Archive of December 17, 2011

Belmont Abbey College hosts 'Extreme Makeover' pep rally

Belmont, N.C., Dec 17, 2011 (CNA) - Hundreds of Belmont Abbey College students flocked to the Wheeler Center on the Belmont Abbey campus Dec. 1 to get fired up for the upcoming "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" build that is taking place in the Charlotte area on Dec. 11-17.

Joining in on the evening's presentations were leaders of Belmont Abbey College, Bellamy Homes and Endemol USA, the producers of the popular television show.

Belmont Abbey College, in partnership with Bellamy Homes, "Extreme Makeover" and other sponsors, will rally around one local family to build them a new, safe home. The project will require more than 3,000 volunteers.

Dr. William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, said that when the college was contacted about this opportunity he didn't know anything about the show personally, but after speaking to people about what "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" does for families, he knew that it was divine providence.

"It's Christ's direct call, to help those in need. We were approached with this opportunity, so I took it as Christ's divine providence that maybe this is something we should be involved with...To me this about our mission here. The Benedictine spirit has always been to help people in need...the monks have always done that here at the college...I really see this as an extension of their charism."

Bellamy Homes partners Frank Hereda and Wade Miller thanked the students and others gathered at the pep rally for their excitement and interest in making a difference in one family's life.

"We're so thrilled that you came out tonight... We're going to build an entire house in one week... It's your efforts that are going to get this done," Miller said. "It's amazing to me how fast we're going to get it done.

"We hope that these extreme things are going to lead to extreme feelings inside of all of us and we'll take that spirit and go out and impact the community."

Helping to energize the crowd were Otis from 95.1, the Chris Lane Band playing hit music, the South Point High School Marching Band, some of the TopCats (the Carolinas Panthers Cheerleaders), and the LadyCats (the Charlotte Bobcats dance team).

"Extreme Makeover Home Edition" is an Emmy award-winning reality program which airs Fridays from 8 to 9 p.m. EST on ABC.

For updates about the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project going on in the Diocese of Charlotte, go online to

Printed with permission from Catholic News Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.

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US religious freedom commission reauthorized at last minute

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2011 (CNA) -

A U.S. federal commission that works to support religious freedom around the world was reauthorized Dec. 16 by Congress through 2018, just hours before it was scheduled to go out of existence.

In a statement after the U.S. House vote on Dec. 16, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) described the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as “a beacon of hope” for those whose religious liberty is under attack.

“These individuals long to have their plight known and their cause championed,” he said, adding that he was “grateful” that Congress recognized the importance of the commission’s work.

Congressman Wolf co-authorized the legislation that created the commission in 1998, to call attention to religious liberty violations around the world.

The commission advises the president, U.S. Congress and State Department on the status of international religious freedom.

It presents an annual report on religious liberty abusers and recommends that specific countries which tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom be designated as “countries of particular concern.”

The commission’s funding was originally set to expire at the end of September, but a series of brief extensions was granted by Congress over the next three months, allowing it to continue its work for a few weeks at a time.

The latest extension was set to expire at 5 p.m. on Dec. 16. The commission had already begun winding down operations so it could close its doors by the end of the day, before it was reauthorized by Congress on the morning of Dec. 16.

Commission chairman Leonard Leo told CNA on Dec. 9 that reauthorization was necessary for the commission to continue to function properly.

He explained that the temporary extensions had made it difficult for the commission to operate effectively because the threat of being shut down was always imminent.

The House of Representatives had approved a bill to reauthorize the commission in September, but the process was stalled for months because Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate, reportedly placed a secret hold on it, preventing it from coming to a vote in the Senate.

Durbin finally allowed the bill to come to a vote on Dec. 13, after amending it to place a two-year limit on commissioners and putting them under the same travel restrictions as employees of the Department of State.

The reauthorization bill was unanimously approved by the Senate. Although several members of the House objected to the late addition of Durbin’s amendments, they accepted the legislation on Dec. 16 to save the commission from going out of existence at the end of the day.

Rep. Wolf said the commission’s work of speaking out against religious freedom abuses is “of the utmost importance.”

He commended the commission for its work to highlight abuses in countries such as Sudan, Pakistan and China, and emphasized the severity of the ongoing battle for religious freedom.

He referenced a recent study indicating that about 70 percent of the world’s population lives in a country with significant religious liberty restrictions.

Rep. Wolf stated that the reauthorization “sends a clear message” that international religious freedom remains “a U.S. foreign policy priority.”

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After abuse report, Dutch Catholic Church expresses shock and shame

The Hague, The Netherlands, Dec 17, 2011 (CNA) - The Netherlands’ bishops and leaders of Catholic religious orders are “shocked” by a new report from a commission investigating sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the country.

“It fills us with shame and sorrow,” they said Dec. 16. “For us, religious and bishops, for the entire faith community, but also for society as a whole, it is painful to observe that a number of priests and religious failed when it came (to) conscientious behavior toward children and young people.”

Between 10,000 and 20,000 children suffered abused at Church institutions between 1945 and 2010. Perpetrators numbered in the hundreds and included priests, brothers and lay people in religious orders and congregations.

The investigation defined abuse as ranging from “unwanted sexual advances” to rape.

Wim Deetman, a Protestant former government minister, lead the commission, which was set up by the Catholic Church last year.

He said it was untenable to believe that leaders did not know there was a risk. He also stated that abuse continued, in part, because bishops and religious orders sometimes worked on their own to deal with the abuse and did not “hang out their dirty laundry.”

However, the commission concluded that “it is wrong to talk of a culture of silence” in the Dutch Catholic Church as a whole.

It did find evidence that “sexually inappropriate behavior” among the Salesians of Don Bosco “may perhaps have been part of the internal monastic culture.”

The commission received about 1,800 complaints of abuse at Catholic schools, seminaries and orphanages. It commissioned a broader survey of 34,000 people for a more comprehensive analysis of the scale and type of sexual abuse in the Church and in the broader society.

It found that 1 in 10 Dutch children suffered some form of sexual abuse, a rate rising to 1 in 5 among children who spent part of their youth in an institution like a boarding school or children’s home.

The perpetrators are not the only ones to blame, the Dutch bishops’ letter acknowledged.

“Church authorities who did not act correctly and did not give priority to the interests of and care for these victims also share in this blame. We deeply regret this abuse. Given the responsibility that we have assumed from our predecessors, we empathize with the victims and offer them our heartfelt apology.”

Violating the integrity of anyone, especially a child, is “reprehensible,” they stated.

They cited the report’s findings that the Church had a culture in which “no one spoke about sexuality or about sexual abuse.”

But neither “times nor circumstances can excuse the terrible suffering caused to children and their families,” the bishops said.

The bishops and directors of the Conference of Dutch Religious said they want to work to “do justice to the victims,” restore their respect, and help them heal as much as possible. They also offered apologies to parents who believed that they had entrusted their children to safe institutions and to “honorable” priests and religious.

The letter pledged to take “all measures” under Church and civil law when there is any suspicion of sexual abuse. The public prosecutor will be informed according to Dutch law when there is any suspicion.

“The Bishops' Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious will exert abiding effort to do all that is needed and to remain accountable.”

The commission has referred 11 cases of alleged abuse to Dutch prosecutors, who opened only one investigation on the grounds the other 10 cases lacked sufficient details and happened too long ago to prosecute.

Cardinal Adrianus Johannes Simonis, the archbishop emeritus of Utrecht, said the report shows a “bleak picture” of the nature and extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He agreed with the “regret and shame” expressed by other Dutch Catholic leaders and offered his sincere apology to the victims.

“This should never have happened,” he said Dec. 16.

The Dutch bishops have written a joint letter responding to the report. They have sent it to each diocese’s priests, deacons and pastoral workers. They ask that the letter be read during Mass this weekend and published in other ways.

Almost 1 in 3 of Netherlands’ 16 million people identify as Catholic.

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Cardinal Ravasi reflects on Christopher Hitchens' life and death

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, says he regrets never having met and chatted with atheist writer Christopher Hitchens, who died Dec. 15 at age 62. 

“I would have liked the idea of dialoguing with him beyond the controversies and preconceived attitudes,” said Cardinal Ravasi on his blog Dec. 16.

Since earlier this year, Cardinal Ravasi’s Pontifical Council has hosted a series of events around Europe in which atheist and agnostic intellectuals have engaged in dialogue with their Catholic counterparts.

The initiative, inspired by Pope Benedict, is known as the Courtyard of the Gentiles and is named after area in the Temple of Jerusalem where Jews and Gentiles could meet and discuss.
“I had no way of inviting Hitchens to enter the courtyard,” wrote Cardinal Ravasi, who has invited several high-profile atheists to events in recent months, including Pope Benedict’s World Day of Peace gathering in Assisi in October.  

In his analysis of Hitchens’ worldview, Cardinal Ravasi drew an analogy to a conversation once held between the French Catholic philosopher Jean Guitton and the cancer-stricken French President Francois Mitterrand.

Guitton explained that his experience as a philosopher told him humanity had “the choice between two solutions: absurdity and mystery.”

When Mitterrand asked if the two concepts were not, in fact, identical, Guitton replied “no, absurdity is an impenetrable wall against which we splat in suicide,” but “mystery is a ladder you climb from step to step towards light and hope.”

“Christopher Hitchens,” observed Cardinal Ravasi, “had chosen the first solution, denouncing religion as ‘the main source of hatred in this world.’”

Cardinal Ravasi hopes that the Courtyard of the Gentiles will be “a space open to the light in which they meet and clash – absurdity and mystery.”

As a “man of faith,” he always hopes “to see the young rebel turn towards the light and go up step by step to the ocean of love in which all the hatred in the world is immersed.”

His final hope for Christopher Hitchens was that “death was for him ‘a door that opens and breaks into the future,’” Cardinal Ravasi said, recalling the aphorism of the English writer Graham Greene, who said that death for him “would be like entering a new infancy.”

English-born Christopher Hitchens made his name over many decades as a writer and critic for various American publications such as Vanity Fair and The Atlantic. His most extensive treatise against religion came in his 2007 book “God is Not Great.”

Interestingly, one of his most significant opponents in the ensuing debate was his younger brother and fellow writer, Peter Hitchens, who penned the 2010 book “The Rage Against God.”
Both men had, in fact, started on the political far-left but later in life took very different intellectual paths.

“While I was making my gradual, hesitant way back to the altar-rail, my brother Christopher’s passion against God grew more virulent and confident,” wrote Peter earlier this year.

“As he has become more certain about the non-existence of God, I have become more convinced we cannot know such a thing in the way we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it better by far to believe.”

The two brothers only publicly debated the existence of God and goodness of religion once, before a large audience in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in April 2008.

Christopher Hitchens died Dec. 15 from pneumonia, a complication of his cancer, in the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. He was married twice and leaves behind three children.

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