1. Administration aims to get religious rights set in stone.

By Christopher Vondracek, The Washington Times, October 9, 2019, Pg. A1

The goal now, he [Roger Severino, director for the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services] said, it to ensure that religious liberty protections do not disappear under the next administration, whether that be one or five years from now.

Two years after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a 20-point guidance on religious liberty for all executive branch employees, lawyers inside the Trump administration have taken rapid steps to ensure a person with deeply held religious beliefs is viewed with the same protected status as someone who is a racial minority or vulnerable to sex discrimination.

They have frequently invoked two religious liberty laws in state and federal cases. They have used the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, say, to protect an American Indian tribe’s use of private property to conduct ceremonial sweats, and 1993’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by President Clinton and introduced by then-Rep. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, to protect employers from federal mandates requiring them to provide birth control to employees based on the employer’s deeply held religious beliefs.


2. Justices Spar Over Gay-Employee Cases, High court explores whether protections based on sex apply to orientation or identity.

By Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall, The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2019, Pg. A4

The Supreme Court spent two tense hours on Tuesday weighing whether the nation’s bedrock civil-rights law forbids employers from discriminating against gay or transgender employees.

The issues arrived in separate cases, but they boiled down to the same question: Does the Civil Rights Act of 1964, whose Title VII outlaws workplace discrimination based on sex, nevertheless permit employers to fire individuals because they are gay or transgender?


3. Australian Prosecutors Argue No Grounds for Ex-Vatican Treasurer’s Final Sex Crimes Appeal.

Reuters, October 9, 2019, 1:46 AM

Prosecutors have urged Australia’s High Court to refuse to hear a final appeal by former Vatican treasurer George Pell against his convictions for sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys in the late 1990s.

In opposing arguments put by Pell’s lawyers to Australia’s highest court, prosecutors said there was no error in the approach taken by the Victorian state Court of Appeal.

The state appellate court upheld Pell’s convictions, in a 2-1 ruling in August, on five charges of abusing the two boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne when he was archbishop there.

The earliest the case could be heard would be in 2020, should the court decide to take on the appeal.


4. Sights and Sounds: Is it time to switch the preposition in Synod ‘of’ Bishops?

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

After just two days of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, it’s too early to expect clarity on any of the big-picture issues, such as a married priesthood, a ministry for women, how far the Church should go in embracing the secular ecological agenda, new solutions for indigenous communities, and so on.

According to official Vatican briefings, those issues are being discussed but that’s about it. Paolo Ruffini, the director of the Vatican’s communications department, said at a briefing on Tuesday that while there have been different emphases it’s too early to speak of any real “disagreement,” in part because they’re in a phase now in which everyone gives prepared statements and there’s no back-and-forth.

In the meantime, here’s a random thought motivated by the first couple days: Is it time to change the preposition in the name of a synod, from a synod “of” bishops to a synod “with” bishops?

Historically, a “synod” meant a meeting of bishops convened to settle some point of doctrine, worship or governance. That’s still basically how the term is used in Eastern Christianity, though their synods may also include other clergy.

The only thing that sort-of distinguishes bishops anymore is the right to vote (I say sort-of because a handful of non-bishops, including one non-ordained male, has that right too), but even that’s fairly hollow. A Synod of Bishops has no decision-making authority, so all those votes accomplish is to decide what to pass on to the pope. Since he sits there every day, he’s probably got a fairly good sense of what went on anyway.

Perhaps it’s time to say out loud what a synod has actually become: A gathering “with” bishops, certainly, but not “of” them. The emphasis anymore isn’t on bishops speaking, so much as listening – not to Rome, in this case, but to pretty much everybody else.


5. What Kind of “Believers”?

by George Weigel, First Things, October 9, 2019

Much of the Catholic Church in Germany (and in other German-speaking lands) is in a de facto state of schism: Many of its leaders and intellectuals do not believe what the Catholic Church believes. And because of that, they do not teach what the Catholic Church teaches. Nor does this de facto schism touch on neuralgic moral questions alone. It involves the bottom of the bottom line: Is Jesus Christ the unique redeemer of humanity, such that all who are saved are saved through him (in one fashion or another)? Are there divinely revealed truths that remain binding over time? Is the Catholic Church speaking the truth when it solemnly declares that it is doing so irrespective of what the surrounding culture thinks?

Catholicism is dying in the German-speaking world, not because the gospel has been proclaimed and found incredible or hard, but because it hasn’t been proclaimed with joy, confidence, and zeal. Friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and incorporation into the community of disciples in mission that is the Church, has not been offered. That is why there is 2 percent Mass attendance in that Munich parish. Recognizing that hard truth is the only path toward a German Catholicism that has something credible to say to the rest of the world Church.


6. Letters From the Synod–2019: #2.

Edited by Xavier Rynne II, First Things, October 9, 2019

Formally opening Synod-2019 at Mass in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter on October 6, Pope Francis preached a moving homily focused on the nature of the episcopate, during which he drew heavily on the second reading assigned for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year (2 Timothy 1:6–8, 13–14). Some excerpts from the homily are worth pondering in themselves; they also set the stage for a reflection on the pontificate and the tensions within it.

These tensions in the pontificate of Pope Francis will be fully on display as Synod-2019 continues its work over the next three weeks. This display will undoubtedly cause further distress in some Catholic quarters. That distress should, however, be tempered, if not assuaged, by a recognition that Synod-2019 is going to make unmistakably clear the nature of the issues facing the world Church in the immediate future. The gravity of those issues—and the choices they pose—can no longer be denied. They can only be faced, with both courage and charity, in the firm conviction that, as we used to say in Latin, Veritas vos liberabit—“The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).


7. Supreme Court to Decide High-Stakes ‘LGBT’ Cases Amid Partisan Scrutiny.

By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Regsiter, October 8, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin its 2019-2020 term with a thunderclap: a trio of cases that could result in the extension of federal employment protections that now bar discrimination based on “sex” to encompass workers who identify as “gay” or “transgender.”

“When Title VII passed in 1964, there is no question that Congress at that time did not intend to include gender identity or sexual orientation, and most appellate courts have recognized that,” said Eric Kniffin, a Colorado-based attorney who specializes in religious-freedom issues in the workplace.

“But some courts have opened up these cases” to a different statutory interpretation, Kniffin told the Register, and a Supreme Court ruling that sides with the employees’ argument could have far-reaching consequences for religious employers in particular.

On Oct. 8, the justices will first hear consolidated oral arguments for Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, two cases brought by employees who contend that their sexual orientation led to their dismissal.

They claim that this action violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though the language of the statute does not specify legal protection for employees fired because of their sexual orientation.

The employers counter that when Congress passed Title VII more than a half-century ago, it never intended that the law prohibit discrimination based on other categories like sexual orientation.

The federal statute, they say, simply asks employers to treat members of one sex no differently than the opposite sex, and if it is time to revisit that law, Congress, not the courts, should do so.


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