1. Vote Suggests a Weakened Church. 

By Drew Hinshaw and Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2018, Pg. A10

Ireland’s vote on Friday to legalize abortion echoed through another Roman Catholic-majority country in Europe, but one where the procedure is broadly illegal and the subject of a continuing battle.

The Irish referendum—in which 66% of voters chose to allow parliament to legalize abortion—underscored the decadeslong decline of the Catholic church as a political force in that nation.

It also accentuated a mirror image in Poland, the last major nation in Europe whose Catholic Church still dominates politics, society, and culture. The only outstanding question on abortion in Poland is whether its Catholic and conservative government will succeed in tightening already strict laws regulating the procedure. Polish law prohibits abortion except in cases where the pregnancy results from a crime—such as rape or incest—threatens the health of the mother, or where the fetus suffers severe and irreversible impairment.

A poll last week found 56% of Poles would like to keep the current abortion law as it is, 9% wished to tighten it and 29% wanted to loosen it, the Polish opinion polling organization IBRiS found. 


2. Baker decision won’t be justices’ last word on LGBT rights. 

By Mark Sherman, Associated Press, May 29, 2018, 1:05 AM

A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the case of a Colorado baker who would not create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Courts are engaged in two broad types of cases on this issue, weighing whether sex discrimination laws apply to LGBT people and also whether businesses can assert religious objections to avoid complying with anti-discrimination measures in serving customers, hiring and firing employees, providing health care and placing children with foster or adoptive parents.

The outcome of baker Jack Phillips’ fight at the Supreme Court could indicate how willing the justices are to carve out exceptions to anti-discrimination laws; that’s something the court has refused to do in the areas of race and sex.

The result was hard to predict based on arguments in December. But however the justices rule, it won’t be their last word on the topic.

Several legal disputes are pending over wedding services, similar to the Phillips case. Video producers, graphic artists and florists are among business owners who say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds and don’t want to participate in same-sex weddings. They live in the 21 states that have anti-discrimination laws that specifically include gay and lesbian people.

In California and Texas, courts are dealing with lawsuits over the refusal of hospitals, citing religious beliefs, to perform hysterectomies on people transitioning from female to male. In Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state’s practice of allowing faith-based child placement agencies to reject same-sex couples.


3. Secular Europe Rises, and Pope Looks to South. 

By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times, May 28, 2018, Pg. A1

Across Western Europe, the church’s once mighty footprint has faded, in no small measure because of self-inflicted clerical sex abuse scandals and an inability to keep up with and reach contemporary Catholics. Church attendance has plummeted, parishes are merging, and new priests and nuns are in short supply. Gay marriage is on the rise, and abortion is widely legal.

And yet, Francis is not sounding the alarm or calling the faithful to the ramparts. He seems resigned to accept that a devout and Catholic Europe has largely slipped into the church’s past.

Instead, he has shifted his focus on the faith’s future to the global South from which he came. At the heart of Francis’ vision is a closeness of priests to the poor and desolate whom he believes the church should most serve.

Inoculating the Southern Hemisphere from the growing scourge of sex abuse scandals, spreading secularism and out-of-touch clergy that devastated Catholicism in Europe is no easy task and will require much of the pope’s attention.


4. Portugal considers allowing euthanasia, assisted suicide. 

By Barry Hatton, Associated Press, May 28, 2018

After legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage in recent times, Portuguese lawmakers will decide Tuesday on another issue that has brought a confrontation between faith and politics in this predominantly Catholic country: whether to allow euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.

The outcome of the vote is uncertain and is likely to be close, but Portugal could become one of just a handful of countries in the world to permit euthanasia under certain circumstances.

Euthanasia — when a doctor kills patients at their request — is legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In Switzerland, and some U.S. states, assisted suicide — where patients administer the lethal drug themselves, under medical supervision — is permitted.


5. Musings on a big Saturday on the Vatican news beat. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, May 27, 2018, Opinion

There’s no such thing as a slow news day in the Pope Francis era, and Saturday brought triumphant proof of the point. Three things happened, all with important Catholic consequences – two initiated by the pontiff himself, and one that came crashing in on him from the outside.

[1.] Francis named Cardinal-designate Giovanni Becciu, who’s served since 2011 as the “substitute,” or all-important number two official in the Secretariat of State since 2011, as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

[2.] The Vatican announced that Francis will visit Sicily in September to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi, Italy’s most famous anti-mafia priest, who was assassinated by mob gunmen in 1993.

[3.] An official count confirmed that Irish voters have overwhelmingly chosen to pave the way for the legalization of abortion in a national referendum on Friday.

A substitute for the substitute

By consensus, Becciu has been perhaps the single most influential figure in the Vatican during most of Francis’s papacy. From a controversial decision to scrub an external audit of Vatican finances by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2016, to helping craft an equally controversial potential deal with China over the appointment of bishops, almost nothing of consequence has happened without Becciu’s fingerprints.

Last year, however, rumors began to swirl that Francis had soured on Becciu, and many observers see his red hat and new job as a classically Italian case of promoveatur ut amoveatur – promoting to remove.

Inevitably, whoever plays the substitute’s role is a big deal. He’s the lone official in the Vatican who can see the pope without an appointment, and he’s the traffic cop deciding which business goes forward and which gets stalled or forgotten. Over the decades, the job has belonged to real titans – Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, under Pius XII, and Giovanni Benelli under Paul, whose remarkable capacity to block whatever he didn’t like earned him the nickname “the Berlin Wall.”

As a result, all eyes will be on whomever Francis taps next – or, for that matter, if he decides the job has become too big and breaks it into smaller pieces, naming two or three people with more narrowly defined responsibilities.

An anti-mafia Saint?

Speaking of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Francis may have indirectly sent its new prefect a memo on Saturday by bundling the appointment with the announcement that the pope is going to Sicily in September to celebrate the legacy of the country’s most celebrated anti-mafia martyr.

“Don Pino,” as Puglisi is still universally known, was beatified in 2013, and this may be Francis’s way of saying he’s ready for the other shoe to drop by moving to the canonization stage.

Ireland and pro-life soul-searching

It’s hardly as if Francis’s looming trip to Ireland in late August needed any help in terms of being complicated – the country has experienced four decades of intense secularization since the last time a pope came calling in 1979, all but eviscerating the Church’s once-tight grip on the culture, and it’s also arguably the place where the Catholic clerical abuse scandal has been felt in its most acute form.

Francis is traveling to Ireland for the close of the World Meeting of Families, which was launched in 1994 under St. Pope John Paul II. Over the years, it’s been a gathering place for the Church’s most ardently pro-family, and hence typically anti-abortion, thinkers and activists – in other words, precisely the people who just got dealt an historical setback by Irish voters.

The stage would appear to be set, then, for Francis to guide the pro-life movement in a soul-searching exercise.

As sorting through the rubble begins, here are two quick exit poll results worth pondering:

[1.] Sixteen percent of voters who chose “yes” to repeal the amendment, or one in six, also say they attend Mass at least once a week, which would appear to raise questions about the effectiveness of the Church’s pro-life messaging even among its committed members.

[2.] A massive 87 percent of voters aged 18-24 went “yes”, which implies a broad failure by the pro-life movement to appeal to the young.


6. The Man Who Discovered ‘Culture Wars’: James Davison Hunter coined the phrase in 1991, a year ahead of Pat Buchanan. Now he reflects on how the struggle has evolved over three decades. 

By Jason Willick, The Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2018, Pg. A11

For much of American history, the most salient cultural fault lines were between religious groups. Hostility between Protestants and Catholics prompted bitter battles over school curricula in the mid-19th century, and the fight over Prohibition pitted mostly Protestant “drys” against mostly Catholic “wets.” But by the 1960s cross-denominational conflicts had begun to fade. As America became more culturally diverse, the Protestant consensus gave way to a Christian consensus, and later a “Judeo-Christian” one.

Yet social peace did not arrive. Quite the opposite. A new set of issues emerged out of the sexual revolution and identity politics: not merely abortion, Mr. Hunter says, but everything from “condoms in schools” to “ Christopher Columbus, is he a villain or a hero?” These questions didn’t track with traditional left-right economic debates, he continues; nor did they seem to put believers of different denominations in opposition. Instead, the new divide was within religious groups, with orthodox believers within Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism on one side and their progressive wings and secularists on the other.

This “new axis” of conflict redefined left and right. It was the basis of Mr. Hunter’s 1991 book, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America,” which first brought the term to the forefront of popular discourse.

As elite institutions increasingly repudiated the values of the masses, the culture wars took on what Mr. Hunter calls a “Nietzschean” quality: The stakes began to seem so high that coalitions would “abandon their values and ideals in order to sustain power.” Upper-class culture professes cosmopolitan openness, but “cultures are not, by their very nature, tolerant of much plurality,” he says. “So the Harvard Law School prides itself on its diversity, but it’s a diversity in which basically everyone views the world the exact same way.”

As to the future of the culture wars, Mr. Hunter is ambivalent. He notes that some progressives have already declared victory and quotes a colleague who said all that remains is “a mopping-up campaign.” Mr. Hunter doesn’t go that far, but he does believe that because “politics is an artifact of culture,” progressives’ disproportionate power in elite institutions “will cash out, politically, in the long term.”


7. Irish Voters Say ‘Yes’ to Legalizing Abortion: Pro-Life Groups Grieve. 

By Paul Strand, CBN News, May 26, 2018

In a referendum on Amendment 8, which basically banned abortion, the Irish people by more than two-to-one have voted to repeal that amendment to their constitution.

But pro-life groups who don’t see abortion as healthcare but the killing of innocent unborn children were quick to react with grief to the vote.

Here in the U.S., the Catholic Association Foundation’s Andrea Picciotti-Bayer stated, “Ireland’s repeal of its 8th Amendment recognizing ‘the right to life of the unborn’ reflects the grim influence of the culture of death.”

Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association blamed vote on the influence of outside groups.

“The Repeal the 8th Campaign was a classic example of ideological colonization: it was imported and funded by extreme, pro-abortion special interest groups from outside of Ireland who could not tolerate the reality that Ireland proved that women don’t need abortion to flourish and thrive,” McGuire explained.

“We are heartbroken that Ireland has succumbed to a false notion of choice that pits mothers’ rights against children’s lives, rather than remaining a culture of life which respects both,” stated The Catholic Association’s Maureen Malloy Ferguson.  “When a country legalizes abortion, the rates of abortion increase significantly.  We are deeply saddened at the coming loss of little Irish boys and girls, and for the mothers’ who will suffer that loss.”

Ferguson’s colleague Ashley McGuire said, “Pro-lifers are disappointed, but confident we will one day overcome and put to rest once and for all the patriarchal lie that the only path to equality with men involves the violent killing of our own children. That fight, the fight to build a society where all people have the right to life, is not over until it’s won.”


8. U.S. pro-lifers voice heartbreak, despair over Irish abortion vote.

By Christopher White, Crux, May 26, 2018

At Thursday’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, the event concluded with a special prayer for the nation of Ireland as they headed to the polls the next day to vote on whether they would remove the country’s strong pro-life protections in their constitution.

By Saturday morning, many of those same attendees were issuing statements of despair and heartbreak after 66.4 percent of Irish citizens opted to liberalize abortion law, while 33.6 percent voted against.

“The result of today’s referendum is a profound tragedy for the Irish people and the entire world,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement.

Ashley McGuire, a Senior Fellow at The Catholic Association, said “the Repeal the 8th Campaign was a classic example of ideological colonization.”

“It was imported and funded by extreme, pro-abortion special interest groups from outside of Ireland who could not tolerate the reality that Ireland proved that women don’t need abortion to flourish and thrive,” said McGuire.


9. What Happens in Germany. 

By Charles J. Chaput, Charles J. Chaput is the archbishop of Philadelphia, First Things, May 23, 2018, Opinion

Exactly 500 years after Luther’s Sermon, communion is again a matter of debate in Germany. This time the disputants are the bishops themselves. Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx and other German bishops seek to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive communion under certain conditions, so long as they “affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist.” Cologne’s Cardinal Rainer Woelki and six other German bishops oppose the effort. They have sought clarification from Rome. The Vatican, however, has declined to intervene and returned the matter to the German bishops, urging them to arrive at a conference-level agreement.

Internal differences are common in any episcopal conference, and they’re handled—no surprise—internally. But two things set the German situation apart: the global prominence of the controversy and the doctrinal substance of the debate. Who can receive the Eucharist, and when, and why, are not merely German questions. If, as Vatican II said, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Christians and the seal of our Catholic unity, then the answers to these questions have implications for the whole Church. They concern all of us. And in that light, I offer these points for thought and discussion, speaking simply as one among many diocesan bishops:

1. If the Eucharist truly is the sign and instrument of ecclesial unity, then if we change the conditions of communion, don’t we in fact redefine who and what the Church is?

2. Intentionally or not, the German proposal will inevitably do exactly that. It is the first stage in opening communion to all Protestants, or all baptized persons, since marriage ultimately provides no unique reason to allow communion for non-Catholics.

3. Communion presupposes common faith and creed, including supernatural faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, along with the seven sacraments recognized by the perennial tradition of the Catholic Church. By renegotiating this fact, the German proposal in effect adopts a Protestant notion of ecclesial identity. Simple baptism and a belief in Christ seem to suffice, not belief in the mystery of faith as understood by the Catholic tradition and its councils. Will the Protestant spouse need to believe in holy orders as understood by the Catholic Church, which is logically related to belief in the consecration of the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ? Or are the German bishops suggesting that the sacrament of holy orders might not depend upon apostolic succession? In such a case, we would be confronting a much deeper error.

4. The German proposal severs the vital link between communion and sacramental confession. Presumably it does not imply that Protestant spouses must go to confession for serious sins as a prelude to communion. But this stands in contradiction to the perennial practice and express dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church, the Council of Trent, and the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as the ordinary magisterium. It implies, in its effect, a Protestantization of the Catholic theology of the sacraments.

5. If the teaching of the Church can be ignored or renegotiated, even a teaching that has received a conciliar definition (as in this case, at Trent), then can all councils be historically relativized and renegotiated? Many modern liberal Protestants question or reject or simply ignore as historical baggage the teaching on the divinity of Christ from the Council of Nicaea. Will Protestant spouses be required to believe in the divinity of Christ? If they need to believe in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, why would they not need to share the Catholic belief in holy orders or the sacrament of penance? If they do believe in all these things, why are they not invited to become Catholic as a means to enter into visible full communion?

6. If Protestants are invited to Catholic communion, will Catholics still be barred from Protestant communion? If so, why would they be barred? If they’re not barred, doesn’t this imply that the Catholic view on holy orders and valid Eucharistic consecration is in fact false, and if it is false, that Protestant beliefs are true? If intercommunion is not intended to imply an equivalence in the Catholic and Protestant confections of the Eucharist, then the practice of intercommunion misleads the faithful. Isn’t this a textbook case of “causing scandal”? And won’t it be seen by many as a polite form of deception or of hiding hard teachings, within the context of ecumenical discussion? Unity cannot be built on a process that systematically conceals the truth of our differences.

To insert a falsehood into the most solemn moment of one’s encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist—to say by one’s actions, “I am in communion with this community,” when one is demonstrably not in communion with that community—is a lie, and thus a serious offense before God.

What happens in Germany will not stay in Germany. History has already taught us that lesson once.