1. Religious freedom issues loom large in 2016 election, By Tom Tracy, Catholic News Service, September 20, 2016.

With every passing U.S. election cycle, First Amendment and religious freedom-minded voters and watchdogs might be tempted to think, “This is the election that will most matter in our lifetimes.”

But as recent years have brought a wave of religious liberty court battles and the federal contraceptive mandate infringing on an array of operations by church entities – along with a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy to be filled – 2016 might be a seminal electoral year.

“I have been doing this 25 years, and I don’t recall the same level of concern,” said Mark Harrington, executive director of the Ohio-based Created Equal, a nonsectarian pro-life organization, who spoke with Catholic News Service about the upcoming religious liberties landscape in light of the presidential campaign.

Harrington pointed out he was part of an audit in 2009 by the Internal Revenue Service following comments he made about one of the presidential candidates. He said he speaks as a private individual when he asserts that he worries about the pace at which federal government has been chipping away at freedom of speech and religious liberties under the current administration.

The U.S. bishops have noted that religious liberty is much more than freedom of worship, asking aloud: Can the church do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?

“Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas,” the bishops wrote in a 2012 statement.


2. Heading to Assisi, Pope urges prayer and even tears for peace, By Inés San Martín, Vatican Correspondent, The Crux, September 20, 2016.

Ahead of his day trip to Assisi to participate in a World Day of Prayer for Peace, Pope Francis said that that the gathering of women and men religious from around the world is not an “spectacle” but simply a prayer for peace in a world at war.

“Today the world will have its center at Assisi, for a day of prayer, penitence and crying, because the world is at war,” he said on Tuesday. “God the father of all, Christians and not, wants peace. There’s no god of war, this is done by the devil.”

War, he said, including the inhumanity of a bomb that explodes killing and wounding, cutting off the path of humanitarian aid that can reach children, the elderly and the sick, he said, is the work “of the evil one” who wants to “kill everyone.”


3. On US trip full of choreography, two off-script moments loomed large, By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, The Crux, September 20, 2016.

Thursday will mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of Pope Francis’s Sept. 22-27 visit to the United States in September 2015, and although there are many things one could say about the outing and its aftermath, two observations seem basically indisputable.

First, this was one of the most carefully choreographed and elaborately produced ventures in the history of papal travel.

Second, those big public events often came up short in terms of raising eyebrows and fueling discussion to impromptu, off-camera moments along the way.

Specifically, there were two unscheduled and basically private moments that generated a vast avalanche of commentary: The pope’s visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington on Sept. 23, and his private encounter with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk briefly jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, one day later on Sept. 24.

As is so often the case with Pope Francis, both the background and the precise meaning of the Little Sisters and the Davis meetings remains debated.

Although Francis himself and his core team may have been thinking about these two moments for some time, they basically came as a last-minute surprise to the principals.


4. Pope: War is shameful, prayers to ‘God of peace’ in Assisi, Pope Francis’ Daily Homily, September 20, 2016.

The world needs to go “beyond the divisions of religions,” and feel the “shame” of war, without turning a “deaf ear” to the cries of those who are suffering: that’s what Pope Francis said in his Homily at Mass at Santa Marta Tuesday morning.  The Holy Father was speaking just hours before he was to leave for the Umbrian hill town of Assisi where he was to take part September 20, 2016 in the closing ceremony of an international summit of interfaith leaders to pray for world peace.  The first such gathering in Assisi was convened by Pope St. John Paul II in 1986.

“There is no god of war”. War, the inhumanity of a bomb that explodes, killing and injuring people, and cutting off humanitarian aid so that it cannot get to children, the elderly, the sick, is uniquely the work of “the evil one” who “wants to kill everyone,” said the Pope.  For this, it is necessary for all faiths to pray, even cry for peace – united in the conviction that “God is a God of peace.”


5. Planned Parenthood no longer ‘hangup’ of spending deal, By Sarah Ferris, The Hill, September 19, 2016, 4:42 PM.

Planned Parenthood is no longer at the center of the fight to avert a government shutdown, multiple sources said Monday.  

Aides from both parties say funding for a Planned Parenthood partner in Puerto Rico is no longer stalling talks on the government’s short-term spending bill, though lawmakers have been cautious not to say they’ve reached an official deal.
Republicans in both chambers have for months pushed a funding package to fight the Zika virus that would have restricted funding from going to Planned Parenthood partner ProFamilias.
But the partisan spat over Zika funding is “no longer the hangup of the CR,” one Senate aide said of the continuing resolution to fund the government through early December.

In exchange, Democrats have agreed to offsets for at least part of the $1.1 billion funding package.


6. Sex, family and the liberty of the Church, By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., 2016 Tocqueville Lecture, University of Notre Dame, Sept. 15, 2016.

The Gospel of John reminds us that the truth, and only the truth, makes us free.  We’re fully human and free only when we live under the authority of the truth.  And in that light, no issue has made us more dishonest and less free as believers and as a nation than abortion.  People uncomfortable with the abortion issue argue, quite properly, that Catholic teaching is bigger than just one issue.  Other urgent issues also need our attention.  Being pro-birth is not the same as being pro-life.  And being truly “pro-life” doesn’t end with defending the unborn child.

But it does and it must begin there.  To borrow some words from one of Notre Dame’s distinguished alumni: Abortion has been “the beachhead for an entire ethic that is hostile to life, hostile to marriage and, as we see from the [HHS] contraceptive mandate, increasingly hostile to religion, religious Americans and religious institutions.” Abortion poisons everything.  There can never be anything “progressive” in killing an unborn child, or standing aside tolerantly while others do it.

In every abortion, an innocent life always dies.  This is why no equivalence can ever exist between the intentional killing involved in abortion, infanticide and euthanasia on the one hand, and issues like homelessness, the death penalty and anti-poverty policy on the other.  Again, all of these issues are important.  But trying to reason or imply them into having the same moral weight is a debasement of Christian thought.