23, Opinion

We’re living in an age of great moral pressure, even if we lack the words to articulate it. In fact, as Wilfred McClay points out in a brilliant essay called “The Strange Persistence of Guilt” for The Hedgehog Review, religion may be in retreat, but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.

Technology gives us power and power entails responsibility, and responsibility, McClay notes, leads to guilt: You and I see a picture of a starving child in Sudan and we know inwardly that we’re not doing enough.

“Whatever donation I make to a charitable organization, it can never be as much as I could have given. I can never diminish my carbon footprint enough, or give to the poor enough. … Colonialism, slavery, structural poverty, water pollution, deforestation — there’s an endless list of items for which you and I can take the rap.”

McClay is describing a world in which we’re still driven by an inextinguishable need to feel morally justified. Our thinking is still vestigially shaped by religious categories.

And yet we have no clear framework or set of rituals to guide us in our quest for goodness. Worse, people have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness. There is sin but no formula for redemption.

The only reliable way to feel morally justified in that culture is to assume the role of victim. As McClay puts it, “Claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence.”

Sin is a stain, a weight and a debt. But at least religions offer people a path from self-reflection and confession to atonement and absolution. Mainstream culture has no clear path upward from guilt, either for individuals or groups. So you get a buildup of scapegoating, shaming and Manichaean condemnation. “This is surely a moral crisis in the making,” McClay writes.


3. Pence Casts Tie Breaking Vote to Let States Block Planned Parenthood Money: The measure overturns a regulation implemented in the final weeks of former President Barack Obama’s administration. 

By Gabrielle Levy, US News & World Report, March 30, 2017, 2:31 PM

The Senate on Thursday advanced a resolution that would allow states to deny family planning funding to Planned Parenthood, relying on a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence to pass the bill.

“We are so grateful that Vice President Mike Pence, who began the battle to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion corporation when he was a Congressman, traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to cast the tie-breaking vote in defense of human dignity and babies lives,” said Maureen Ferguson, a senior adviser for The Catholic Association. “This Senate vote to advance H.J. Res 43 is a victory for all Americans who don’t want to see their tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry and its ghoulish trafficking in aborted baby’s organs.”


4. Felony charges are a disturbing overreach for the duo behind the Planned Parenthood sting videos.

The Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2017, 5:00 AM

There’s no question that anti-abortion activist David Daleiden surreptitiously recorded healthcare and biomedical services employees across the state of California with the intent of discrediting the healthcare provider, Planned Parenthood… There’s also no question that it’s against state law to record confidential conversations without the consent of all the parties involved.

But that doesn’t mean that California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra should have charged Daleiden and his co-conspirator, Susan Merritt, with 15 felony counts — one for each of the 14 people recorded, and a 15th for conspiracy. It’s disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be.

[Daleiden] and Merritt allegedly concocted fake identities and business records to dupe Planned Parenthood officials into taking the pair into their confidence, and misrepresented themselves throughout. Nevertheless, as misguided as they were, their aim was to change people’s views on important and controversial issues — abortion and fetal tissue research.

In similar cases, we have denounced moves to criminalize such behavior, especially in the case of animal welfare investigators who have gone undercover at slaughterhouses and other agricultural businesses to secretly record horrific and illegal abuses of animals. That work, too, is aimed at revealing wrongdoing and changing public policy.

That’s why the state law forbidding recording of conversations should be applied narrowly, and to clear and egregious violations of privacy where the motive is personal gain.