1. Pope Faces Pressure Over Russia in Georgia Visit, Pontiff has largely steered clear of Moscow criticism as he pursues stronger ties with Russian Orthodox church, By Francis X. Rocca in Rome and Thomas Grove in Moscow, The Wall Street Journal online, September 29, 2016, 5:31 AM ET.

Pope Francis’ visit to the former Soviet state of Georgia this week poses a dilemma for the Catholic leader, as his pursuit of warmer relations with Russia puts him at risk of accusations he is soft-pedaling his central human-rights agenda.

The pontiff, who has been accused of ignoring Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict, has avidly sought better ties with the Russian Orthodox Church and is generally reluctant to antagonize the Kremlin.

In Georgia on Friday and Saturday, he faces the possibility of a setback to his efforts for Christian unity or more claims that he is appeasing an expansionist Russia.

Pope Francis is a strong advocate for refugees and other migrants and has urged rich countries to open their borders to those fleeing war and poverty. However, raising the refugee issue in Georgia, which won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but still lives in the shadow of Russia, would irritate Moscow.


2. The Glory of Rome, By Mary Beard, National Post, September 29, 2016.

Roman history is always being rewritten, and always has been; in some ways we know more about ancient Rome than the Romans themselves did. Roman history, in other words, is a work in progress. This book is my contribution to that bigger project; it offers my version of why it matters. SPQR takes its title from another famous Roman catchphrase, Senatus PopulusQue Romanus, “The Senate and People of Rome.” It is driven by a personal curiosity about Roman history, by a conviction that a dialogue with ancient Rome is still well worth having and by the question of how a tiny and very unremarkable little village in central Italy became so dominant a power over so much territory in three continents.

This is a book about how Rome grew and sustained its position for so long, not about how it declined and fell, if indeed it ever did in the sense that Gibbon imagined. There are many ways that histories of Rome might construct a fitting conclusion; some have chosen the conversion of the emperor Constantine to Christianity on his deathbed in 337 CE or the sack of the city in 410 CE by Alaric and his Visigoths. Mine ends with a culminating moment in 212 CE, when the emperor Caracalla took the step of making every single free inhabitant of the Roman Empire a full Roman citizen, eroding the difference between conqueror and conquered and completing a process of expanding the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship that had started almost 1,000 years earlier.

In fact, SPQR confronts some of the myths and half-truths about Rome with which I, like many, grew up. The Romans did not start out with a grand plan of world conquest. Although eventually they did parade their empire in terms of some manifest destiny, the motivations that originally lay behind their military expansion through the Mediterranean world and beyond are still one of history’s great puzzles. In acquiring their empire, the Romans did not brutally trample over innocent peoples who were minding their own business in peaceable harmony until the legions appeared on the horizon. Roman victory was undoubtedly vicious. Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul has not unfairly been compared to genocide and was criticized by Romans at the time in those terms. But Rome expanded into a world not of communities living at peace with one another but of endemic violence, rival power bases backed up by military force (there was not really any alternative backing) and mini-empires. Most of Rome’s enemies were as militaristic as the Romans; but, for reasons I shall try to explain, they did not win.


3. The Culture of Death, on the March in Colorado, By George Weigel, National Review Online, September 29, 2016.

This past summer, three elderly members of my summer parish in rural Québec received a diagnosis of cancer at the local hospital, a small-town facility an hour’s drive from cosmopolitan Ottawa and even farther from hyper-secular Montréal. Yet after the diagnosis had been delivered, the first question each of these people was asked was “Do you wish to be euthanized?” That is what the new Canadian euthanasia regime has accomplished in just a few months: It has put euthanasia at the top of the menu of options proposed to the gravely ill.

The more apt mot about all of this lethality masquerading as compassion, however, is from the quotable quotes of another Richard, Richard John Neuhaus, who famously said of the morally egregious and its relationship to law, “What is permitted will eventually become obligatory.” Canada isn’t quite there yet, nor is Belgium; but they’re well on their way, not least because their single-payer health-care systems will increasingly find euthanasia cost-effective — and because the arts of pain relief combined with human support will atrophy in those countries as the “easy way out” becomes, well, easier and easier.

The citizens of Colorado might wish to keep all of this in mind when they vote this November 8 on Proposition 106, the Colorado “End-of-Life Options Act,” which is currently favored to win and thereby legalize physician-assisted suicide in the Centennial State.


4. Pope Francis condemns bombing of Aleppo in Syria, By Associated Press, September 28, 2016.

Pope Francis has decried the assault on the Syrian city of Aleppo, saying those responsible for the bombing must answer to God.

Francis said at his public audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square that he’s “united in suffering through prayer and spiritual closeness” to Aleppo’s people. He expressed “deep pain and strong worry for what’s happening,” saying “children and elderly … everyone is dying.”

He called for the utmost efforts to protect civilians in Syria’s civil war, raging since 2011. Francis said: “I appeal to the consciences of those responsible for the bombing that they must give a reckoning to God” for their actions.


5. On contraception mandates, polls pivot on question being asked, By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, The Crux, September 28, 2016.

A tongue-in-cheek definition of polling once described it as the fine art of phrasing questions the right way to get the result you want. That’s an injustice to reputable pollsters, of course, who strive to gauge opinion rather than manipulating it, but it does capture the reality that the way a choice is framed often influences how people make it.

That insight comes to mind in the wake of a new poll from the Pew Research Center, released today, finding that two-thirds of Americans – including, by the way, a healthy majority of Catholics – believe that employers who have a religious objection to birth control nevertheless should be required to cover it in their employees’ health insurance plans.

The same poll also found that Americans are much more sharply divided over whether businesses with religious objections should be able to refuse services to same-sex couples, and whether transgender persons should be able to use the bathroom of their choice.

Phrase the debate over the mandates as a yes or no to the desirability of people being able to get birth control, in other words, and the answer in America is basically pre-destined to be “yes.” Phrase it as a yes or no to the Little Sisters being able to do their thing without being hampered by the state, on the other hand, and the answer once again is likely to be “yes.”

That root conflict between wanting birth control to be available to whoever desires it, and wanting groups such as the Little Sisters to be free to be true to themselves, is what makes the mandates debate so complex – and it’s also what makes polling on the question so prone to capture only part of a more complicated picture.


6. Living Well in Evil Times, By Robert Royal, The Catholic Thing, September 28, 2016.

It’s always a bad sign when you have to keep reminding yourself that some things are still good. Family. Friends. Nature. Music. Poetry. Malbecs. Love. God. (Not necessarily in that order.) Or find yourself repeating, “The times are never so bad but that a good man may make shift to live well in them.” Many people attribute that line to St. Thomas More. I’ve done so several times myself, though I’ve tried – and failed – to find where, if anywhere, he said it.

An exhibit about the great English saint opened last week at the John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, with a wealth of artifacts and relics from the U.K.’s Stonyhurst College. A fitting collaboration, because Stonyhurst – which began in exile (as the College of St. Omer) on the European mainland when Catholics were being persecuted in 16th century England – was where John Carroll, our first American bishop, studied and later taught. His cousin, Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, was also a student there.

Catholics in America today are not, not quite yet anyway, being persecuted or forced into exile. But this whole history makes you reflect on what seemingly impossible things can happen, and happened quickly even in “simpler” times, when a country’s political leadership is corrupted and takes a nasty turn.