1. Pope in Thailand calls for action to protect women, children.

By Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press, November 21, 2019

Pope Francis called Thursday for women and children to be protected from exploitation, abuse and enslavement as he began a busy two days of meetings in Thailand, where human trafficking and forced prostitution help fuel the sexual tourism industry.

Francis pleaded for action against one of the region’s greatest scourges at the start of his weeklong visit to Asia.

He praised the Thai government’s efforts to fight human trafficking in a speech delivered at Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s Government House offices. But he appealed for greater international commitment to protect women and children “who are violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse.”

He called for ways to “uproot this evil and to provide ways to restore their dignity.”

“The future of our peoples is linked in large measure to the way we will ensure a dignified future to our children,” he said.


2. Catholic charity files suit against California.

By Alex Swoyer, The Washington Times, November 21, 2019, Pg. A7

A Catholic charity has sued California for blocking the opening of its refuge for sex-trafficking victims, saying the state would not license the shelter because of the charity’s religious beliefs.

State regulators put the kibosh on Children of the Immaculate Heart’s shelter because it refused to promote LGBTQ events, facilitate abortions or provide transgender hormones, according to the lawsuit. The charity’s application to open a shelter for women who escape sex trafficking has been held up for more than 16 months, despite San Diego County — where the shelter would be located — facing a crisis of more than 5,000 victims forced into the sex trade annually, according to court documents.

The state agency regulating California’s foster care denied a license because it found the group’s Catholic faith “offensive,” according to a 36-page complaint filed this week in state court.

“State bureaucrats have resolved to advance an anti-Catholic agenda rather than rescue young girls enslaved in sex trafficking,” the lawsuit said.


3. Majority of Americans view religious liberty favorably.

By Christopher Vondracek, The Washington Times, November 21, 2019, Pg. A7

More than two-thirds of Americans hold generally favorable views of religious liberty, according to an index tracking one of the nation’s oldest civil rights.

“Even after decades of religious freedom being pulled into the culture wars, Americans accept and support a broad interpretation of religious freedom,” says the 2019 Religious Freedom Index, published Wednesday by Becket, a nonprofi t law firm specializing in religious liberty issues.

Nearly 90% of respondents said people should be able to choose their faith practice without facing discrimination or harm. About 76% said professionals should have the freedom not to participate in actions or work that violates sincere religious beliefs.

However, the index found support for religious expression trends downward in conflicts over the division of church and state. Just over half (56%) said they support the government using religious symbols or language in public displays. And 57% said “good works” would still happen without people of faith or religious organizations.


4. Catholic Church boards reviewing sex abuse fail victims.

By Reese Dunklin, Matt Sedensky and Mitch Weiss, The Associated Press, November 21, 2019

Facing thousands of cases of clergy sex abuse, U.S. Catholic leaders addressed their greatest crisis in the modern era with a promised reform: Mandatory review boards.

These independent panels with lay people in each diocese would review allegations fairly and kindly. And they would help bishops ensure that no abusive priests stayed in ministry.

But almost two decades later, an Associated Press investigation of review boards across the country shows they have broadly failed to uphold these commitments. Instead, review boards appointed by bishops and operating in secrecy have routinely undermined sex abuse claims from victims, shielded accused priests and helped the church avoid payouts.

The AP checked all the roughly 180 dioceses in the U.S. for information, reviewed thousands of pages of church and court records and interviewed more than 75 abuse survivors, board members and others to uncover a tainted process where the church hierarchy holds the reins of power at every stage.

Clergy sex abuse has cost more than $4 billion and implicated at least 5,100 priests by the church’s own count since 2002, when the crisis erupted nationwide.


5. Pope Francis attacks exploitation of women, children as he begins Thailand trip.

By Inés San Martín, Crux, November 21, 2019

Pope Francis opened his Nov. 20-23 trip to Thailand  Wednesday by denouncing exploitation of women and children, urging a welcoming stance to migrants and promising that the Catholic Church is ready to help build a just and inclusive society.

Francis said he thinks of “all those women and children of our time, especially those who are wounded, violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse.”

The pope was speaking during a meeting with local authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the “Inner Santi Maitri” Hall within Bangkok’s Government House.

Forced prostitution, including children, is one of the consequences of Thailand’s sex tourism industry, with thousands of foreigners arriving yearly to pay for sex.

Despite the fact that Thailand is one of the world’s foremost destinations for sexual tourism with minors, prostitution is banned by law. Most of the children abused are foreigners hailing from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos who have fallen in with networks that traffic human beings. Even though child prostitution is illegal, enforcement of the law is weak.


6. Pro-life stem cell research finds success—and seeks more support.

By Kevin Jones, Catholic News, November 21, 2019, 3:03 AM

A Catholic medical research institute has claimed some successes in providing alternatives to research that harvest cells from human embryos–but it says such research needs more resources to compete.

“There aren’t very many research organizations that we have seen that have taken a pro-life stand that we have, namely we won’t either support embryonic stem cell research or participate in it,” Jay Kamath, president of the Iowa-based John Paul II Medical Research Institute, told CNA Nov. 7.

The research institute, now based in the Iowa City suburb of Coralville, was founded in 2006. It has a research staff of about 12.

In recent years, the institute has pioneered a new technique to create adult stem cells, and its products have helped explore treatments for at least one rare disease. The organization hopes to build on these successes and demonstrate the effectiveness of ethical stem cell research.


7. Anti-nuclear Pope Francis to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Japan trip.

By Elaine Lies, Reuters, November 20, 2019, 10:26 PM

Pope Francis visits Japan, where he once wanted to be a missionary, from the weekend for only the second papal trip there in history, following a tour by Pope John Paul II in 1981.

A determined anti-nuclear campaigner, Pope Francis will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only cities in the world to suffer atomic bombing during wartime, as well as Tokyo. In the Japanese capital he will meet with survivors of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.


8. Will 2020 Dems Turn Off More Faith Voters in Fifth Debate?

By Ashley McGuire, Real Clear Politics, November 20, 2019
Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow with The Catholic Association and the author of “Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female.”

Will Democrats upset more faith voters in tonight’s debate? A new extensive study released today suggests they better not.

In the last debate, Beto O’Rourke said that churches that espouse traditional marriage should be taxed. When asked by CNN’s Don Lemon, “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities—should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?” O’Rourke didn’t flinch. “Yes,” he replied. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us.”

Democrats balked. Frontrunners Senator Warren and Mayor Buttigieg tripped over themselves to disagree. “I’m not sure he understood the implications of what he was saying,” Buttigieg said. “Going after the tax exemption of churches, Islamic centers or other religious facilities in this country is just going to deepen the divisions we’re already experiencing.” Even The New Republic, hardly a bastion of moderate liberal thinking, proclaimed that O’Rourke “is out over his skis.” Two weeks later, O’Rourke ended his campaign.

The report, a statistical index that gives extensive coverage to nearly every corner of the issue of religious liberty, finds that support for a broad interpretation of religious liberty remains strong, despite having weathered a battering in the culture wars. Eighty-seven percent of respondents, for example, believe in the “freedom to practice a religion in daily life without facing discrimination or harm from others.”

The index authors note a particularly strong desire among respondents for a “hands off government approach” when it comes to the treatment of religion in society. Overwhelming majorities support allowing religious organizations and groups to make their own hiring and leadership decisions (an issue that recently played out at the Supreme Court in the case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC) and oppose penalizing individuals or groups for their religious views about marriage (an issue that is still playing out in the Court and is bound to be for years to come).

Above all, the index finds that religious liberty is a point of consensus in a deeply divided nation, a conclusion that is also backed up by a report released just days ago from the Pew Research Center. While respondents in that survey disagreed about the mixing of religion and politics, majorities agreed that religion is a force for good in society and is something that generally brings people together.

The American people strongly agree that Americans should not pay a price, literal or figurative, for their faith. And they deserve to know in clear terms that their potential president does too. A perfect task for a primary debate moderator. 


9. Bishop McElroy and a US ‘Synodal Path’: What Would That Mean?

By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register, November 20, 2019

Shortly after returning from the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon Region in late October, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego called for a sweeping adoption of “synodality” as a new model for a wounded Church in need of healing from the clergy abuse crisis.

The Church in the United States, he said Nov. 6 at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, should embrace a “synodal pathway … filled with deep and broad consultation, the willingness to accept arduous choices, the search for renewal and reform at every level, and unswerving faith in the constancy of God’s presence in the community.”

He pointed to the V Encuentro, a synod-like gathering that took place Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Grapevine, Texas. Attended by more than 3,000 Hispanic Catholics, including laity, priests, consecrated religious and bishops, V Encuentro, the bishop said, was grounded in “dialogue, reflection and action” at all levels of the Church, including “thousands of Hispanic young adults,” as an inspiring exercise in synodality.

But the Encuentro, he allowed, was just the starting point for a more ambitious participatory process that would tackle “questions of governance, inclusion, clericalism and lay ministries.”

Apparently timed to influence the U.S. bishops’ deliberations at their annual fall assembly this month in Baltimore, Bishop McElroy’s argument failed to get much traction, as conference members focused on more immediate priorities.


10. Holy Land Christians: Threatened With Extinction, but Still Bearing Witness, Religious and political authorities as well as inhabitants’ testimonies offer instructive insights on difficult situation in the Land of Christ.

By Solène Tadié, National Catholic Register, November 20, 2019

The extreme complexity and sensitivity of Christians’ situation in the Holy Land was recently brought to light by a Sept. 8-14 institutional and cultural trip promoted by the Philos Project, of which the Register took part.

The program — which included visits and meetings in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Magdala, Jifna, Haifa and Jish — enabled an encounter with the very different local realities composing the pluralistic landscape of Israel, beyond the Manichean perceptions of Jewish-Muslim divisions that dominate in most media and political debates courtesy of the decades-old conflict there between Israelis and Palestinians.

In this predominantly Judeo-Muslim context, the Christians of the Holy Land — who are often forgotten in this crisis, as they are ignored by worldwide media, and whose number has been reduced to an alarming level — struggle every day for their own religious identity.

“Many people just don’t know that there are Christians in the Holy Land; Christians who fight and suffer to survive and to stay here,” Father Johny Bahbah, a parish priest in the Diocese of Jifna — a village mentioned in the Bible that used to be predominantly Christian — told the Register. “For most people nowadays, Palestine refers to Arabs, who can only be Muslims.”

In a context where it is almost impossible for local Christians to unite politically, the Philos Project organization is seeking to foster a “positive Christian engagement” in the Holy Land (and in the rest of the Middle East), notably through the creation of effective bonds between Western Christians and local activists striving to promote peace on the ground.


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