1. Abortion bills make Down syndrome a focus of fight. 

By Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post, March 6, 2018, Pg. A1

Karianne Lisonbee stepped up to the lectern to talk about what she called “a terrible form of discrimination.”

The Republican state representative in Utah had just introduced a bill that would make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion if a woman is seeking one “solely” because the fetus has Down syndrome.

In many neighborhoods today, children with Down syndrome participate in mainstream classrooms and on sports teams. Companies including Safeway, Walgreens and Home Depot have created programs to train and employ adults with the condition (along with adults with other disabilities). This year, Gerber, the maker of baby food, lit up social media with expressions of delight when it announced that it had chosen Lucas Warren — who has Down syndrome — as its newest “spokesbaby.”

The bills represent the latest twist in the political debate over abortion, which has raged since a 1973 Supreme Court ruling recognized a woman’s right to the procedure. Since then, antiabortion activists have constructed what the Guttmacher Institute calls “a lattice work of abortion law, codifying, regulating and limiting whether, when and under what circumstances a woman may obtain an abortion.” Antiabortion activists have also moved the battleground from Washington to the states.

The bills making their way through U.S. state legislatures come on the heels of a report that aired on CBS in the summer that Iceland is “eradicating Down syndrome.” The report created an uproar. Author Bonnie Rochman, writing in Quartz, called the situation in Iceland a “disturbing, eugenics-like reality.”  The “Everybody Loves Raymond” actress Patricia Heaton tweeted that “Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.”

But today, thanks to medical advances and better integration into society, many individuals with Down syndrome live long, productive and happy lives. The average life span among people with Down syndrome has more than doubled from 25 years in 1983 to about 60 years, Whitten said. And while most have a mild to moderate range of intellectual impairment, there is wide variation in their abilities, and more and more are living independently, going to college, holding challenging jobs and getting married.

Although there is no official estimate of the number of people living with the condition in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that it occurs in 1 in 691 births. 

Whitten said that one of the biggest challenges people with the condition face is a precipitous drop in research funding over the years from the National Institutes of Health, a decline that, she said, makes Down syndrome the most poorly funded major genetic condition in the United States.


2. Study: Sex-change surgeries skyrocket: Skeptics urge caution with ‘no conclusive evidence’ to beneficial outcomes. 

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, March 6, 2018, Pg. A7

Skeptics are standing athwart the transgender movement, yelling stop, as a new study shows sex-reassignment surgeries are on the rise.

The number of procedures, including the removal and construction of external genitalia, increased nearly fourfold from 2000 to 2014, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Surgery.

The JAMA study’s authors said expanding insurance coverage is an “important first step in enabling transgender patients to access previously unaffordable, yet necessary, gender-affirming care.”

“Policies banning discrimination based on gender identity among third-party payers are essential to engage transgender patients in care and ensure coverage of these medically necessary procedures,” they said.

They cited a study from 2000, published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, that found “even minor surgical alterations in transgender patients can have a profound improvement on patients’ self-esteem and functioning.”

But further research has raised doubts about sex-reassignment surgeries.

In June 2016, the Obama administration’s own Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found there is “not enough evidence to determine whether gender reassignment surgery improves health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries with gender dysphoria.”

Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of the just-released “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement,” said there is “no robust science” to support the transgender movement’s claims.

“The best science shows that 80 to 95 percent of children with a gender-identity conflict will grow out of it,” Mr. Anderson said Friday on the Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “The best science shows that 41 percent of people who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, and that people after they have sex-reassignment surgery — 19 times more likely to die by suicide.”

He said society needs to “hit the pause button” and consider “how we can help people who are suffering.”


3. Vatican confirms that canonization of Paul VI set for October.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, March 6, 2018

Adding specificity to what was already known about the impending canonization of Blessed Paul VI in 2018, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope’s top deputy as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said Tuesday that the sainthood rite will take place in late October at the close of a meeting of the Synod of Bishops, an institution Paul VI himself founded.


4. Italian vote raises doubt over whether Pope’s backyard is listening, By Claire Giangravè, Contributing Editor, Crux, March 6, 2018, Opinion

Italy appears to be in a political deadlock after elections on Sunday seem to have produced no clear new government, while populist parties, running on anti-immigrant and anti-European platforms, swept the majority of the votes.

Though the Vatican largely sat the March 4 race out, with Pope Francis not even using his Sunday Angelus address to encourage Italians to vote, the results nevertheless raise questions about the extent to which the pope’s messages on welcome and unity are penetrating his own backyard.

According to polls – the exact results will not be made available until March 7 – one out of three Italians voted for the left-leaning and populist Five Star Movement, led by 31-year-old Luigi di Maio. The relatively new party is characterized by an anti-establishment stance, pro-environment policies and a skeptical approach concerning Europe.

The anti-immigrant and populist Northern league, led by Matteo Salvini, gathered nearly 18 percent of the vote, followed by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia at 15 percent. The coalition of these two parties and the alt-right party Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, brings the right-wing bloc to around 38 percent, with a marginal advantage in the number of seats in both the Senate and House.

First, the populist movement and political parties took home the prize, especially the Five Star Movement, demonstrating growing discontent for the status quo and skepticism toward institutions and especially the austerity of the European Union. Not even Berlusconi, who has demonstrated considerable political acumen at 81 by adopting populist attitudes, could beat the appeal of the younger and more dynamic League and Five Star Movement. The Democratic Party was focused on Europe, with somewhat predictable results.

From a Church perspective another important point emerges, that is the lack of a specific party of reference for the Catholic vote. With older Catholic parties, such as the Christian Democrats, long dead, and new ones, such as People of the Family, generally uninfluential, faithful in the country are distributed among all political forces.

This leads to the third and final take-away, which is an increasing lack of interference by the Vatican in Italian political affairs. In the months leading up to the elections, the bishops’ conference limited itself to calling all Italians to the polls and refrained from expressing preferences.

“Pope Bergoglio has broken the umbilical cord that from the times of Pius XII has tied the Holy See to the Italian political world,” Politi writes in local newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. The seasoned journalist reports an end of the ‘Italian exception,’ where the Vatican swayed public opinions and ballots.

The Vatican might have decided to sit this one out, but the consequence of a deeply polarized and unstable government just beyond its walls might have significant consequences. Francis, the “Primate of Italy,” has been a strong advocate for the rights of immigrants and has repeatedly encouraged Europe to pursue unity, but it doesn’t seem entirely clear right now that his flock in il bel paese is even listening.


5. In art, science and liturgy alike, light offers ‘a revelation … an epiphany’. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 6, 2018

The interplay of light and darkness during the Easter season, so cherished by the young Ratzinger and generations of other Catholics across time and space, makes a two-day conference this week at Rome’s Jesuit-run Gregorian University on “Sweet is the Light: Light, Experience of God in History,” bringing together scientists, philosophers, poets, artists, theologians and others, especially timely in the run-up to the most sacred moments on the Christian calendar.

Jesuit Father Andrea Dall’Asta, director of the San Fedele Gallery in Milan and the holder of a doctorate in philosophical aesthetics, on Monday described the use of light in the works of artists such as Caravaggio – the acknowledged master of chiaroscuro, the interplay of light and dark – and Johannes Vermeer.

In both cases, he argued, light is used to convey theological and spiritual meaning, well beyond its aesthetic effect.

Ironically, Dall’Asta came across as more confident in the artistic meaning of light than Jesuit Father Gabriele Gionti, an Italian astronomer who specializes in cosmology and quantum physics for the Vatican Observatory, seemed about how to explain light’s physical nature.

“To be honest, I’d prefer that someone explain it to me,” he said.

Gionti stepped through various historical phases in the evolution of the scientific understanding of light, arriving at what he called the “current model” deriving from quantum mechanics – that light is both, simultaneously, made up of particles and waves.

So important is the role of light in the Easter vigil that there’s even a dispute among liturgists as to when, precisely, the lights in church should be turned on during the Mass – which tends to be a special preoccupation in First World settings, where on and off is a matter of flipping a switch.

According to the rubrics, or rules, which spell out how liturgies are to be celebrated, the lights in church should be turned on just before the Exsultet, a hymn of praise immediately prior to lighting the Easter candle.

Some liturgists, however, prefer to leave the church in darkness until the congregation sings the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, later in the Mass, on the grounds that it adds to the suspense and drama, and because it seems a more fitting moment. Others, however, insist that because the lighting of the candles belongs to the Service of Light while the Gloria is part of the Liturgy of the Word, it’s bad liturgical practice to confuse the two.

The mere fact there’s such a tussle illustrates anew the centrality of the interplay of darkness and light not only to the Easter vigil, but to the Catholic imagination writ large.

Never more than in the Easter vigil, in other words, is light designed to be for the Catholic eye what Dall’Asta said Monday it was for Vermeer in the 17th century.

“Light is not just an instrument that illuminates an obscure corner, but it’s a presence, it’s revelation, it’s an epiphany,” he said. “In it, every human being becomes noble, becomes a work of poetry, and small gestures become universal, transcendent, and eternal.”


6. Vatican official warns U.N. of hostility toward religion. 

By Catholic News Service, March 5, 2018

As the world has grown increasingly interconnected, some nations have seen religious pluralism as a threat and reacted either by failing to protect religious minorities or by trying to marginalize all believers, a Vatican representative said.

And, unfortunately, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic told the U.N. Human Rights Council, some international agencies and organizations also see religion as a threat to their agendas when they go against “religious wisdom and the sentiments of the greatest part of humanity.”

The archbishop, who is the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, spoke March 2 during the council’s discussion on freedom of religion and belief.

Jurkovic quoted Pope Francis’s denunciation of international agencies that, paradoxically in the name of human rights, promote “modern forms of ideological colonization” by trying to impose their programs on poorer nations as a condition for receiving aid.

The archbishop objected strongly to the use of the phrase “freedom from religion” in the report to the council by Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

The phrase, Jurkovic said, “reveals a patronizing idea of religion” and one that overlooks the importance and wisdom of religions and their integral part in the cultures of people around the world.


7. U.S. bishops call for concrete action on “crisis” of gun violence in America. 

By Christopher White, Crux, March 5, 2018

Following last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and more than a dozen others injured, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a call for Congress to work together to find “concrete proposals” in response to the “crisis of gun violence.”

In a joint statement released on Monday, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop George V. Murry, of Youngstown, Ohio, Chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education, called for “honest and practical dialogue around a series of concrete proposals – not partisanship and overheated rhetoric.”

The bishops also said that President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers in the classroom “seems to raise more concerns than it addresses” and instead advocated for raising the age of gun ownership, banning bump stocks, and requiring universal background checks as solutions that offer “more promise.”


8. Claims of heresy over ‘Amoris Laetitia’ are out of place, cardinal says. 

By Cindy Wooden, Crux, March 5, 2018

Pope Francis’s exhortation on the family should prompt discussion and even debate, but accusing him and others of heresy is completely out of place, said German Cardinal Walter Kasper.

“A heresy is a tenacious disagreement with formal dogma. The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage has not been called into question on Pope Francis’s part,” the cardinal, a theologian, told Vatican News March 5.

Kasper was interviewed about his new book, The Message of ‘Amoris Laetitia’: A Fraternal Discussion. The interview was published just a few days after Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington issued detailed guidelines for accompanying couples, including those who are divorced and civilly remarried.


Vatican News asked Kasper specifically about the path of discernment Francis sees for some divorced and civilly remarried to return to the sacraments, including Communion, in some circumstances.

“Sin is a complex term. It not only includes an objective principle, but there is also the intention, the person’s conscience. And this needs to be examined in the internal forum – in the sacrament of reconciliation – if there is truly a grave sin, or perhaps a venial sin, or perhaps nothing,” the cardinal responded. “The Council of Trent says that in the case in which there is no grave sin, but venial, the Eucharist removes that sin.”

“If it is only a venial sin, the person can be absolved and admitted to the sacrament of the Eucharist,” the cardinal said. “This already corresponds with the doctrine of Pope John Paul II and, in this sense, Pope Francis is in complete continuity with the direction opened by preceding popes. I do not see any reason, then, to say that this is a heresy.”

Catholic tradition, he insisted, “is not a stagnant lake, but is like a spring, or a river: It is something alive. The Church is a living organism and thus it always needs to validly translate the Catholic tradition into present situations.”

Amoris Laetitia, Semeraro wrote, “never speaks of a generalized ‘permission’ for all divorced and civilly remarried to access the sacraments; nor does it say that the path of conversion initiated with those who want them must necessarily lead to access to the sacraments.”

At the same time, he said, priests must recognize that “it is no longer possible to say that all those who find themselves in a so-called ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin, deprived of sanctifying grace,” precisely because, as Amoris Laetitia taught, a host of factors are involved in determining the degree of guilt of the individuals involved.