U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke: Pope Francis Opposes Abortion and Gay Marriage

Archbishop Raymond Burke gives the keynote address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2009. RNS photo: David Jolkovski

As Pope Francis led the world’s cardinals in talks aimed at shifting the church’s emphasis from following rules to preaching mercy, a senior American cardinal took to the pages of the Vatican newspaper on Friday to reassure conservatives that Francis remains opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

Cardinal Raymond Burke acknowledged that the pope has said the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods.” But in his toughly worded column in L’Osservatore Romano, the former archbishop of St. Louis blasted those “whose hearts are hardened against the truth” for trying to twist Francis’ words to their own ends.

Burke, an outspoken conservative who has headed the Vatican’s highest court since 2008, said Francis in fact strongly backs the church’s teaching on those topics. He said the pope is simply trying to find ways to convince people to hear the church’s message despite the “galloping de-Christianization in the West.”

Abortion Rate Hits Lowest Level Since 1973

Laura Meyer of Manchester, Ohio holds a sign during March for Life on Friday Jan. 25, 2013. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest level since the procedure became legal in 1973, according to a new data analysis that reflects a 13 percent decline in both the abortion rate and the number of abortions from 2008 to 2011.

The report being issued Monday by the Guttmacher Institute in New York finds the 2011 rate declined to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44, second only to 1973, when the rate was 16.3 per 1,000.

Declines were seen in all but six states — Alaska, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Wyoming — which saw either no change or an increase in abortion rates.

Some Protest, Others Celebrate Roe v. Wade with Festive Meals

Mary Wissink, pictured here with her dad, Al. Photo courtesy of Mary Wissink/RNS

Arriving home from school on Jan. 22, 1973, Mary Wissink noticed her mother was unusually animated.

The dining room table was pulled away from the wall for a festive meal. The linens were ironed. The smell of turkey, dressing, and sweet potatoes wafted through the house. Mom was polishing the silver.

Wissink, then a sophomore in high school, realized her mother had come home from work early to prepare a feast.

“Mary,” her mom said, “today you have the right to your own body.”

It was the day the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to an abortion. Wissink and her family have been celebrating Roe v. Wade anniversaries ever since.

Anti-Abortion Activist Frank Pavone Is Back in Church's Good Graces

The Rev. Frank Pavone is the head of Priests for Life and a leading anti-abortion crusader. RNS photo by David Gibson

The Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life and a leading anti-abortion crusader, was braving freezing temperatures with thousands of others at the annual March for Life on Wednesday, but at least he can look forward to a warm embrace from the Catholic Church.

After years of tensions with various bishops, Pavone has complied with demands to straighten out the group’s finances and to become accountable to his home diocese in New York.

The news came in a December letter sent to the nation’s Catholic bishops by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, where Priests for Life has been based for several years.

Pope Francis: An Imitation of Christ

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year. But that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" — every day. 

Praises of the pope are flowing around the world, commentary on the pontiff leads all the news shows, and even late night television comedians are paying humorous homage. But a few of the journalists covering the pope are getting it right: Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ — the Vicar of Christ.

Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day, millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They often don’t attract attention, but they keep the world together.

Behind Scenes, Catholic Bishops Seek Exit Strategy for Obamacare Mandate

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz (center left) of Louisville, Ky. RNS photo by David Gibson

After a closed-door session at their annual meeting in Baltimore this month, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued an unusual "special message" reaffirming their long-standing opposition to the Obama administration’s birth control insurance mandate.

On one level, the declaration and the united front were no surprise: The American church hierarchy has made opposition to the mandate a hallmark of its public lobbying efforts, framing the issue as an unprecedented infringement of religious freedom.

Several bishops even vowed to go to jail rather than comply with the mandate. Others threatened to shutter the church’s infrastructure of hospitals, charitable ministries, schools, and universities rather than accept a policy that they say would force Catholic employers to provide health insurance that covers sterilization and perhaps abortion-inducing drugs as well as contraception.

Catholic Bishops' New President Can Help Hierarchy Pivot Toward Pope Francis

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. Photo: Nancy Phelan Wiechec/Catholic News Service

After serving as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the past three years, there was little surprise when Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., was elected this week to the top post in the American hierarchy.

Yet the nearly 250 churchmen would have been hard-pressed to find a better president to help them pivot toward the new, more pastoral path set out in recent months by Pope Francis.

Kurtz has earned his stripes with the hierarchy’s conservative wing thanks to his past work heading their campaign against gay marriage, but he was also molded by his early years as a pastor and his work in social justice — experiences he mentioned early and often when facing reporters after his election on Tuesday.

Catholic Bishops Challenged to Adapt to Pope Francis’ Priorities

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers for Mass. Photo via RNS/by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy of Catholic News Service

As the U.S. Catholic bishops began their annual fall meeting on Monday, they were directly challenged by Pope Francis’ personal representative to be pastors and not ideologues — the first step of what could be a laborious process of reshaping the hierarchy to meet the pope’s dramatic shift in priorities.

“The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people,” Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., told the more than 250 American churchmen as he recounted a personal meeting in June with Francis.

The pontiff, he added, “made a special point of saying that he wants ‘pastoral’ bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology,” Vigano said. That message was seen as an implicit rebuke to the conservative-tinged activism of the bishops’ conference in recent years.

Almost since his election in March, Francis has signaled that he wants the church to strike a “new balance” by focusing on the poor and on social justice concerns and not overemphasizing opposition to hot-button topics like abortion and contraception and gay marriage — the signature issues of the U.S. bishops lately.

As Catholic Bishops Meet, the 'Francis Effect' Changes Everything

Pope Francis art by Zoltán Marton, Transylvania, Romania (Lead Pencil). Via RNS.

When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather on Monday for their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, one of their chief duties will be choosing a new slate of leaders to guide the American hierarchy for the next three years.

But the more than 200 prelates will also be looking over their heads — and maybe their shoulders — to the Vatican to gauge what Pope Francis’ dramatic new approach means for their future.

If Francis has made one thing clear in his nearly nine months on the job, it is that he wants the church to radically change its tone and style, starting at the top. The pontiff has repeatedly blasted careerism among churchmen and ripped “airport bishops” who spend more time jetting around the globe — and to Rome — rather than being pastors who go out to their flock and come back “smelling of the sheep,” as he likes to put it.

Survey: Majority of Libertarians Do Not Identify with Tea Party

via Wylio

via Wylio

While it's not uncommon to hear the terms "Tea Party" and "libertarian" uttered in the same descriptor, a new survey shows the gap between the two movements. According to the new American Values Survey, an annual release from the Public Religion Research Institute, a full 61 percent of libertarians do not consider themselves part of the Tea Party.

“While conventional wisdom has assumed that the Tea Party movement is fueled by libertarian convictions, most libertarians see themselves as outside of the Tea Party movement. Notably, libertarians are also half as likely as those who identify with the Tea Party movement to see themselves as part of the older Christian right movement," said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, in a news release.

In fact, only one in five libertarians claim affiliation with the religious right or conservative Christianity — a claim that more than half of Tea Party adherents would make.