National Catholic Reporter

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Paying tribute to a great Czech



A party was under way at the apartment on Prague’s Engels Embankment. The brother of playwright Vaclav Havel had just got married, and his friends had come back to celebrate, under the watchful eyes of the StB secret police.

It was May 1988, and I sat talking with Havel and Fr. Vaclav Maly, who, like Havel, had been beaten and jailed for signing Charter 77, a human rights declaration, a decade before. Talk of democratization in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia should be treated cautiously, Havel told me. The regime was too fearful to risk introducing reforms.

But he and his friends were determined to “create spaces” for some free activity. Despite the year’s repression, ordinary people still had consciences. They knew instinctively that “certain things are right and certain things are wrong.”

Top news of 2011: the gathering consensus for reform



One of the most interesting news stories of 2011 was the increasing number of countries in which Catholic priests have issued statements urging radical church reform. In most cases the declaration included a call for the ordination of married men and the ordination of women. In Germany, Austria, Ireland and Belgium, these remarkable documents quickly attracted growing endorsements from other clergy and laity. However, in every case they also aroused questions, doubts and strong disagreement from other quarters. These movements must be stopped, declared some critics, calling the declarations blasphemy, heresy, an affront to legitimate authority and cause for the excommunication of their leaders and proponents.

Pressure on Dutch church after report


Two leading politicians in the Netherlands, both from conservative parties, have called for the resignations of Catholic bishops in the wake of a damning report on sexual abuse in the Dutch church.

The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, also announced that his cabinet is considering lifting a statute of limitations to allow criminal prosecutions. A complaint has already been filed with the public prosecutor’s office against a former bishop of the Rotterdam diocese, Philippe Bär. An attorney representing alleged victims has charged Bär with covering up abuse during his tenure from 1983 to 1993.

Meanwhile, an influential Catholic commentator in Italy has rejected suggestions that the revelations amount to an indictment of the liberal spirit of Dutch Catholicism following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Released on Dec. 16, the report found that somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 Dutch children suffered abuse by Catholic personnel, ranging from unwanted sexual advances to rape, during the period of 1945 to 2010. A commission sponsored by the Catholic bishops and religious orders of Holland produced the report.

Advocacy group leader talks challenges facing Somalia, Kenya


NAIROBI, KENYA -- "War does not bring peace" is a refrain sometimes heard among those in Kenya's religious communities.

Yet while there are some private misgivings about Kenya's recent incursion into Somali border areas, public support for the action -- often called Kenya's "first war" -- remains strong. (Although in recent weeks, Kenyan human rights activists have said Kenyans are not getting adequate media coverage needed to properly judge the war.)

As one Roman Catholic cleric put it: "If you have lions among your people, you need to cage the lions. The government had no other option."

The alarm is due in part to insecurity -- following bombings and grenade attacks throughout 2011, Kenyans feel under siege by the Somalia Islamic militant group Al-Shabab. The group controls large parts of Somalia and has restricted humanitarian access by outside organizations, arguing the groups have harmful agendas. The lack of access has been roundly condemned internationally as worsening Somalia's current crisis, resulting in more famine-caused deaths in Somalia.

Pope calls for end to Nigerian violence


VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI appealed for an end to violence in Nigeria, condemning the Christmas church bombings that led to the deaths of at least 39 people.

The celebration of Christmas leads people to pray in an even stronger way that God would "stop the hands of the violent who sow death and that justice and peace would reign in the world," the pope said Dec. 26 as he recited the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Catholic University of Leuven reaffirms Catholic identity


LEUVEN, BELGIUM — After more than a year of extensive debate and consultation about its identity, the Catholic University of Leuven (long known in the English speaking world as the Catholic University of Louvain) has strongly reaffirmed its Catholic identity.

An official statement, released today (Dec. 22) by University Rector (President) Mark Waer and Jef Roos, Acting Chair of the Board of Trustees, stresses the university's Catholic tradition, its identity, its value system, and its role as a critical center of thought in and for the Catholic community.

Protesters persist despite crackdown



Of the popular pro-democracy civil insurrections that have swept the Middle East over the past year, none were as large -- relative to the size of the country -- as the one that took place in the island kingdom of Bahrain. And while scattered resistance continues, none were so thoroughly suppressed.

The crackdown against the overwhelmingly nonviolent pro-democracy struggle launched in mid-February was brutal. More 40 people have been killed, including a number in custody, and more than 1,600 have been arrested. Those targeted were not just human rights activists, but journalists who covered the protests and medical personnel who treated victims. In October, a military court sentenced 20 doctors and nurses to up to 15 years in jail for assisting the wounded.

Report shows Christianity shifting to Africa

With 2.18 billion adherents, Christianity has become a truly global religion over the past century as rapid growth in developing nations offset declines in Christianity's traditional strongholds, according to a report released Monday (Dec. 19).

Billed as the most comprehensive and reliable study to date, the Pew Research Center's "Global Christianity" reports on self-identified Christian populations based on more than 2,400 sources of information, especially census and survey data.

Findings illustrate major shifts since 1910, when two-thirds of the world's Christians lived in Europe. Now only one in four Christians live in Europe. Most of the rest are distributed across the Americas (37 percent), sub-Saharan Africa (24 percent) and the Asia-Pacific region (13 percent).

"In two out of three countries in the world, the majority of the population identifies as Christian," said Conrad Hackett, lead researcher on the "Global Christianity" report. "I had no idea about that. ... I was surprised."

Religious freedom panel to continue with less funding


WASHINGTON -- As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was preparing to shut down, Congress reauthorized it for three years, but with reduced funding and fewer commissioners.

The Senate voted Dec. 13 and the House Dec. 16 to approve amendments to an appropriations bill that reauthorized the commission. But the commission's yearly budget will be decreased from more than $4 million to $3 million and the number of commissioners will go from nine to two.

Speaking to a House subcommittee Nov. 17, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., who served on the commission from 2003 to 2007, urged Congress to keep the rights-monitoring agency alive and said its work must be given higher priority in foreign policy.

In his testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, Bishop Ramirez said that in practice, religious freedom discussions seldom make it into the public record in dialogues with key countries.


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