2017 in Review: A Look Back at the Year That Was

Recap of top stories from the nation, world and Vatican perspectives

The statue of the Virgin Mary is carried in procession by the faithful prior to the start of a Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima May 13, 2017, in Fatima, Portugal, to commemorate 100 years since the Marian apparitions began there.
The statue of the Virgin Mary is carried in procession by the faithful prior to the start of a Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima May 13, 2017, in Fatima, Portugal, to commemorate 100 years since the Marian apparitions began there. (photo: AP photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis Forges Ahead With Curial Reform and Decentralization

In a highly anticipated moment, Pope Francis welcomed President Donald Trump May 24 at the apostolic palace. The two exchanged gifts and met in private for a half hour in a meeting that proved more cordial than many in the media had predicted. At the end of the discussions, the president told the Pope, “I will not forget what you said.”

The Holy Father continued his reform to the central government of the Church in 2017 with several key appointments to the Roman Curia and his ongoing efforts at decentralization. Some of his moves drew criticism, including the decision not to reappoint Cardinal Gerhard Müller the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith July 1.

Much of the theological debate continued to center on the Pope’s 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, and whether it opened the door to the possibility of Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Meanwhile, two of the four so-called dubia cardinals, who had officially requested clarification from the Holy Father regarding Amoris Laetitia, died. Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Germany died July 5 and the Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra died Sept. 6. Their departure left Cardinals Raymond Burke and Walter Brandmüller still seeking clarification on the apostolic exhortation from the Holy Father.

On Sept. 9, the Pope issued Magnum Principium, a document issued motu proprio (of the Pope’s own accord) that shifted the main responsibility in the translations of liturgical texts to national and regional episcopal conferences and away from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Tensions within the Vatican became visible when the Pope issued a letter to the congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Robert Sarah, correcting the African prelate’s own interpretation of the document and clarifying further the role of episcopal conferences and requiring the congregation not to “impose” a specific translation.

Later that month, the pontiff issued a Sept. 19 apostolic letter, Summa Familiae Cura, which established a new Pontifical John Paul II Institute for “Marriage and Family Sciences” to replace the original institution founded by John Paul in 1981. The new institute will advance the work of the two recent Synods of Bishops and Amoris Laetitia.

More readily accepted was the Pope’s July 11 document, Maiorem Hac Dilectionem (“Greater Love Than This”), which declared a new category for consideration of beatification called “offering of life,” recognizing that a person died prematurely through an offering of his or her life for love of God and neighbor.

Francis also canonized 37 new saints, including 30 Brazilian martyrs of the mid-17th century. In 2017, there were also 17 beatification ceremonies, beatifying nearly 250 people.

Continuing his apostolic journeys, the Holy Father traveled to Egypt (April 28-29), Fátima (May 12-13), Colombia (Sept. 6-11), and Burma and Bangladesh (Nov. 26-Dec. 2).

At Fátima, the Pope celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions and canonized two of its great witnesses, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. In his homily, Francis declared, “With Mary’s protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Savior, resplendent at Easter. Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.”


Beatifications, Pro-Life Victories Lighten a Tense Year

President Donald Trump took the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States Jan. 20, embarking on a politically charged year that included the failure of the Republican Congress to repeal and replace “Obamacare” and to defund Planned Parenthood.

The year ended politically with a Trump victory on tax reform in the U.S. House and Senate and news that the economy in 2017 had come to life, with unemployment hovering at 4%, the lowest since 2000.

The pro-life movement was encouraged in January by the presence of Vice President Mike Pence at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.; the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court in April; the appointment of other pro-life judges to the judiciary, including Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed Oct. 31 to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals; the Trump administration’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy that bans U.S. funding for non-governmental organizations that promote abortions overseas; and the Justice Department’s investigation into Planned Parenthood for selling aborted baby parts for profit.

On May 4, Trump met with the Little Sisters of the Poor in a White House ceremony to announce his intention to end the Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate, a move cheered by defenders of religious liberty. In October, the Justice Department officially ended the mandate, even as the Supreme Court Dec. 5 heard oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that tests the limits of free speech and whether bakers will be compelled to make wedding cakes for homosexual couples even if doing so violates their consciences. The efforts by the administration to reform immigration sparked vocal opposition by the U.S. bishops to the so-called “Trump Travel Ban” that limited immigration from predominantly Muslim countries and especially Trump’s termination of the program that allowed illegal child immigrants to remain in the country. The Supreme Court Dec. 4 allowed the travel ban to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue in federal courts.

The autumn brought accusations of sexual harassment against major figures in Hollywood, on Broadway and in Washington, D.C. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Republican Roy Moore from Alabama, who narrowly lost his bid for a Senate seat, and President Trump have all been accused of various forms of sexual harassment. The scandal sparked a national debate about workplace behavior and also the toxic effects of the sexual revolution. The year also witnessed several historically destructive hurricanes. At the end of August, Hurricane Harvey caused nearly $200 billion in damage to Houston, Texas, and the surrounding areas, mostly through floods, and killed at least 90 people. It was the most destructive natural disaster in United States history. Barely a week later, Hurricane Irma brought devastation to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Puerto Rico was hardest hit, with unprecedented levels of destruction.  On Oct. 1, 58 people were killed and 546 injured when Stephen Paddock opened fire on a concert crowd from his room in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas; it was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Father Stanley Rother, martyred in Guatemala in 1981, was beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City, becoming the first U.S.-born priest to become a “Blessed.” And beloved Capuchin priest Solanus Casey was beatified in Detroit Nov. 18.


ISIS Routed, Aid Increased to Refugees, and Euthanasia Marches on

In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State (ISIS) was routed on the battlefield and lost its savage grip over Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in Iraq and then its self-styled capital at Raqqa in Syria in October. The collapse of ISIS opened the door for the return of the brutally persecuted Christian population. The clock is now ticking to provide aid to the beleaguered Christian community in Iraq and Syria. A boost was provided by Vice President Mike Pence Oct. 25 in a speech at the In Defense of Christians conference in Washington, D.C., when he announced that the Trump administration will end what he referred to as “ineffective United Nations relief efforts” and instead directly fund the U.S. Agency for International Development. Pence also pledged that “the Trump administration is specifically focused on protecting Christians as part of its national-security agenda” at a time when persecution of Christians around the world has intensified.

For most of the year, the international community tried unsuccessfully to slow the relentless effort by the North Korean regime to threaten the world with nuclear war.

In a speech at the U.N. Sept. 19, President Donald Trump showed no tolerance for North Korea and its dictator, Kim Jong Un: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. … It is time for North Korea to realize that denuclearization is its only acceptable future.”

The conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa also drew attention to the humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria and the ongoing threat of Islamic terrorism. On May 22, jihadists attacked fans at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people and injuring more than 100. Muslim terrorists also claimed credit for horrific attacks in Mogadishu, Somalia, that killed 500 and injured 300 more Oct. 14, and Nov. 24 on a mosque in Sinai in Egypt that killed 350. On Oct. 31, a truck rampage in New York City killed eight and injured 11. An ISIS flag was found in the truck, and authorities soon charged 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, a native of Uzbekistan.

Defenders of the culture of life in Europe also regretted several worrisome developments. On July 28, the infant English boy Charlie Gard died in a London hospice after his doctors and British courts had denied his parents the right to remove him from the hospital to seek experimental treatments in New York for his extremely rare genetic condition of mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome that causes progressive brain damage and muscle failure. The Gard case became an international controversy because of the interference of the courts and doctors in the parents’ right to make decisions on behalf of their own child.

In August, the board of directors for the Belgian hospitals of the Brothers of Charity declared their intention to offer euthanasia for patients in the order’s psychiatric hospitals. In a statement Sept. 12, the board, comprised mostly of laypeople, rejected Catholic teaching and Vatican authorities.

Two events may have escaped the notice of the mainstream media, but were no less powerful: the Aug. 19 death of medical doctor Sister Ruth Pfau, whose commitment to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan earned her the nickname the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan,” and the Nov. 4 beatification of Clarist Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, the ceremony of which was attended by her killer, Samandar Singh.