1. Pope heads to Colombia seeking to heal conflict’s wounds. 

By Nicole Winfield and Juan Zamorano, Associated Press, September 6, 2017, 6:44 AM

Pope Francis headed to Colombia on Wednesday to try to help heal the wounds of Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict, bolstered by a new cease-fire with a holdout rebel group but fully aware of the fragility of the country’s peace process.

During a deeply symbolic five-day visit starting Wednesday, Francis is expected to press Colombian leaders to address the social and economic disparities that fueled five decades of armed rebellion, while encouraging ordinary Colombians to balance their need for justice with forgiveness.

In a video message on the eve of his departure, Francis urged all Colombians to take a “first step” and reach out to one another for the sake of peace and the future.

“Peace is what Colombia has been looking for and working for for such a long time,” he said. “A stable and lasting peace, so that we can see one another and treat one another as brothers, not as enemies.”

A year after the Colombian government signed the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the nation remains bitterly divided over the terms of the deal even as guerrillas have laid down their arms and begun returning to civilian life. Even the Catholic Church hierarchy, which was instrumental in facilitating the peace talks and is now spearheading the process of reconciliation, was divided over what many Colombians saw as the overly generous terms offered to rebels behind atrocities.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the peace deal, wrote a letter to the pope Tuesday expressing concern that the deal with the rebels had fueled a rise in drug trafficking and created economic uncertainties with the potential to destroy Colombia’s social fabric.

The highlight of Francis’ trip comes Friday, with a meeting and prayer of reconciliation between victims of the conflict and former guerrillas in Villavicencio, a city south of Bogota surrounded by territory long held by the FARC.

The event will be packed with symbolism.

Ahead of Francis’ arrival, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the last remaining major rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, signed a bilateral cease-fire agreement, a significant step toward negotiating a permanent peace deal.

The Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the key message of the trip is “the capacity to forgive: to forgive, and receive forgiveness.”


2. Southern Poverty Law ‘hate map’ label proves costly to pro-family Ruth InstituteCatholic nonprofit dropped by online donation service over listing, fights ‘hate’ label.

By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, September 6, 2017, Pg. A7

Being classified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center has been costly for the Ruth Institute, a Catholic nonprofit dedicated to combating the breakdown of the family.

First, the online retail giant Amazon refused to allow the group to be included on its Amazon Smile charitable giving program. Then, last week, Vanco Payment Solutions dropped the ministry from its online donation processing service.

“The organization has been flagged by Card Brands as being affiliated with a product/service that promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse,” said the Aug. 31 notice, according to the Ruth Institute. “Merchants that display such attributes are against Vanco and Wells Fargo processing policies.”

Jennifer Roback Morse, who founded the institute in 2008 and previously taught economics at Yale and George Mason universities, rejected the “hate” label, saying her group “categorically condemns white supremacy, racism, Nazism and all violent totalitarian political movements.”

“We don’t incite anybody to violence. We don’t say we hate anybody. We don’t demean anybody,” said Ms. Morse. “We disagree with certain policy positions that are being aggressively promoted by professional gay rights organizations. But we disagree with their policies. That’s all.”

That’s enough to qualify for the SPLC’s “hate map,” which has come under heated criticism on the right for lumping mainstream conservative organizations with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

Vanco’s decision comes shortly after CNN posted the “hate map” online under the headline, “Here are all the active hate groups where you live,” later changing it to, “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.”

The SPLC took a public relations hit last week for funneling millions to offshore accounts, according to a report by The Washington Free Beacon, while D. James Kennedy Ministries has sued the center for defamation over its “hate map.”

Still, the SPLC remains popular with celebrities: Apple CEO Tim Cook and actor George Clooney both gave $1 million to the Alabama-based civil rights group after last month’s violent clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.


3. The Dreamer Debacle: Cynical politics by both parties puts thousands of young adults in jeopardy.

By The Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2017, Pg. A14, Review & Outlook

President Trump is taking flak from all sides for ending his predecessor’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, thus putting some 800,000 young immigrants—so-called Dreamers—in legal limbo. Though the President and Barack Obama share responsibility for instigating the crisis, Mr. Trump and Congress now have an obligation to fix it and spare these productive young adults from harm they don’t deserve.

President Obama unilaterally issued the policy in June 2012 putatively because Congress failed to reform immigration, but the end-run was timed to galvanize his base before the election.

This was Mr. Obama at his most cynical, and it takes gall for him to scold Mr. Trump as he did Tuesday for making a “political decision” about “a moral question” and “basic decency.” Mr. Obama’s “political decision” to act as his own legislature teed up this moral crisis and created the legal jeopardy.

The White House seems to understand the terrible political optics, which is why it has tossed the issue to Congress.

This gives Congress at least some time to enact the current Dreamer legalization process in a statute that is the proper legal path under the Constitution’s separation of powers. Mr. Trump signaled his willingness to sign such a bill on Tuesday when he tweeted, “Congress, get ready to do your job—DACA!” We hope he means it.

An obvious bipartisan solution would trade authorizing DACA in return for additional border enforcement. But Republicans should also be prepared to send Mr. Trump a clean authorization to make good on the government’s moral obligation to these young people.


4. If trial’s a test of accountability, what grade will the Vatican get?

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, September 6, 2017

Outside the rather small world of the Vatican and its environs, Giuseppe Profiti and Massimo Spina, two Italian laymen and former officials of a foundation overseeing the papally-sponsored pediatric hospital Bambino Gesù, are hardly household names, even among people who would score off the charts otherwise on most tests of Catholic literacy.

However, with Pope Francis out of town this week for a trip to Colombia, Profiti and Spina will share a few awkward moments in the spotlight, as they stand trial in a Vatican criminal court for allegedly misappropriating roughly $500,000 of the children’s hospital’s money.

In all likelihood, however, even the specter of the latest blockbuster Vatican trial, following “Vatileaks” and “Vatileaks 2.0,” won’t be enough to make the two celebrities, because the real star of this show is also the missing player in the drama: Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a former Secretary of State under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who was never charged or even investigated, but whose private Vatican apartment benefited from the funds Profiti and Spina allegedly diverted.

From a common-sense point of view, it seems difficult to explain how two laymen can be charged with a crime for giving money to remodel Bertone’s apartment but he isn’t charged with anything, despite the fact that the now 82-year-old Bertone continues to enjoy the fruits of the expense.

So far, however, even within the Vatican itself, there can be a striking degree of cynicism about the exercise. One fairly senior official told me just this week, speaking on background: “If you want to know what the situation of the laity in the Vatican really is, just look at who’s on trial here and who isn’t.”

The charges have been touted as a landmark moment in Francis’s press for financial reform in the Vatican, proof that the new accountability measures aren’t just words on paper, but will be given real teeth by Vatican investigators and prosecutors.

Yet it comes at a moment when, in some ways, that press seems stalled. The pope’s new independent auditor general recently resigned under mysterious circumstances, with no explanation given, and to date has not been replaced.

Meanwhile, the pope’s hand-picked point man on the financial clean-up, Australian Cardinal George Pell, isn’t on the job either, but instead is back home fighting off criminal charges for alleged “historical sexual offenses,” which he has firmly denied. Pell’s own legal process is scheduled to resume October 6.

If this trial is a test of the Vatican’s new-found commitment to transparency and accountability, in other words, the key question as the curtain lifts perhaps can best be expressed this way: “When the test is over, what grade will the Vatican get?”


5. Three Churches Sue FEMA Over Denial of Disaster Funds: Policy denies such aid, though other federal help available to some churches.

By Ian Lovett, The Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2017, 3:53 PM

Three Texas churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey are suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, alleging that the agency unconstitutionally denies them disaster relief funds.

Under existing FEMA policy, houses of worship are not eligible for disaster aid.

Eric Rassbach, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the churches, said the policy violates the First Amendment.

Houses of worship have been damaged in previous storms, including Superstorm Sandy, which flooded dozens of synagogues and churches in New York and New Jersey. Following that storm, a bill that would have ended the FEMA policy denying disaster relief to religious organizations passed the House with bipartisan support in 2013; the bill died in the Senate.

Earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court ruled that a Missouri church couldn’t be denied state funds to put a rubberized surface into its playground simply because it was a house of worship.

Mr. Rassbach said that the same principle should apply in this case, which he likened to a city fire department putting out a fire at a church. “You can’t justify discriminating against churches based on the Establishment Clause,” he said, referring to the Constitutional prohibition on the establishment of any state religion.


6. USCCB President, Vice President And Committee Chairmen Denounce Administration’s Decision To End DACA And Strongly Urge Congress To Find Legislative Solution.

By United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, September 5, 2017

The President and Vice President along with Chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have issued a statement denouncing the Administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after six months.

The following statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, along with USCCB Vice President, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman, Committee on Migration, and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers says the “cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible.”

Over 780,000 youth received protection from the DACA program since its inception by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012. DACA provided no legal status or government benefits but did provide recipients with temporary employment authorization to work in the United States and reprieve from deportation.

Full statement follows:

“The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home. The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.

The Church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people: ‘Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me’ (Mark 9:37). Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country. Today’s actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future. DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.

We strongly urge Congress to act and immediately resume work toward a legislative solution. We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.

As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”