Stories you may—or may not—have missed this week.
The World Cup’s final match this Sunday between Germany and Argentina has been inspiring lots of jokes, memes, cartoons and media interest in the private lives of the current Pope and his immediate predecessor.
The Vatican addressed the question of whether Bavarian Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Argentine Pope Francis might watch the match together. Alas, the broadcast is past Francis’ normal bedtime of 10pm, and Benedict is not a soccer fan.
But, perhaps bearing in mind the words of Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad—that Westerners find football "more interesting than the situation [in Iraq] or in Syria"—the Vatican called on soccer fans to observe a "pause for peace" before Sunday’s final to remember victims of war and poverty.
Fertility seemed to be much in the news this week, with continuing conversation about Hobby Lobby and news that a prominent television comedian and talk show host is walking away from a baby she had at least partly been responsible for.
Stories like that should probably be less surprising in an age when families just ain’t what they used to be. The Census Bureau issued a report this week that said the number of first-born U.S. babies born into a home with a married mother and father has fallen below 60 percent for the first time. It added that more than one in five first-born children are now born to cohabiting parents.
Then there’s a strange story that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the development of a contraceptive microchip that can be remotely controlled to release hormones that can act as abortifacients into a woman’s body for up to 16 years. The chip was originally designed to release osteoporosis medication in elderly women, but Dr. Robert Langer of MIT “changed his focus to contraception after a personal discussion with Bill Gates,” according to LifeSiteNews.
“Gavin Corley, a biomedical engineer, told the BBC the technology could be used to achieve contraceptive targets in the developing world.”
The announcement comes as the Gates Foundation is spearheading an international, multi-billion-dollar push for expanding birth control in the developing world, LifeSite noted.
Stranger still, a judge in Australia has said that incest may no longer be a taboo and that the community may now accept consensual sex between adult siblings, reported The Telegraph.
Judge Garry Neilson, from the district court in the state of New South Wales, likened incest to homosexuality, which was once regarded as criminal and "unnatural" but is now widely accepted, the British newspaper said.
“He said incest was now only a crime because it may lead to abnormalities in offspring but this rationale was increasingly irrelevant because of the availability of contraception and abortion,” the paper said.
Two well-known entertainers were in the news this week, both of them Irish Catholics. The New York Times reported that New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed a bill renaming a section of West 121st Street "George Carlin Way." The late comedian, who is seen as a ground-breaking entertainer for his open use of profanity, attended Corpus Christi School. The church, which is also where Thomas Merton was baptized in 1938, had opposed the move, citing Carlin’s virulent disrespect of the Church.
Then there’s Pierce Brosnan, the former James Bond star, who told the New York Daily News about how he has coped through the loss of both his first wife, Cassandra Harris, and his daughter Charlotte from ovarian cancer.
"I would say faith, being Irish, being Catholic, it’s ingrained in my DNA," Brosnan said.
Irish Central picked up
the story and added: “Pierce has previously spoken of how his faith has been "good" to him during tough times. He said: "It always helps to have a bit of prayer in your back pocket. At the end of the day, you have to have something and for me that is God, Jesus, my Catholic upbringing, my faith… God has been good to me. My faith has been good to me in the moments of deepest suffering, doubt and fear. It is a constant, the language of prayer."
The New York Times also ran an interesting op-ed piece this week in which Nicholas Kristof cited overwhelming evidence of religious intolerance in the Islamic world. Meriam Ibrahim, ISIS imposing a special tax on Christians, a Malaysia court forbidding a Catholic newspaper to use the word Allah, and on and on.
“In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics,” Kristof wrote.
He acknowledged that it’s an issue that many are reluctant to discuss, but that it should be talked about openly.
Kristof has a personal interest in the story. He said that a friend of his, a Muslim human rights lawyer in Pakistan, had been murdered recently after agreeing to defend someone falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
In our own country, squabbles over religious freedom continue to make news. Last October, during the shutdown of the federal government over a budget dispute in Congress, Father Ray Leonard was ordered to stop performing all of his duties as the Catholic Chaplain at King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, even on a voluntary basis. He was also told that he could be arrested if he violated that order.
Father Leonard was locked out of his base office and the chapel and denied access to the Eucharist. The order caused the cancellation of daily and weekend Mass, confession, marriage preparation classes and baptisms and prevented Father Leonard from providing spiritual guidance to the Catholics in his care.
The services of other Christian denominations at Kings Bay were allowed to continue throughout the shutdown. Only Catholics were left without services.
So Father Leonard sued.
A day later, the Department of Justice told him he could resume his duties as chaplain.
Now, however, Father Leonard is charging that the government is retaliating against him for his lawsuit.
“The retaliation involves repeated government assertions that the employment contract under which Father Leonard was working is no longer ‘valid,’ demands that he must sign a new contract containing several pages of onerous new terms if he wants to be paid and refusals to pay for services he had already performed,” says the Thomas More Law Center, which is helping him.
Father Leonard, who spent time in China ministering to impoverished Tibetans, said in an affidavit: “In China, I was disallowed from performing public religious services due to the lack of religious freedom in China. I never imagined that when I returned home to the United States, that I would be forbidden from practicing my religious beliefs as I am called to do, and would be forbidden from helping and serving my faith community.”
John Burger is news editor of Aleteia’s English edition.