1. U.S. bishops seek to fight racism at both national and local levels.

By Christopher White, Crux, September 25, 2017

One month after the United States Catholic Bishops announced they would form an ad hoc committee to fight the sin of racism, many members of the Church hierarchy are also taking stock to see how they can resist racism in their own backyards.

In a major lecture last week at The Catholic University of America, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, said debates over Civil War monuments and Confederate memorials didn’t have a single solution, but would be best solved at a local level.

While the U.S. bishops are expected to release an updated pastoral letter on racism in 2018, Braxton says he hopes it will be embraced not just by a handful of congregations of color but also that “large suburban parishes with no people of color would read it” and re-examine how their own churches can address the problem.

In a column last week, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles argued that while laws are an important part of racial reconciliation, much more will be required.

One practical way the example of non-violence is being implanted is in the Archdiocese of Chicago, where Cardinal Blase Cupich issued a decree earlier this month banning guns from all parishes, schools, and other diocesan property.

Meanwhile, in El Paso, Texas, Bishop Mark Seitz has intervened in city developers’ efforts to demolish the Duranguito neighborhood, a place of cultural heritage and pride for border residents.

Seitz spoke at a recent city council hearing over the matter, and in a statement released last week, the bishop lamented what he described as “increasing tension and mutual distrust.”

Yet even before the bishops formed a national committee, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York had announced his own plan to create a special diocesan committee on racism.

DiMarzio’s announcement came at a special mass for solidarity and peace held in August in which the bishop said the diocese would look at the practical ways it listens to those “suffering under this sin” of racism.

In San Diego, Bishop Robert McElroy has asked the diocesan staff to develop an education module for children and young adults that would help address the “Charlottesville moment.”

Following the events of Charlottesville, McElroy joined together with dozens of faith leaders in southern California to condemn racism and pledged to work together to combat it.


2. Pope’s advisers on sex abuse also take up children of priests.

By Associated Press, September 25, 2017

Pope Francis’ committee of advisers on protecting children from sexually abusive priests is expanding its workload to include the needs and rights of children fathered by Roman Catholic priests.

Committee members told The Associated Press on Sunday that a working group is looking into developing guidelines that can be used by dioceses around the world to ensure that children born to priests are adequately cared for.

Indeed, for centuries the Church often has tried to keep such children secret, because of the scandal of priests breaking their vows of celibacy. But it has gained visibility after Irish bishops published guidelines earlier this year that focused on ensuring the well-being of the child and the mother, who, the bishops said, often suffer psychological problems from the stigma and silence imposed on them by the Church.

The Irish guidelines were believed to represent the first comprehensive public policy by a national bishops’ conference on the issue.


3. Without Columbus, There Would Be No Latinos: Last year a Puerto Rican city put up a monument to the explorer taller than the Statue of Liberty. 

By Jennifer C. Braceras, Ms. Braceras is a lawyer and writer in Boston The Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2017, Pg. A21, Opinion

The collective impulse to tear down statues and rename buildings to meet modern sensibilities is growing stronger by the day. Earlier this month a statue of Christopher Columbus in New York’s Central Park was vandalized with graffiti that read “hate will not be tolerated” and a creepy warning that “#somethingscoming.” The following day, protesters gathered at the city’s Columbus Circle to demand that a statue of the explorer there, which stands atop a 76-foot column, be removed.

Columbus was born in Italy, but he sailed under the Spanish crown. Without Columbus and the Spanish colonization of the Western Hemisphere that followed, Latinos as a people would not exist.

Recognizing the importance of Columbus Day to Latinos, President Reagan in 1988 instituted national Hispanic Heritage month, which begins Sept. 15 and culminates just after Columbus Day. Two weeks from now, on Columbus Day weekend, millions of Latinos and Italian-Americans will honor the explorer with parades on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, respectively.

Such commemorations do not absolve Columbus of his flaws or imply forgetting his missteps. The explorer, like most historical figures, was far from perfect. But much of the anti-Columbus rhetoric is based on old propaganda from the English and Dutch aimed at demonizing their Spanish-Catholic rivals. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan picked up these mischaracterizations as a way to delegitimize immigrants, particularly Catholics. Those who denigrate Columbus today in the name of “tolerance” only feed this bigoted narrative.


4. Vatican denounces ousted auditor who says he was forced out.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, September 24, 2017, 2:55 PM

The Vatican on Sunday revealed the reason behind the hasty departure of its auditor general, accusing him of having illegally hired a firm to spy on the private lives of Vatican personnel.

The Vatican made the revelation after Libero Milone broke three months of silence to declare that he resigned under threat of arrest for what he said were trumped-up charges.

Milone told reporters Saturday that he was told on June 19 that Pope Francis had lost confidence in him. He said he was subsequently subject to an “aggressive” interrogation by Vatican police who seized material from his office and told him to resign or face arrest.

In a statement, the Vatican admitted that Libero Milone resigned in June after Vatican investigators determined his office had “illegally hired an outside company to conduct investigations into the private lives of Holy See personnel.”

Milone’s resignation had raised eyebrows because he was only two years into a five-year term, and had been seen as a key part of Francis’ efforts to reform the Vatican’s finances. Along with Cardinal George Pell, he was tasked with overseeing the Holy See’s budgets and making sense of the finances of the Vatican’s various departments.


5. Amid avalanche, real questions about the papacy risk being obscured.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, September 25, 2017

In the last six days, Pope Francis has been subject to three extraordinary accusations, each coming from disparate sources and covering different ground. In a nutshell, here they are:

On Sept. 17, a right-wing Italian blogger and writer named Maurizio Blondet, drawing on a report by an Argentine journalist, accused Francis of suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, which Blondet claims was manifest during the future pope’s time as a Jesuit provincial in the 1970s and which Blondet says has defined his career ever since, including in the papacy.

On Saturday, a group of 62 theologians, other academics and clergy – though only one bishop, and that was Bishop Bernard Fellay of the breakaway traditionalist Society of St. Pius X – accused Francis of propagating heresy in his document Amoris Laetitia, and its cautious opening to Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

Also on Saturday, the Vatican’s former Auditor General, Italian businessman Libero Milone, charged the pope with essentially giving up on financial reform, saying he “started with the best of intentions” but has been blocked by an old guard willing to use frame-jobs and character assassination to destroy anyone threatening their grip on power.

Here’s the main problem with such an avalanche of accusations: It becomes difficult to distinguish what genuinely merits closer examination from matters which are, in essence, either same-old, same-old, or dubious on the face of it.

So, what’s a reasonable person to think?

First, the suggestion that Francis has some sort of psychological disorder is not new. It’s been floating around in the traditionalist-deeply conservative Catholic world for a while, although it may have been given a new lease on life by a recent book-length conversation between the pontiff and French sociologist Dominique Wolton, in which Francis said that when he was 42 and a Jesuit provincial, he consulted a psychotherapist over an arc of six months “to clarify a few things.”

Second, the charge of heresy is also not really new, since it’s been in circulation ever since Amoris Laetitia appeared. The claim that such a correction hasn’t been issued for almost 700 years is also overblown, since this is hardly the first time since 1333 someone’s written to a pope to accuse him of betraying the faith.

Third, Milone is making a substantive charge that risks being obscured or minimized amid the frenzy about everything else.

His account is probably the least tainted by ideological motives, since Milone is basically a businessman and accountant, not a political or theological activist. If what he’s saying is true, Francis essentially has given up on financial reform and is content to allow business as usual in the Vatican to reassert itself while he pursues other objectives.

Moreover, there’s sufficient independent evidence, including a Vatican trial for financial misappropriation going on right now in which the Italian cardinal at the heart of the affair has been carefully insulated from liability, to indicate it’s at least worth taking Milone’s suggestion of a rollback seriously.

In the present climate, the problem is that some of those most eager to jump on the idea that Francis has dropped the ball on financial reform have strong ideological incentives to do so, hoping to style it as an indictment of the pontificate tout court. Others who, under different circumstances, might be inclined to look at things objectively, likely will see any such suggestion as yet another element in a Machiavellian plot to destroy the pope.


6. Conservative theologians accuse pope of spreading heresy.

By Associated Press, September 24, 2017

Several dozen tradition-minded Roman Catholic theologians, priests and academics have formally accused Pope Francis of spreading heresy with his 2016 opening to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

In a 25-page letter delivered to Francis last month and provided Saturday to The Associated Press, the 62 signatories issued a “filial correction” to the pope – a measure they said hadn’t been employed since the 14th century.

The letter accused Francis of propagating seven heretical positions concerning marriage, moral life and the sacraments with his 2016 document “The Joy of Love” and subsequent “acts, words and omissions.”

The initiative follows another formal act by four tradition-minded cardinals who wrote Francis last year asking him to clarify a series of questions, or “dubbia,” they had about his 2016 text.

Francis hasn’t responded to either initiative. The Vatican spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment late Saturday.

None of the signatories of the new letter is a cardinal, and the highest-ranking churchman listed is actually someone whose organization has no legal standing in the Catholic Church: Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the breakaway Society of St. Pius X. Several other signatories are well-known admirers of the old Latin Mass which Fellay’s followers celebrate.

Also among the signatories are a handful of well-known Catholic figures from around the world, including Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, a former president of the Institute for the Works of Religion, the so-called “Vatican bank,” and Italian Monsignor Antonio Livi, former dean of the philosophy faculty at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University.

Organizers said the initiative was nevertheless significant and a sign of the concern among a certain contingent of academics and pastors over Francis’s positions, which they said posed a danger to the faithful.


7. Tools for thinking about the Vatican’s two latest scandals, By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, September 24, 2017

There are two such less-than-edifying stories bubbling in and around the Vatican at the moment, so here I’ll try to offer some resources for thinking intelligently about each – without implying that such situations are the only things the Vatican, or the Catholic Church, has going on at the moment worth knowing.

Vatican diplomat and child pornography

On Sept. 15, the Vatican issued a brief press release announcing that one of its priest-diplomats at the papal embassy in Washington, D.C., was suspected by the U.S. government of possible violation of child pornography laws and had been recalled to Rome.

Immediately, some observers smelled a cover-up, wondering why the Vatican hadn’t simply allowed the priest – later identified as Italian Monsignor Carlo Alberto Capella – to face justice in the United States.

Some were also critical of the way the Vatican broke the news. Jesuit Father Tom Reese, a longtime commentator on the Catholic scene, wrote that “it is hard to imagine a worse press release in the 21st century,” ripping the Vatican for not naming the priest and for insisting on “confidentiality” without saying anything else, such as the conditions under which Capella is being held in Rome.

It’s instructive to compare how the Vatican has handled this situation so far with the way it responded to the last time something similar happened, when Polish Archbishop Józef Wesołowski, the pope’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, was accused of sexual exploitation of minors in that country in August 2013.

At the time, the then-Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters that Wesołowski would be subject to the jurisdiction of Vatican courts for his alleged crimes, and that afterwards, if another state wanted to extradite him to face charges there – for instance, the Dominican Republic – the Vatican would live up to its international agreements.

The clear message was, we brought him here not to sweep anything under the rug, but to face the music.

In trying to think about what’s going on in this latest situation, three points might be helpful.

First, there’s an apples-and-oranges dimension to the Capella and Wesołowski comparison, which is that by the time Wesołowski’s case broke, the charges again him had already gone public, and there was legitimate reason to believe serious crimes had been committed.

With Capella, however, all the Vatican knows so far is that there was a “possible” violation of child pornography laws. To date, U.S. investigators have not passed along any details of those charges. The Vatican has filed a formal diplomatic request for whatever information U.S. authorities may have, and is waiting for a response.

Second, the Wesołowski example suggests caution before declaring a cover-up. He was formally laicized in 2014, and a criminal prosecution against him was underway when he was found dead in August 2015. Presumably, if serious charges against Capella emerge, he’ll face the same fate.

Third, Reese is probably right that it would have been nice to say some of this up-front.

At this stage, there are probably three talking points one could offer:

Because the Vatican has not seen any of the possible charges against Capella or the basis for them, it’s understandably premature to talk about his specific case.

In general, the Vatican has laws specifically against the crime of child pornography, and if one of its representatives is credibly accused of it, history suggests that person will be prosecuted. (In fact, one might reasonably ask, what’s the point of having those laws if you’re not intent on applying them?)

Moreover, if other states wish to prosecute someone under their laws after the Church’s processes are complete, the Vatican has said in the past it will cooperate.

Trial, accountability and reform

This week brought the first real action in the Vatican’s first-ever criminal trial under new laws on financial corruption adopted under Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.

Two former officials of the papally-sponsored Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital stand accused of diverting roughly $500,000 of the hospital’s money to pay for the remodeling of a Vatican apartment currently occupied by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Secretary of State under Benedict.

Is there any way this trial can be seen as a blow for accountability, when the cardinal at the heart of it has been completely insulated from responsibility? Not only is Bertone not charged with anything, he was never investigated, and he’s not been listed as a witness either.

That’s undeniably a hard one to explain, but when you put the question before Vatican insiders, you’ll generally hear some version of three things.

First, it was never on the table right now to charge a cardinal and former Secretary of State. Things are slowly changing, they say, but we’re not there yet. First, smaller precedents have to be set, and then we’ll see where it leads.

Second, they insist, leaving Bertone out of it doesn’t mean the whole exercise is pointless.

Even if Profiti, for instance, wasn’t the only one involved, he still was involved. Moreover, since most of the financial scandals around the Vatican have involved a nexus between a senior cleric and one or more lay Italian financiers, if those financiers become skittish because of the threat of prosecution, then clerics will have fewer opportunities to go down the wrong path.

Third, they say, this is only the tip of the iceberg. More indictments and prosecutions are in the works, they vow, and that’s how cultural change is built – one step at a time.

The next hearing in the trial is set for Monday, Oct. 2., and we’ll see at the end what impression it leaves in terms of where the reform cause stands.


8. The Oklahoma priest who could become the first American-born man to be canonized a saint.

 By Ross Kenneth Urken, The Washington Post, September 23, 2017, Pg. B2

A priest from Okarche, Okla., a very small town perhaps most famous for the succulent fried chicken at Eischen’s Bar, could help to revitalize the U.S. Catholic Church as the first man and first priest born in this country to be canonized a saint.

Perhaps an unlikely candidate to spur such a momentous movement, Father Stanley Rother, a humble priest from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City who was murdered in Guatemala in 1981, will be one step closer to that status on September 23 during his beatification, a Catholic Church blessing process that recognizes a dead individual’s entrance into heaven and lets devotees pray to that person for protection.

With the acknowledgement that Rother was killed “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith), Pope Francis declared him a martyr on December 1, 2016, and paved the way for this next step toward sainthood to take place at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. During the beatification Mass, an apostolic letter will declare Rother to have earned the honorific “blessed,” and church leaders will acknowledge a feast day dedicated to him on the liturgical calendar in Oklahoma.

Given that Pope Francis is the first Holy See from Latin America, there has been more focus on priests who historically sacrificed themselves there while combating anti-religious regimes.

And Rother’s work in Guatemala was particularly valiant considering the dangerous circumstances. After Rother was ordained a priest in 1963 in Oklahoma, he moved to Guatemala in 1968 to serve the Tz’utujil community in Santiago Atitlán from 1968 until 1981, when he was murdered at 46 years old in an attack attributed to right-wing extremists from the country’s paramilitary units.


9. Yes, Twitter can reject this anti-abortion group’s ads for displaying ‘sensitive content’.

By Tracy Jan, The Washington Post, September 22, 2017, 10:38 AM

A major anti-abortion group has accused Twitter of blocking its ads and even demanding the removal of “sensitive content” from its own website, in what activists say is a clear departure from the social media giant’s claims of hosting unfiltered debate.

In a letter to Twitter, attorneys for Live Action, known for its undercover investigations of abortion clinics, allege the social media platform wrongly applied its policies to censor advertisements that contain ultrasound images of fetuses, promote or link to its secret recordings, and oppose federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Live Action says the blocked content makes up the very core of its message.

Twitter gave Live Action two choices to become eligible for advertising in the future: remove “sensitive content” from its website and Twitter feed, or create a Twitter handle linking to a new website without the offending content, according to the email exchanges provided by Live Action that The Washington Post has verified.

Among the “sensitive content” Twitter objected to that would have to be wiped from Live Action’s website and Twitter feed: videos of the organization’s undercover investigations, images and videos of abortion procedures, a petition to defund Planned Parenthood, and fetal ultrasounds.

The Susan B. Anthony List, which promotes legislators and laws that seek to limit abortion, said Twitter rejected several of its ads in the spring for violating its “health and pharmaceutical products and services policy.”

The tweets included one from its president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, that said, “Let’s envision ‘A Day without Abortionists’” — a play on the “Day without Women.” Another displayed a graphic of Mother Teresa saying that “Abortion is profoundly anti-women.”

Twitter suspended the organization’s ability to advertise for several days. Mallory Quigley, a Susan B. Anthony List spokeswoman, said the organization has now “reached an uneasy peace” with Twitter. She said her group stands with Live Action against what it called censorship by Twitter.


10. JFK, Amy Coney Barrett and Anti-Catholicism: A look at the recent Senate hearing questioning of Notre Dame law professor and Catholic mother of seven.

By National Catholic Register, September 22, 2017, Editorial

This month, Kennedy’s struggle to overcome anti-Catholic bigotry was brought back to life, in a form of political theater designed to damage the prospects of Catholic judicial nominees who threaten the survival of Roe v. Wade. On Sept. 6, Amy Coney Barrett, a widely published professor of law at the University of Notre Dame and President Donald Trump’s pick for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, faced down a barrage of questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about her Catholic faith and its likely impact on her handling of cases dealing with abortion rights. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, led the interrogation, with an assist from other Democrats on the committee, including Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Catholic.

The hostile interrogation of Amy Coney Barrett reveals how little — and how much — has changed for Catholics seeking public office since JFK’s day. The attacks on Barrett’s religious beliefs, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the U.S. bishops’ point man on religious freedom, “harken back to a time in our country when anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order.”

But the disturbing spectacle that unfolded at the Senate hearing also points to a more recent and thriving strain of anti-Catholicism in progressive circles. Judicial nominees, like Barrett, are under fire because they embrace the moral teachings of their Church on life — and also for their judicial philosophy, which seeks to interpret the Constitution according to the Founders’ intent.

Amy Coney was born in 1972, more than a decade after Catholics celebrated Kennedy’s election as president, and her parents may well have believed that anti-Catholicism had been swept into the dustbin of history. What they didn’t bargain for was the steady rise of a competing secular religion — an ideology of sexual rights secured by legal abortion — that dismissed Catholics and Christians as cultural and political outliers. And Kennedy’s pledge to privatize his faith now serves as a handy shield for Catholic lawmakers who put Roe first and tolerate — or even facilitate — attacks on fellow Catholics who refuse to go along.