1. Silicon Valley, stand down from battling anti-sex trafficking bill.

By Maureen Ferguson, Maureen Malloy Ferguson is the Senior Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association and is on the Candidate Selection Committee for the Susan B. Anthony List, The Hill, September 21, 2017, 8:00 AM

She looks like the teenage girl next door. She plays soccer and the violin, and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. After a fight with her parents over grades, in a foolish moment she runs away, meets a seedy character at a youth shelter, and within 36 hours is being sold for sex on the internet in the classified ads on Backpage.com.  

It sounds like the worst of nightmares, but it happens daily.

It is human nature to avoid looking at upsetting and ugly realities; it is Washington’s nature to avoid hard decisions by playing inside-the-Beltway games like holding hearings instead of votes. Last week, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) almost got a floor vote, but was sent for a committee hearing instead. 

Tuesday’s hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee powerfully built the case for the bill, though, and hopefully will be the catalyst for real action.

How is it that girls are being sold for sex on websites that are operating in plain view? As Sen. Portman, prime sponsor of the bill, said during the hearing pimping has “moved from the street corner to the smart phone… with ruthless efficiency.” The biggest obstacle to justice for victims like J.S. and Desiree is not the vile men who operate sites like Backpage, it is the Communications Decency Act.

This law was passed by Congress back in 1996 when no one envisioned such abuse. Ironically, this “Decency” law grants broad immunity to internet companies so they cannot be held liable for third party content. Case after case against Backpage has been dismissed, with judges repeatedly citing the broad protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  

Sen. Portman and Blumenthal’s bill, SESTA, would simply amend the Communications Decency Act to eliminate the liability protections for websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, and enable state law enforcement to go after perpetrators in addition to the federal Department of Justice.  It is narrow and targeted.  

But, most big tech companies are crying that the sky will fall in on the internet if this legislation to protect young women passes. Google lobbyist E. Stewart Jeffries writes to Hill staffers asking that Senators not co-sponsor this bill because it has the “potential to seriously jeopardize the internet ecosystem.” 

Silicon Valley has some smart people, deep pockets, plenty of lawyers, and a loud voice in Washington.  The victims have none of these. Technology companies can absolutely handle this update in the law and can do more to combat the dark side of the internet, as Senator Portman said in his opening statement. 

In fact, some tech companies have already endorsed SESTA, like 21st Century Fox, writing, “we are confident the narrow and tailored legislation that you have proposed will appropriately target bad actors participating in this illegal activity.” Oracle also backs the bill, saying, “Your legislation does not, as suggested by the bill’s opponents, usher the end of the Internet.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, the internet association lobbyist who had the unenviable task of testifying against SESTA offered mostly platitudes and pablum, but had some substantive suggestions for amendments.  Reportedly this has led to negotiations between the bill’s sponsors and big tech companies. 

Let’s hope and pray they find an effective compromise, because women’s freedom from being trafficked is compatible with internet freedom. It has to be.


2. US Senate committee advances bill to aid Christians in Iraq. 

By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, September 21, 2017

A Senate committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that seeks to ensure U.S. aid reaches Christian genocide victims in Iraq.

“The vote from this morning is an important step toward providing relief for those victims of the genocide committed by ISIS,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of the sponsors of H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, stated.

Christians in Iraq who were forcibly displaced from their homes by the expansion of Islamic State in 2014, and many of who have been living in Iraqi Kurdistan, have been dependent on the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil and aid groups like the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need for basic needs like rent, heating, and food.

Christians could have much greater access to the aid if it was allowed to go through churches and church organizations, who are able to reach Christian populations, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), another sponsor of the bill, said at the press conference.

“The State Department would not allow any U.S. dollars to flow to church organizations. And this legislation allows for that,” she said.

And time is running out to ensure that Christians get the assistance they need. Since the Christian families have been away from home for three years and their children are going without education for another year, the Knights of Columbus said they received reports that families could leave Iraq for good by the fall if they do not have a viable way of returning home.


3. Same-Sex Couples Challenge Michigan Adoption Law: Law allows child-welfare agencies to turn down prospective parents based on religious objections.

By Ian Lovett, The Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2017, 4:31 PM

Same-sex couples seeking to adopt children sued the State of Michigan on Wednesday, alleging that the state has allowed child-welfare agencies to unconstitutionally discriminate against gay people.

Michigan is among a handful of states that have passed laws in recent years allowing adoption and foster care agencies, including those that receive state money, to turn down prospective parents based on religious objections.

As a result, agencies can turn down gay and lesbian couples trying to adopt a child, though they are required to refer the couple to another agency.

The suit, filed in federal court, involves only state-funded child welfare agencies, not private adoption agencies. Still, it could have implications for adoption and foster care in states across the country; three states this year established new protections for child-welfare agencies that objected on religious grounds to placing children with gay couples.

Religious organizations, including Catholic Charities, have long played a leading role in adoptions and foster care in the U.S.

The Michigan Catholic Conference, the church’s public policy arm in the state, helped push through 2015 law allowing religious exemptions for child-welfare agencies. Catholic Charities organizations in other states had shut down their adoption work rather than place children with gay or lesbian parents.

“It was an effort in Michigan to protect the right of these agencies to operate in accordance with their religious mission,” said David M. Maluchnik, a spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference. “We play a primary role in providing homes for loving families looking to adopt or foster a child.”

Mr. Maluchnik said there was no dearth of agencies in the state that would place families with same-sex couples, and questioned why the plaintiffs sued, rather than going to another agency.


4. Pope promises ‘firmest measures possible’ against pedophiles. 

By Associated Press, September 21, 2017, 6:01 AM

Pope Francis is promising to respond with the “firmest measures possible” against priests who rape and molest children and says he’ll hold accountable bishops and religious superiors who cover up for them.

Francis met Thursday for the first time with his sex abuse advisory commission, which was created in 2014 to advise him and the Catholic Church on best practices to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and protect children.


5. Vatican diplomat implicated in child porn case has served in India and Hong Kong.

By Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post, September 20, 2017, 3:01 PM

The Catholic Church official recalled to the Vatican because U.S. investigators suspected him of crimes involving child pornography is a diplomat who has served the church in positions around the globe.

The diplomat in question is Monsignor Carlo Alberto Capella. 

Capella, 50, has had a wide-ranging career in the church that brought him to the United States only this past year. 

In 2008, according to a document from the Archdiocese of Milan, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the rank of “Chaplain of His Holiness” on Capella — a recognition of service to the church that bestowed on him the title of Monsignor.

In August, the State Department contacted the Vatican to say that U.S. officials had turned up evidence implicating Capella in a child pornography case. 

The church transferred Capella back to the Vatican and said that it is investigating the case. A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak more frankly about the case, said that the United States had asked the Vatican to waive Capella’s immunity so that he could be prosecuted here. The Vatican refused.

In Vatican City, Capella could face consequences in two disciplinary systems: Under church law, he could be defrocked as a priest, and under civil law in the Holy See, which is also an independent nation, he could face criminal penalties. The city-state’s criminal law says people convicted of possessing child pornography face up to two years in prison and $12,000 in fines, and those convicted of producing or distributing the images face steeper penalties.