1. FEMA rethinking ban on disaster aid to church buildings.

By David A. Lieb, Associated Press, November 7, 2017, 9:08 AM

When disaster strikes, houses of worship are often on the front lines, feeding and sheltering victims. Yet churches, synagogues and mosques are routinely denied aid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency when it comes time to repair or rebuild their damaged sanctuaries.

Pressure is mounting to change that after this year’s series of devastating hurricanes damaged scores of churches in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

FEMA is rethinking its policies in the face of a federal lawsuit, scheduled for hearing Tuesday, by three Texas churches hit by Hurricane Harvey. President Donald Trump has signaled his support, via Twitter, for the religious institutions.

At the same time, several members of Congress have revived legislation — first proposed after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy — that would force FEMA to pay for repairs at places of worship.

“It is the faith community that responds so robustly to the need. And then to say, ‘Tough luck, we’re not going to help you put your own facility back together’ is wrong,” said Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican sponsoring the bill that would change the policy.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Congregation Torah Vachesed, a Houston-area synagogue flooded by Harvey, filed briefs in support of the churches that are suing. The synagogue asserted that the “pernicious effect of FEMA’s policy of explicit discrimination” is “to deter and discourage the exercise of the Jewish faith.”

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a Lutheran church in Columbia, Missouri, had been wrongly excluded from a state grant program to install a soft playground surface made of recycled tires. Chief Justice John Roberts called it “odious to our Constitution” to deny an otherwise eligible recipient solely because it’s a church.

Richard W. Garnett, a University of Notre Dame law professor who runs the school’s program on Church, State and Society, said that based on that ruling, there is a good chance the high court would allow FEMA to provide aid to rebuild places of worship.


2. Trafficking expert tells Vatican summit, ‘Slavery was never abolished’.

By Inés San Martín, Crux, November 7, 2017

“I’m the one. Put a face to it. I had a mother and father who loved me. Remember me when fighting human trafficking.”

Those words belong to Rani Hong, who was born in India. She was stolen from her parents at the age of seven, and sold to a slave master, who kept her in a cage to be “seasoned into submission.” When she was eight, due to her physical condition and emotional state, she was near death.

According to United Nations statistics, 40 million people are trapped in slavery today.

Rani Hong was at the Vatican this weekend, participating in a Nov. 4-6 workshop titled “Assisting Victims in Human Trafficking – Best Practice in Resettlement, Legal Aid and Compensation,” organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS).

A $32 billion-a-year industry, human trafficking is on the rise, and, according to Archer, today it’s becoming more profitable than the two other major illegal industries: Drug trafficking and arms dealing.

Back in 2013, Pope Francis, who’s been fighting against the commercialization of persons since he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, tasked Sánchez Sorondo with addressing the issue. Since then, the PASS has organized many workshops dedicated to the issue, including a gathering of international religious leaders committed to the eradication of the industry.


3. Panel looks at future of religious minorities victimized by IS militants.

By Beth Griffin, Catholic News Service, November 7, 2017

The day she succeeded in her fourth attempt to escape six months of daily rape and humiliation by her Islamic State captors, Iraqi teen Ekhlas Khudur Bajoo made a vow.

“(I) promised myself not to stop until I brought justice. I’m fighting for all women and minority groups inside Iraq,” she said.

Bajoo, now 17, told a Nov. 2 U.N. forum she sees herself as a symbol of hope for religious and ethnic minorities victimized by the Islamic State group.

Using the common Arabic name for the Islamic State group, Bajoo said through an interpreter: “We want justice for the Daesh perpetrators, that they will be held accountable. What happened to us was a genocide. We want safety so we can live in peace.”

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, said: “The international community must respond to the outrages systematically committed by Daesh with a rock-solid resolve to prevent similar future abominations from recurring.”

“Those entrusted with protecting the innocent and safeguarding respect for fundamental human rights must live up to their indispensable and inescapable responsibility to defend those in danger of suffering atrocity crimes,” he said.

The archbishop and other speakers said the effort to defeat, punish and disband the Islamic State group must be concurrent with the eradication of hateful ideologies that motivate extremist groups.

In addition, displaced survivors need immediate assistance with basic needs such as food, water, shelter, education and health.


4. Running (and pondering) the numbers on papal popularity.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, November 7, 2017

One Catholic writer recently asserted that Francis is “probably the most popular pope in history.” The data don’t actually support that, since St. Pope John Paul had better numbers, but what they really show is that no matter who the pope is, Catholics are inclined to support him. Is it possible that in thinking that most Catholics evaluate popes in terms of left v. right, journalists are simply mistaken?

Here’s what Gallup data show, measuring attitudes among all Americans, Catholic and not. Results are expressed in terms of the percentage of Americans who hold a favorable view of the pope.

Pope John Paul II

December 1978: 85%
June 1981: 93%
May 1998: 86%
April 2005: 78%

Pope Benedict XVI

June 2005: 55%
May 2008: 63%
May 2010: 40%
February 2013: 54%

Pope Francis

February 2014: 76%
July 2015: 59%
October 2015: 70%
Jan 2017: 70%

Here’s what their results show, expressed in terms of the percentage of American Catholics saying their opinion of the pope is “very” or “mostly” favorable.

Pope John Paul II

May 1987: 91%
May 1990: 93%
June 1996: 93%
March 2005: 87%

Pope Benedict XVI

July 2005: 67%
March 2008: 74%
April 2008: 83%
February 2013: 74%

Pope Francis

March 2013: 84%
February 2015: 90%
October 2015: 81%
January 2017: 87%


5. Pope Francis Approves Amazon Debate on Ordaining Married Men to the Priesthood: The Holy Father has reportedly allowed the Latin Church bishops in the Amazon region to debate a change to priestly discipline that would more closely align with the Eastern Catholic Churches.

By Mary Rezac, Catholic News Agency, November 6, 2017

Pope Francis has reportedly said he will allow Latin-Rite bishops at a 2019 regional synod focusing on the Church in the Amazon basin to debate whether they should ordain married men of proven virtue to the priesthood.

According to the newspaper Il Messaggero, the Holy Father gave his permission in response to a question on the matter posed by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon.

The comments have been broadly interpreted in media outlets to mean that Pope Francis is considering opening the door for priests throughout the Catholic Church to get married. However, neither the Catholic nor the Orthodox Churches allow priests to marry after ordination.

The Catholic Church already ordains married and celibate men in the 23 Eastern Churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The Latin Church headed by the Bishop of Rome, however, maintains a discipline of ordaining only celibate men to the priesthood, with some exceptions.

The Pope’s comments in response to Cardinal Hummes were specifically about whether viri probati or “proven men” could be ordained to the priesthood. Such men, who have displayed virtue and prudence, are thought by some to be a possible solution to a shortage of priestly vocations in Brazil.