The big story of the past seven days
✣ Supreme Court declines Planned Parenthood cases
The US Supreme Court has declined to address two cases which might have harmed Planned Parenthood. Lower courts had disagreed over the legality of cutting funds to the abortion provider, among other organisations. The Supreme Court voted 6-3 not to address the case.
It was the first time Justice Brett Kavanaugh had voted on a case related to abortion. His nomination was approved amid some mystery over his views on the subject. Here he voted with the majority.
What the judges said
The case related to Medicaid, a government health insurance programme for Americans who need help with medical bills. Some states have cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, and these decisions have been challenged by recipients of the aid. Lower courts have given conflicting verdicts. Three justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – dissented from the Court’s refusal to hear the case. Thomas wrote in the dissent that it was the court’s “job” to resolve such issues. He suspected that fellow justices had shirked the question because “some respondents in these cases are named Planned Parenthood.” But the case was only about the narrow question of individuals challenging judgments, Thomas wrote. “These cases are not about abortion rights.”
What commentators said
Inevitably, the case was seen through a political lens. The court might have to rule soon on a challenge to Roe v Wade, which effectively legalised abortion: it is unknown whether Roberts and Kavanagh would vote to overturn that judgment.
Alexandra DeSanctis at National Review said the decision shouldn’t be overinterpreted. “The Supreme Court didn’t side with Planned Parenthood, nor did it preserve the abortion provider’s funding.”
At Vox, Anna North said that Kavanagh and Roberts might just be biding their time: given the political frenzy around Kavanagh’s appointment, the two “may want to wait before taking up an abortion case. But that doesn’t mean the day will never come. And others on the court may not want to wait forever.”
The most overlooked story of the week
✣ Gunman kills four during Mass at cathedral
Four people were killed and four more injured when a gunman opened fire inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Conception in Campinas, Brazil, last week. The gunman, who entered the cathedral during a midday Mass, then shot himself in front of the altar. “Nobody could do anything,” said Fr Amauri Thomazzi.
Why was it under-reported?
The shooting took place on the same day as an Islamist gunman opened fire on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, killing three people. The Strasbourg attacker, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he fired and went on the run from police, grabbed the headlines, leaving little space for a second, more distant atrocity. The Brazilian attacker, 49-year-old Euler Fernando Grandolpho, was a systems analyst who had no criminal record and, according to police, “no motive except for his own madness”. The mayor of Campinas declared three days of mourning.
What will happen next?
The attack raises questions about the security of Mass-goers. In Britain, churches have been advised to install CCTV and clergy are asked to carry personal alarms and think about how congregations could be evacuated quickly. The Archdiocese of New York, meanwhile, has suggested off-duty police officers coordinate their Mass-going to cover all services. In Campinas, the gunman fired 20 shots before police arrived. Aside from having an armed member of the congregation, it seems little could have been done to stop the attack.
✣ The week ahead
A presidential election will be held in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday. The election, long delayed by the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, is only taking place after huge protests led by lay Catholic groups. Kabila, who has ruled since 2001, is constitutionally barred from standing, but has backed an ally, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and says he may run in 2023 elections.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president (pictured), will take office on January 1. He has promised to crack down on crime and defend family values. In October a video emerged in which he called the bishops’ conference the “rotten part” of the Church.
The bishops of the United States will gather for a week-long spiritual retreat at Mundelein seminary near Chicago on January 2. The Ignatian-style retreat was scheduled at the invitation of Pope Francis, who urged US bishops to hold one “as soon as possible”. The preacher will be Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household who leads the Curia’s annual Lent retreat.
The best of the web
✣ Highlights from the week online
A philosopher who was utterly Catholic
The German philosopher Robert Spaemann has died aged 91. At Settimo Cielo, Sandro Magister paid tribute to a thinker who was “a Catholic through and through”. Spaemann, “the philosopher closest to Benedict XVI, his friend and peer”, made some “severe” statements in the last years of his life, Magister observed. In the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia, for instance, he said: “Uncertainty, insecurity, and confusion are growing in the Church: from the episcopal conferences to the last parish in the jungle.”
Magister published a tribute from Spaemann’s disciple Sergio Belardinelli. Spaemann devoted himself to two issues, Belardinelli said: first to “the modern conscience”, second to “the restatement of theology and natural law, and therefore of the concept of the person, as criteria in the light of which the most burning issues of contemporary ethics and politics should be addressed”. These included environmental, bioethical, educational, legal and political questions.
A Mother, yes, but also an Empress
At Catholic News Agency, Mary Rezac marked the feast of
Our Lady of Guadalupe. When Mary appeared to St Juan Diego in 1531, she spoke to him and to all of us, saying: “I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me.” Of her titles, “Empress of the Americas” (bestowed by Pope Pius XII) is perhaps the most impressive, according to the scholar Andrew Chesnut. “Empress,” he said, is a name “limited to a small number of the leading Marian advocations across the globe, none of whom lay spiritual claim over two continents as is the case with the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
Satire: an Anglican gift to Catholicism?
At his blog, Fr John Hunwicke said that the role of the ordinariate is to bring the “Anglican patrimony”, the best of the Church of England, into full communion with Rome. This applies not only to the intellectual, musical and theological tradition, Fr Hunwicke wrote, but also to a distinctly English gift: “Doing divinity within the forms of irony and satire.”
Fr Hunwicke noted that Newman, a brilliant humourist, described his method of controversy as a young don: he would “draw an opponent on step by step to the brink of some intellectual absurdity, and to leave him to get back as he could”. Newman also said he used irony in conversation, “when matter-of-fact men would not see what I meant”. As Fr Ian Ker remarks in his biography, Newman was “as supreme a master of irony and satire as any in our literature”. And Anglican clergymen such as Jonathan Swift and Gregory Dix have also been talented satirists.
Another was Ronald Knox, like Newman a convert from Anglicanism. Knox, Fr Hunwicke wrote, “explored the argument that in the divine plan satire is the reason why humour was given to us: so that the pompous can be deflated.” Fr Hunwicke concluded: “Has there ever been a time when satire was more needed in Christ’s Church Militant?”
✣ A priest is on a papal mission to carry out random acts of kindness.
Fr Jim Sichko, a priest of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, described being a full-time “missionary of mercy” in an interview with DailyMailTV. His mission, he said, was to impart kindnesses that would “catch [people’s] attention and challenge them to go forth and do good to others”. Past deeds include footing the bill for everybody’s meal at a restaurant, buying bikes for 100 seven-year-olds, and paying a hard-up family’s rent for a year.
For people who were frustrated or finding life difficult, “a little gesture is going to uplift them”, he said. “Through little acts of kindness I enter their lives in a very powerful way.”
Although there are 100 other “part-time” missionaries of mercy in the US, Fr Sichko has a budget of $165,000 a year that he raises himself through speaking engagements and donations from supporters.
He also raises money for the Diocese of Lexington and the Southeast Texas Hospice by selling jars of marinara tomato sauce made according to his late mother’s secret recipe. He has sold 10,000 jars so far.
Fr Sichko has met Pope Francis three times. In 2016 he gave the Pope a 23-year-old bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Kentucky bourbon, valued at $2,700.
The week in quotations
It is something that breaks my heart and will forever mark my ministry as a priest
Cardinal Nichols on clerical abuse
Speaking to the national abuse inquiry, IICSA
Gender neutral Santa is coming to town
The protection of life, unborn and born, is of paramount importance
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Germany’s CDU
A full-scale persecution has begun
Patriarch Kirill alleges a Ukrainian crackdown on priests loyal to Moscow
Statistic of the week
An estimate of the number of times Fr Cantalamessa has preached to a pope
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