1. Pope accepts resignation of NYC bishop accused of abuse.

The Associated Press, October 10, 2019, 6:36 AM

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a New York City bishop after he was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1980s.

Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik is the latest head to roll in the ongoing abuse scandal. The Vatican announced his resignation had been accepted Thursday.

Jenik had denied the allegation when it was first brought to the New York City archdiocese last year. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, however, said the archdiocese’s lay review board had found the allegation to be “credible and substantiated.”


2. Insult, Injury and Religious Liberty, A Catholic charity wins a modest victory, but only because of a state official’s ugly rhetoric.

By Walter Olson, Wall Street Journal Online, October 9, 2019, 6:56 PM, Commentary

Some conservatives are hailing a victory for religious liberty in Michigan, but there’s less to it than meets the eye. On Sept. 26 a federal district court ordered the state to continue allowing St. Vincent Catholic Charities to participate in its foster-care programs. Judge Robert Jonker’s ruling makes clear that the Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) gives life to some lawsuits over hostile treatment of religious believers. But it also shows the limits of the majority opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop, which doesn’t do much to secure the substantive rights of religious objectors.

As Judge Jonker notes in the first lines of his opinion, “no one in the case contests” that “same-sex couples can be great parents,” and as a contractor in Michigan’s child services program St. Vincent has placed children with gay adoptive parents. But the Catholic agency declines on religious grounds to carry out home studies certifying gay and unmarried couples, instead giving them referrals to one of the many other agencies that are glad to serve them. In 2015 the Michigan Legislature passed a law specifically aimed at protecting religious agencies’ right to opt out from home study services in this way.

Enter Dana Nessel, now the state’s attorney general, who in her successful 2018 campaign denounced that exemption as one whose “only purpose is discriminatory animus” against nontraditional families. Three years earlier she had even described its proponents as “hate-mongers.” On taking office, she declined to defend the law against challenge and instead reached a settlement with the ACLU to reverse the state’s policy.

Judge Jonker found that Ms. Nessel’s actions added up to a course of conduct that improperly “targets St. Vincent’s religious beliefs” and triggered strict scrutiny of the state’s actions. Finding those actions unlikely to survive scrutiny, he granted the charity a preliminary injunction pending full trial.

Once officials learn to mind their tongues, religious objectors are likely to go back to losing most exemption requests under Smith. The only consolation is that they will endure fewer insults along the way. Or, as some religious advocates have begun to urge, religious objectors could begin building a case to revisit Smith—which would set up the biggest religious-liberty battle at the high court in many years.

Mr. Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


3. A Supreme Court Abortion Case That Tests the Court Itself, What will access to abortion look like under the new conservative majority?

By Linda Greenhouse, New York Times Online, October 10, 2019, 6:00 AM, Opinion

Under the rules that normally govern the American judicial system, the Louisiana abortion law at the center of a case the Supreme Court added to its docket last week is flagrantly unconstitutional. My goal in this column is to make visible not only the stakes in the case but also Louisiana’s strategy for saving its law, the first of a wave of anti-abortion measures to reach a Supreme Court transformed by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the addition of two justices appointed by President Donald Trump.

The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, asks the court to decide whether states can prohibit doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges at local hospitals. It presents each side with an obvious challenge. The challenge for Louisiana is that the court answered precisely that question three years ago in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, declaring that an identical law in Texas imposed an unconstitutional burden on access to abortion. The court’s holding was so definitive that the attorneys general of Alabama and Tennessee almost immediately stopped defending their states’ admitting-privileges laws.

But Louisiana persisted, and the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit went rogue. It upheld the Louisiana law by disregarding the findings of the federal district judge who had struck it down after a six-day trial, by mischaracterizing what the justices did in Whole Woman’s Health and by drawing phony distinctions between Texas, where the regulatory onslaught has left the state with 20 abortion clinics, and Louisiana, which now has three clinics and will be left with one if the law goes into effect.

In considering the clinic’s appeal, the Supreme Court appeared to have three choices. One was to not accept the case, which would have put the law into effect immediately. Given the stay the court granted in February, that step was unlikely; the court’s main criterion for granting a stay is the likelihood that the justices would ultimately decide to hear the appeal. Another possible course was to overturn the Fifth Circuit’s decision summarily, without further briefing or oral argument. While the court takes that step with some regularity when a lower court’s error is obvious, that seemed an unlikely outcome in an abortion case. So the choice the justices made to accept the case for full briefing and argument was unremarkable — predictable, in fact.

In its initial response to the clinic’s petition, the state argues that if Whole Woman’s Health is so confusing as to have pointed a well-meaning appeals court in the wrong direction, then that shows the best course is for the Supreme Court to overturn it. I don’t think the court is going to take that step. It would be too bold, too obvious, too soon, too close to the 2020 election. And, most significantly, the court doesn’t have to expose itself in that way to achieve its anti-abortion aims. Rather, it’s much more likely that the court will do what the Fifth Circuit did: reinterpret the precedent to its liking; credit the Fifth Circuit’s charges that abortion practice in Louisiana was sloppy and dangerous rather than the District Court’s precise findings that the safety record of abortion in the state was “excellent”; or pretend, as the appeals court did, that insignificant differences between Texas and Louisiana justify a completely different outcome when it comes to the constitutional rights of women.

Or perhaps the court will do all three. If it does even one — if the Louisiana law survives this test, which is really a test of the Supreme Court itself — then those of us who have set aside talk of impeachment and the day’s multiple distractions long enough to understand the game that’s afoot will have an obligation somehow to break through the din when the decision is announced in late spring or early summer and let the public in on the secret.


4. Advocates worry about religious minorities.

By Christopher Vondracek, The Washington Times, October 10, 2019, Pg. A1

Christian evangelicals and religious advocates are sharply criticizing President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops back from northern Syria, warning that it has created a security vacuum on the ground that puts religious minorities in the firing line and could lead to a resurgence of Islamist Turkish influence and the revival of the radical Islamic State movement.

Religious conservatives who have been among Mr. Trump’s most loyal defenders were among the most critical of the U.S. military drawdown in Syria, which was followed almost immediately by a Turkish incursion into northern Syria targeting U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.

Many fear Turkey plans a sectarian cleansing of its new Syrian buffer zone, driving out Kurds and Christian communities and resettling millions of mostly Arab Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey to escape Syria’s eight-year civil war.

Tony Perkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the Turkish invasion puts at risk a rare oasis of religious tolerance. The Syrian Kurds have been widely praised for allowing various faiths to practice their religion freely in land under their control.


5. Could the Amazon synod be Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s last hurrah?

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, October 10, 2019

It’s widely assumed that the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon is poised to endorse married priests for isolated rural communities, and yesterday Retired Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil, told reporters that two-thirds of the bishops gathered in Rome back the idea. Yet in all honesty, it’s a little early to know exactly what all 184 synod fathers really think.

Pre-synod consultations focused more on laity, especially indigenous persons, rather than bishops, and so far the talk in the hall has been sufficiently vague as to leave options open.

However, there’s at least one synod bishop who’s gone public with skepticism about the so-called viri probati, or tested married men, albeit in his typically soft-spoken, gracious, and nuanced manner: Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and an erstwhile missionary in Colombia, one of the Amazon nations represented in the synod.

Ouellet, who turned 75 in June and thus has reached the formal retirement age, has been a fixture on the global Catholic stage for almost twenty years, with a profile as a “compassionate conservative” – a big heart, a gentle touch, and real curiosity about other points of view born of genuine intellectual chops. Theologically he’s cut from much the same cloth as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, and he was a longtime contributor to the journal Communio co-founded by the young Joseph Ratzinger.

What impact this may have on the outcome of the Amazon synod is anyone’s guess, but it does suggest that when Ouellet takes the microphone, at least one set of ears in the hall is likely to perk up – and it belongs, really, to the only person in that hall with the power to do much about what he hears, making him the ultimate wild card in the deck.


6. Officials find more fetal remains connected to late doctor.

The Associated Press, October 9, 2019

Authorities in Illinois discovered additional fetal remains Wednesday stashed in a car that had belonged to a doctor who performed abortions in Indiana, a month after his death led to the discovery of more than 2,200 other sets of remains in his garage.

Investigators for the Will County Sheriff’s Department in suburban Chicago found the fetal remains in the car at a parking lot, adding to the sets of remains connected to Dr. Ulrich Klopfer that were found on Sept. 12 at his garage.


7. Synod drama features married priests, women deacons and ‘ecological sins’

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, October 9, 2019

Before it began, the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops for the Amazon was expected to feature a strong ecological ethos, defense of the human rights of indigenous persons, and calls for the Church to do a better pastoral job of serving the region, including the possibility of a wider use of married priests.

So far, it’s delivering and then some.

Wednesday morning, for instance, brought insistence that Catholicism in the Amazon must act as a tribune for human rights, especially for indigenous peoples facing a real risk of genocide, and perhaps ought to establish an international ecclesial observatory.

Tuesday afternoon’s session, meanwhile, included a call to recognize and denounce “ecological sins” alongside the more traditional offenses cataloged in Church teaching.

According to a Vatican news bulletin, the hot-button issue of married priests also surfaced anew Wednesday morning during the synod’s fifth working session. It came up in the context of calls for deeper inculturation of Christianity in the Amazon and greater respect for native cultures and peoples, including in the celebration of the Church’s liturgies.

Perhaps anticipating reaction in more conservative and traditional quarters to the Amazon synod, Pope Francis Wednesday took a swipe at people who pose as defenders of the Church against some of its own members.

“The Risen One is one with all those who believe in him, [so] to strike a member of the Church is to strike Christ himself!” the pope said. “Also those who are ideologues because they want the ‘purity’ of the Church, in quote marks, are striking at Christ.”


8. Little Sisters of the Poor again seek Supreme Court’s help.

By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service, October 9, 2019, 2:30 PM

The Little Sisters of the Poor filed a petition with the Supreme Court Oct. 1 asking the court to once again protect them from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

This has a familiar ring because in 2016 the Supreme Court granted the sisters a religious exemption from the government’s mandate requiring them to include coverage of contraceptives in their employee health plans or pay hefty fines.

Then, one year later, they were given further protection by an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit the Little Sisters and other religious ministries from the contraceptive mandate. HHS provided this exemption in 2018 but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn’t have the power to give this exemption.

The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey were able to obtain a nationwide injunction against the rules protecting religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate and that injunction was then upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia. The Little Sisters are appealing the 3rd Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

“It is time for the Supreme Court to finally put this issue to rest,” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represents the sisters.

In a statement, he also called the case he hopes the court will take up “a nonsensical political battle that has dragged on six years too long.”

“These states have not been able to identify a single person who would lose contraceptive coverage under the new HHS rule, but they won’t rest until Catholic nuns are forced to pay for contraceptives,” he said.


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