1. Pope Appeals for Buddhist Tolerance in Myanmar: ‘It is the particular responsibility of civil and religious leaders to ensure that every voice be heard,’ he says.

By Francis X. Rocca and Ben Otto, The Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2017, Pg. A9

Pope Francis on Wednesday appealed to Myanmar’s Buddhist majority to promote social tolerance, implicitly calling on them to shun the extreme Buddhist nationalism that has contributed to the recent flight of more than 600,000 minority Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.

Religious leaders must “speak with one voice in affirming the timeless values of justice, peace and the fundamental dignity of each human person,” the pope told the Supreme Sangha Council, the country’s highest Buddhist authority. “It is the particular responsibility of civil and religious leaders to ensure that every voice be heard.”

As in his speech to Myanmar’s political leaders the previous evening, Pope Francis’ remarks to the Buddhists didn’t directly address the military’s treatment of the Rohingya, which the pope himself has denounced as religious persecution.

Pope Francis urged the Buddhist leaders in general terms to support reconciliation among “people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious convictions” in Myanmar.

His host, Bhaddanta Kumarabhivamsa, head of the Buddhist council, voiced matching sentiments, saying that “we must all denounce any expressions that incite hatred, false propaganda, conflict and war on religious pretexts.”


2. Abortion rate in U.S. reaches new low. 

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, November 30, 2017, Pg. A8

The U.S. abortion rate has reached a historic low, data released by the federal government last week shows.

The abortion rate fell by 2 percent from 2013 to 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found, continuing a decadeslong decline. Since 2005, the abortion rate has fallen by 22 percent.

The study attributed the declining abortion rate to the closure of abortion clinics, more effective contraceptive practices and an overall drop in birth rates.

There were a total of 652,639 abortions reported to the CDC in 2014. Of those, 67.0 percent took place within the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, 24.5 percent from 8 to 13 weeks’ gestation, 7.2 percent from 14 to 20 weeks’ gestation and 1.3 percent after 21 weeks’ gestation.


3. Pope lands in Bangladesh with Rohingya crisis looming large.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, November 30, 2017, 6:19 AM

Pope Francis arrived Thursday in Bangladesh for the second leg of his six-day trip to Asia with the Rohingya crisis looming large.

Francis arrived in the capital amid tight airport security and much anticipation. Huge banners with pictures of the pope and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina were put up around Dhaka, and St. Mary’s Cathedral was decorated with lights in preparation for his three-day trip to the Muslim majority nation.


Francis won’t visit the refugee camps while in Bangladesh but he will host an interfaith peace meeting on Friday in the garden of the Dhaka archbishops’ residence, at which a small group of Rohingya are expected.


4. Muslim extremists end religious peace in Mali after appointment of Cardinal Zerbo.

By Soumaila Diarra, The Washington Times, November 30, 2017, Pg. A1

Dressed in a white frock, the Rev. Samuel Coulibaly, a Catholic priest, smiled as he explained how religious communities have long lived in peaceful coexistence in this West African country.
“In each of our families, there are Christians, Muslims and even sometimes those who are practicing the traditional religion” — animism, Father Coulibaly said.

But that era of peaceful coexistence has been on trial ever since the July appointment by Pope Francis of Cardinal Jean Zerbo, Mali’s first “prince of the church.”

Locals say the appointment has given new prominence to the Christian community and sparked resentment among some Muslims. As a result, extremists have stepped up attacks on Cardinal Zerbo’s flock, forcing many Catholic churches to close.

Cardinal Zerbo has a record of working for better relations between Mali’s Christians and Muslims. In appointing him this summer, Francis said he was trying to highlight “those neglected areas and complex situations of war and poverty while it reaffirms the interest of the Catholic Church.”

Mr. Diarra and others blame the attacks on armed men linked with the jihadi leader Amadoun Koufa, co-founder of Jama’at Nosrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that aims to create an Islamic caliphate in Mali.

Christians also say that greater prominence and visibility for their community sparks misunderstandings with some conservative Muslims. Christian missionary groups say the violence and unpopularity of jihadi groups like Nigeria’s Boko Haram have also inspired a wave of converts to Christianity in a number of African countries, further upsetting Muslim community leaders.


5. Ahead of major Supreme Court case, Archbishop Lori reflects on religious freedom implications.

By Christopher White, Crux, November 30, 2017

As the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear one of the most highly anticipated cases this term – over whether a baker can refuse to bake a cake for a gay marriage – Archbishop William Lori, head of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, believes the case will have grave implications for the future of religious freedom.

In an interview with Crux during the U.S. bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore earlier this month, Lori said that while many Americans still place a high priority on religious freedom, he believes that shifting cultural tides pose a real threat to public expression of the Catholic faith.

“I think those legal and judicial and policy challenges perhaps are indicators about a shift in thinking on religious liberty in the wider culture. While many people still value this as a fundamental freedom and very important part of human dignity, there are currents of thought in society where that’s not so,” Lori warned.

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission next week, one side will argue that being mandated to bake a case for a gay wedding is forced participation in an event (in this case, a wedding), and therefore a violation of freedom of expression, whereas the other side believes that allowing such refusals would give license to discrimination, not just for businesses, but also range of other activities.

Reflecting on the case, Lori told Crux that what’s at stake is a matter of conscientious objection.
“We have to ask ourselves as a culture, ‘do we have the freedom still to respectfully disagree with laws or cultural currents that are being broadly accepted, but do you have the right to conscientiously object?’ I would think we do,” he said.

“If you can conscientiously object to war, you should be able to conscientiously object to abortion or the redefinition of marriage,” Lori continued. “That does not mean you disrespect the people that are involved and that does not mean you are hateful to people. It means you are respectfully disagreeing and declining to participate.”

“There are challenges that are legal and legislative, but the broader challenge we have is to proclaim to our culture the gift of religious freedom as good news. It’s part of the good news about human dignity, and it’s essential to the common good,” Lori concluded.


6. Catholic Archdiocese sues D.C. transit authority for denying Christmas ad.

By Claire Chretien, Life Site News, November 29, 2017, 2:33 PM

The Archdiocese of Washington is suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – the agency responsible for the city’s metro system – for rejecting a Christmas ad.

The Archdiocese is asking a federal court for injunctive relief that will allow them to run their ad, which invites people to “Find the Perfect Gift” this Christmas, on metro buses.

The website the ad sought to promote says “Jesus is the perfect gift” and lists Mass times, Advent and Christmas traditions, and ways to give gifts to the less fortunate through Catholic Charities.

“Having opened up its bus stops and vehicles to a range of ads, WMATA cannot bar ads that evoke the ‘reason for the season,’” concluded Picciotti-Bayer. “We hope for a prompt resolution of this clear violation of the First Amendment so that the Archdiocese’s message of generosity and call to faith be on display around the nation’s capital this Christmas.”


7. Vatican defends pope against criticism over Rohingya stance.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, November 29, 2017, 12:15 PM

The Vatican on Wednesday defended Pope Francis after human rights groups expressed disappointment that he didn’t publicly acknowledge the plight of Rohingya Muslims, who have been subject to what the United Nations has termed a campaign of “textbook ethnic cleansing” by Myanmar’s military.

Spokesman Greg Burke said Francis took seriously the advice given to him by the local Catholic Church, which urged him to toe a cautious line and not even refer to the “Rohingya” by name during his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, since the majority of people in Myanmar reject the term because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country.

“The moral authority of the pope stands,” Burke asserted Wednesday. “You can criticize what’s said, what’s not said, but the pope is not going to lose moral authority on this question here.”

Burke noted that the Holy See had only recently established diplomatic relations with Myanmar, that the Catholic Church in the country was small, and that the Holy See’s broader gains were to “build bridges” with the predominantly Buddhist nation as it emerges from decades of military dictatorship.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Vatican diplomacy is not infallible,” Burke said.