Wednesday, November 30, 2011

D.C. Human Rights Office Dismisses Single-Sex Housing Complaint

Press Release from Catholic University of America:

Nov. 30, 2011

D.C. Human Rights Office Dismisses Single-Sex Housing Complaint

University President Expresses Gratitude for Decision and Support

The D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) has dismissed the complaint filed by George Washington University law professor John F. Banzhaf III in response to The Catholic University of America’s single-sex housing policy, affirming the University’s position that the law does not require men and women to be housed together in residence halls.

In its order issued Nov. 29 on Banzhaf’s complaint, the OHR notes that the University’s implementation this fall of its single-sex housing policy does not violate the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA).

The order states that “[a]fter examining the legislative history of the Act, District case law, Title IX, and other applicable federal precedent, OHR finds that the Complainant fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted under the Act because same-sex dormitories do not constitute unlawful discrimination.”

“We hold that the DCHRA does not forbid colleges and universities from making sex-based distinctions between students. We agree that to follow Complainant’s reasoning would include a prohibition on same-sex bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams, which would lead to absurd results.”

The order notes that the OHR based its decision, in large part, on the Title IX law. “This law specifically states that same-sex housing policies on college campuses do not constitute ‘discrimination’ on ‘the basis of sex.’ ”

In a June 13 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Catholic University President John Garvey wrote that the University planned to implement its single-sex housing policy as a way to reduce binge drinking and hooking up. That article served as the basis of Banzhaf’s legal action and his complaint was lodged specifically against Garvey, not the University.

In the op-ed, Garvey cited statistics about drinking by men and women, noting “I would have thought that young women would have a civilizing influence on young men. Yet the causal arrow seems to run the other way. Young women are trying to keep up — and young men are encouraging them (maybe because it facilitates hooking up).”

The OHR order notes that Garvey’s statement regarding drinking by young men and women “does not suggest Respondent [Garvey] was motivated by a discriminatory animus against women” as Banzhaf argues in his complaint.

Citing Banzhaf’s assertion that CUA’s residence hall policy discriminates against female students, the order states, “This is a legal conclusion, and therefore, is not entitled to any assumption of truth. Furthermore, Complainant fails to support his legal conclusion with necessary facts.”

The order notes that Banzhaf “offers conjecture and speculation” on the issue of how CUA’s policy allegedly discriminates against women.

In his complaint, Banzhaf offers a number of arguments for his assertion of discrimination against women resulting from single-sex residence halls. Banzhaf argues that women are more concerned and frightened by being forced to walk alone outside the safety of a single-sex residence hall (versus a co-ed residence hall), and women who constitute only a small percentage of students in an academic discipline will be at a considerable disadvantage in forming networking connections in comparison to their male counterparts.

The order states that these and other examples given by Banzhaf “are not factual allegations, and therefore, are not entitled to an assumption of veracity. Most importantly, Complainant has not demonstrated that women would not have equivalent access to educational opportunities or be subject to any material harm.” In a footnote accompanying this conclusion, OHR states, “Ironically, some of the proffered examples [by Banzhaf] are based on stereotypes [of] women as the weaker sex.”

“I am gratified by the Office of Human Rights’ dismissal of the complaint, particularly its rejection of every one of the Complainant’s arguments,” says Catholic University President Garvey. “We were confident from the beginning that our actions were entirely legal and that OHR’s decision would be favorable to our side. I am thankful for the outpouring of public support for our right to implement a principled decision to transition to single-sex residence halls. We will continue down that path,” he added.

Banzhaf’s complaint about single sex residence halls is the first of two that he has lodged this year against the University. He filed a second complaint in October against Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington and University chancellor, charging that Catholic University has been engaging in discrimination against its Muslim students. The University has yet to receive any official notification from the (OHR) that it intends to move forward with adjudicating the second complaint.

Ice Sculptors Create Nativity Scene

An international ice sculpting team has created a Christmas nativity scene in Graz, Austria. Since 1996, they have created ice sculptures to commemorate the start of the Advent season.

Cartoon of the Day - NASA Searches for Life In Congress

Today on Kresta in the Afternoon - November 30, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Nov. 30

4:00 – Anita Caspary: Dissenter or Pioneer for Women Religious?
Anita Caspary, the former superior of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters who led 315 sisters out of religious life in 1970, died Oct. 5 at the age of 95. Caspary’s influence lives on, however, for she was the first modern sister to publicly challenge the Church hierarchy and the Vatican about the nature of religious life. Obituary writers have been lavish in praising Caspary’s accomplishments, but many of those obituaries simply repeat misinformation and propaganda and fail to probe the actual events that have had a profound and lasting impact on religious life. Ann Carey, author of Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities, is here to discuss Caspary’s legacy.

4:20 – Is the “Arab Spring” a Good Thing for Christians? How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Religious Freedom Worldwide.
Accusations of "blasphemy," "apostasy," or "insulting Islam" are now exploding in their use by authoritarian governments and extremist forces in the Muslim world to acquire and consolidate power. These charges, which traditionally carry a punishment of death, have proved effective in intimidating not only converts and heterodox groups, but also political and religious reformers. Paul Marshall has been fighting for religious freedom for decades and is here to describe hundreds of victims, including political dissidents, religious reformers, journalists, writers, artists, movie makers, and religious minorities throughout the Muslim world. He also addresses the move toward new blasphemy laws in the West and the increasing threat of violence to stifle commentary on Islam in the West even in the absence of law.

5:00 – Loving Africa: The policy — and moral — challenges of truly helping
With tomorrow being National AIDS Day and the Pope’s recent return visit to Africa, we talk with Matt Hanley, author of Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West. He says that the Pope, unlike public-health authorities, is not explicitly tasked with containing epidemics. In that sense, it’s alarming that he has a better read on the situation — and a much higher regard for human capacities — than trained authorities who are tasked with doing so. This suggests something is radically askew. He looks at what the Church is doing in Africa.

5:40 – TBA

UK expels Iran diplomats after embassy attack

TEHRAN, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Britain shut Iran's embassy in London and expelled all its staff on Wednesday, saying the storming of the British mission in Tehran could not have taken place without consent from Iranian authorities.

Foreign Secretary William Hague also said the British Embassy in Tehran had been closed and all staff evacuated following the attack on Tuesday by a crowd that ransacked offices and burned British flags in a protest over sanctions imposed by Britain on Tehran.

Iran warned that Britain's closure of the Iranian embassy in London would lead to further retaliation.

Tuesday's incident was the most violent so far as relations between the two countries steadily deteriorate due to Iran's wider dispute with the West over its nuclear programme.

On top of its ban on British financial institutions dealing with Iran and its central bank last week, Britain has called for further measures and a diplomatic source said London would now support a ban on oil imports from the Islamic Republic.

Hague said Iranian ambassadors across the European Union had been summoned to receive strong protests over the incident. But Britain stopped short of severing ties with Iran completely.

"The Iranian charge (d'affaires) in London is being informed now that we require the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London and that all Iranian diplomatic staff must leave the United Kingdom within the next 48 hours," Hague told parliament.

"We have now closed the British embassy in Tehran. We have decided to evacuate all our staff and as of the last few minutes, the last of our UK-based staff have now left Iran."

France said it was recalling its ambassador for consultations.

It was the worst crisis between Britain and Iran since full diplomatic relations were restored in 1999, 10 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fatwa that author Salman Rushdie could be killed for writing "The Satanic Verses".

Hague said it was "fanciful" to think Iranian authorities could not protect the British embassy, or that the assault could have taken place without "some degree of regime consent".

"This does not amount to the severing of diplomatic relations in their entirety. It is action that reduces our relations with Iran to the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations," he added.

Mindful of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, when radical students held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, Britain waited until all its two dozen diplomatic staff and dependents had left the country to announce its move.

Iran's state TV quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as calling London's closure of the Iranian embassy "hasty". "Naturally the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran would take further appropriate action regarding the issue," a news reporter said.


"It's rock bottom as far as Anglo-Iranian relations are concerned," said Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St Andrews University in Scotland.

"The Iranians have a mountain to climb. I don't think they fully understand how difficult it is for them now."

Negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme were now "dead", he said. "What you are moving into is a period of containment and quarantine. I don't think we are into a military confrontation, but we are into a period of containment and they (the West) are going to try and tighten the noose."

The attack also exposes widening rifts within Iran's ruling elite over how to deal with the increased international pressure as sanctions take their toll on the already stagnant economy.

The protest appeared to be a move by the conservatives who dominate parliament to force President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to heed their demand to expel the British ambassador.

Ahmadinejad and his ministers have shown no willingness to compromise on their refusal to halt Iran's nuclear work but have sought to keep talks open to limit what sanctions are imposed.

The West believes the programme is aimed at building a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran strongly denies.

"This incident was planned by elements who are not opposed per se to negotiations but want to stop them merely because of their own petty political struggles," said Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based expert on Western-Iranian relations.

"The push to get the UK ambassador out came from parliament which is headed by Ali Larijani," Parsi said. "When Larijani was chief nuclear negotiator Ahmadinejad carried out a similar campaign against negotiations."

Conservative newspapers trumpeted the embassy seizure.

The daily Vatan-e Emrouz declared: "Fox's den seized", referring to Britain's nickname "the old fox" which reflects a widely-held view in Iran that London still wields great power behind the scenes in Iranian and international affairs.

While Iranian police at first did not stop the protesters storming the embassy gates, they later fired tear gas to disperse them and freed six Britons held by demonstrators.

Iran's Foreign Ministry expressed its regret for the "unacceptable behaviour of few demonstrators".

The protesters hit back, saying they had been "seeking to answer to the plots and malevolence of this old fox" and the Foreign Ministry should not sacrifice "the goals of the nation for diplomatic and political relations".

"We expected the police to be on the side of the students instead of confronting them," said a statement by a group calling itself the Islamic community of Tehran universities.

Britain imposed sanctions on the Iran central bank last week after a report by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency suggested Iran may have worked on developing a nuclear arsenal.

Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, says it only wants nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Britain has not backed a ban on Iranian oil imports, but that could now change, the diplomatic source told Reuters, and London will likely back a call by France to do just that and impose "sanctions on a scale that would paralyse the regime".

The United States, which cut diplomatic relations with Iran after its embassy was stormed in 1979, has not bought Iranian oil since the 1990s, but has not taken any measures against Iran's central bank. That would cripple Iran's economy as it would not be able to process payments for its vital oil exports.

Egypt's Christians seek to be heard in election

CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Coptic Christians are trying to make their voices heard in Muslim-majority Egypt's parliamentary election, fearing Islamists could sweep in and deepen their sense of marginalization.

Egypt's Christians are reeling from a spate of attacks on churches since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February that they blame on Islamists. An October protest over one such attack led to clashes with military police in which 25 people were killed.

This has deepened a feeling of isolation in a community that makes up about a tenth of a population of 80 million and whose roots in Egypt pre-date the emergence of Islam.

Fady Badie, like many Egyptians, voted for the first time in this week's parliamentary vote, seen as meaningful unlike the rigged polls of Mubarak's time. But one of his main concerns was to dilute the Islamist vote and voice his other worries.

"For sure Copts are afraid of this prospect (of Islamists in parliament). We have problems with the military council (of rulers), problems with Islamists and, now this year, we have found we even have problems with the general public," he said, speaking during voting in the Cairo suburb of Maadi.

"If the democratic process is challenged and what happened in Iran happens in Egypt, then I will start really worrying," he said, adding that he was choosing the Egyptian Bloc alliance, which includes a party co-founded by a Christian billionaire.

The alliance that includes the Free Egyptians party of prominent Christian telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris is a popular choice among Christians and some liberal-leaning Muslims who are equally concerned by the rise of Islamists.

But the Bloc has drawn unwelcome attention. Supporters blame Islamists for what they say is a smear campaign to deter any Muslim voters from choosing it because of images posted on Facebook saying it is: "The voice for the Egyptian church."


It reflects growing sectarian tensions in a nation where rights groups say flare-ups between Muslim and Christian communities that were increasingly common before Mubarak's ouster have now erupted into even more deadly violence.

One concern for Christians is that Islamists will dominate the parliament that will pick an assembly to write a new constitution, in which they might enshrine Islamic laws.

"They are specifically concerned about that because they have been victims of continuous attempts to give Egypt an Islamic-flavored legislation," said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Orthodox Coptic newspaper al-Watani.

"They are skeptical about what will be their fate under any Islamic majority in our parliament," he said.

Christians, who span Egypt's social scale from the poorest to the richest, have been galvanized to vote in a bid to secure a liberal-leaning parliament that will address their grievances and counter a rising tide of Islamists.

"Even if defeating the Islamic wing is far fetched, at least the Islamic wing will not end up with an overwhelming majority in the parliament," said Sidhom.

Ordinary Christians long grumbled that Mubarak failed to address their longstanding complaints of discrimination, laws that made it easier to build a mosque than a church, or exclusion from senior jobs in state institutions.

The state always denied any discrimination as does the new ruling military council.

Excommunicated bishop attends ordination in China

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BEIJING (AFP) — A Chinese bishop excommunicated by the Vatican attended an ordination ceremony on Wednesday, a move likely to anger the Holy See, which had asked that no "illegitimate" clergy take part in the rite.
The ordination of Luo Xuegang in Yibin in the southwest province of Sichuan was approved by both China's official church and the Vatican, which has been locked in a bitter struggle with Beijing over control of China's Catholics. But the attendance of Lei Shiyin, the bishop of neighbouring Leshan who was excommunicated in June after he was ordained without papal approval, is likely to anger the Vatican.

"The ordination started at nine this morning and lasted around two and a half hours," a priest from the Leshan diocese surnamed Tong told AFP.
"Bishop Lei Shiyin attended the ceremony," he said, adding Lei was only present in the congregation and did not take part in any religious rituals for Luo's ordination.
The Vatican has been angered by several ordinations carried out by the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the official church, over the past year without papal approval.

The forced participation of a number of bishops at assemblies organised by the CPCA has strained tensions further. China's Catholics are increasingly caught between showing allegiance to the CPCA or to the pope as part of an "underground" Church considered illegal by Beijing. While official statistics put the number of Catholics in China at 5.7 million, independent sources say it is closer to 12 million.

In May, the pope called on all bishops to "refuse to take the path of separation" in spite of "pressure" from China's communist authorities.
But Beijing has ignored these appeals. In June, it announced that it would try to ordain at least 40 bishops "without delay". The Vatican has not had formal diplomatic ties with Beijing since 1951.

Pope praises groups for efforts to ban death penalty

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI gave a special greeting of encouragement to delegations meeting in Rome -- including a group from Illinois -- to promote the abolition of the death penalty.

During his weekly audience Nov. 30 at the Vatican, Pope Benedict said he hoped the work of the delegations would "encourage political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a number of countries to eliminate the death penalty" and promote progress in penal law that speaks equally to "the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order."

The 12-person Illinois group, members of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, was led by state Rep. Karen Yarbrough. Under Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty in March. 

Following the audience, Yarbrough told Catholic News Service that the papal audience represented a capstone to an intense year of efforts that paid off with legislation banning capital punishment in Illinois.

The Nov. 29-30 Rome meeting, sponsored by the Sant'Egidio Community, encouraged people in cities around the world to join a public demonstration of opposition to the death penalty. In Rome, for example, the Colosseum was to be lit up Nov. 30 to show the city's adherence to the initiative.

Yarbrough said that "lighting the Colosseum, once a place of death, means a lot." 

The main part of the pope's audience talk dealt with the significance of prayer in the life of Jesus Christ and in his relationship with God, a continuation of his series of reflections on prayer.

The pope said that Jesus, by his own example, "most fully reveals the mystery of Christian prayer." He said this was particularly evident with the prayer Jesus said after his baptism in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist. The pope said this prayer "reflects his complete, filial obedience to the Father's will, an obedience which would lead him to death on the cross for the redemption of our sins."

Through prayer with God, the pope said, Jesus "received the confirmation of his mission" among men.

Jesus learned to pray from his very devout mother and the Jewish tradition, but the real source of his prayer was his "eternal communion with the Father."

Pope Benedict said Jesus teaches today's Christians that prayer must be constant, profound and characterized by "self-surrender and complete openness to God."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vatican office stresses need to review papal documents before release

Vatican City, Nov 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News)

The release of all documents bearing the Pope’s signature must follow certain procedures to defend the integrity of papal teaching, says a new memo from the Vatican Secretariat of State to the cardinals and archbishops who head the Roman curia’s congregations, tribunals, pontifical councils and offices.

Archbishop Angelo Maria Becciu, the present head of the secretariat’s First Section, said in the Nov. 4 memo that the circulation of unrevised or improperly released texts could harm the integrity of papal teaching.

When a document signed by the Pope is published, the document must be sent in printed form and with an electronic backup to the Secretariat of State with a reasonable estimate of the expected publication date. After “careful review” of its contents, the secretariat will distribute it to the Holy See’s various media outlets.

Veteran Vatican reporter Sandro Magister published the memo on the Italian newspaper L’Espresso’s religious affairs website Chiesa.

He noted that the memo applies only to texts that bear the Pope’s signature. It cannot, “strictly speaking,” refer to the Oct. 24 document from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on global financial reform, which drew much attention and controversy but was not a papal document.

Citing Catholic News Service, Magister said the memo is a likely response to the treatment of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the 98th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which was presented on Oct. 25. Large sections of the document had been released by the Vatican Information Service five days before its publication date.

However, a Nov. 4 summit at the Secretariat of State to address such incidents also discussed the Justice and Peace document. At the summit, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said he did not know about the document until the last minute and only after the media had been informed about its launch.

Vatican insiders told CNA that the Justice and Peace document seemed to lack the expected degree of consultation and approval with the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the two main curial departments.

Giving pregnant students a better choice

New residential facility near North Carolina campus allows college-age moms to keep their babies and stay in school

(WNS)--Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, college students often feel like choosing to keep their babies will force them to drop out of school and condemn them to a lifetime of struggle. Few colleges, including Christian institutions, make it easy for single mothers to stay in class. But one small school in Charlotte, N.C., is partnering with a nearby pro-life organization to embrace its pregnant students, offering them support and encouraging them to continue their studies.

In June, Room at the Inn, a Catholic, non-profit organization, broke ground on a college-based maternity and residential facility - the first of its kind in the nation - on the outskirts of Belmont Abbey College. The new building will house pregnant women and young mothers, providing the resources and emotional assistance they need to continue their education while caring for their children.

“College women are the most abortion vulnerable population that we have,” Jeannie Wray, Room at the Inn’s executive director said. According to the report “An Overview of Abortion in the United States,” as many as 71 percent of women surveyed said they chose abortion because of the effect a child would have on their education or career.

In the process of formulating a long-term plan to equip single mothers to finish their education, Room at the Inn conducted a survey that revealed none of the colleges or universities in the greater Charlotte area offered housing or on-campus daycare for students with children. Room at the Inn’s new facility will provide both.

“We believe that a woman should not have to choose between her child and her education,” Assistant Director Debbie Capen said. “Women are well-equipped to have both, if they have the support they need.”

For years, Room at the Inn has provided counseling and material assistance through their pre-natal services and aftercare outreach program to young mothers in Charlotte. But the organization could only support four women at a time in its residential program. One of the girls, whom administrators declined to name to protect her privacy, came to Room at the Inn after losing her job and her housing when she found herself pregnant for a second time. Because she was caring for a toddler and an infant, she also dropped out of school. Room at the Inn set her up with an apartment, subsidized daycare and financial guidance. She soon found a full-time job and enrolled in school to earn her bachelor’s degree. The support equipped her to break a destructive cycle of poverty and become a self-sufficient single mother.

The new facility, built on land donated by the Benedictine Monastery at Belmont Abbey, will have space for as many as 15 women and their children. The $3 million project, funded by a community of individuals and foundations passionate about Room at the Inn’s mission, only needs $500,000 more to be completely funded. Construction should be complete by spring.
“We will provide everything that they need in regards to home and board, Wray said. “They will just have to provide for their schooling.” With a location so near Belmont Abbey College, the women will have a campus-based community environment. They can attend classes at Belmont Abbey or commute to another college in the area.

Wray hopes other schools and pro-life organizations will partner on similar projects all across the nation. Once Room at the Inn announced its plans for the new residential facility, several national pro-life figures called Wray to discuss the details.

Aside from the physical and emotional resources provided by Room at the Inn, leaders of the organization are passionate about imparting faith to their clients. They require the young women to attend weekly Bible studies and a church of their choice.

“A lot of the girls come from a faith-based background and are usually excited to rekindle their faith,” Capen said.

Catholic Church vs Obana Showdown

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on the upcoming showdown between the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Catholic Church:

On December 1, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform will hold a hearing titled, "HHS and the Catholic Church: Examining the Politicization of Grants." At issue is the decision by the Obama administration to deny a grant that the Catholic Church routinely receives providing for relief to the victims of human trafficking; the ruling was made despite an independent review board's finding that gave high scores to the Church's program.

The Church was denied the grant because it refuses to offer abortion referrals. Many Catholics, including the Catholic League, believe that the politicized nature of the decision to defund the program demands a hearing, and on Thursday we will get it. Since 2006, the Church has helped more than 2,700 trafficking victims, most of whom are women and children.

Although the issue of abortion referral is on the table, the real issue is something more sinister: the pro-abortion community, which is supporting the Obama administration's push to mandate that private healthcare plans provide coverage for sterilization and contraceptive services, has its real sights set on mandated abortion coverage. That's why there has been an editorial and op-ed explosion in recent weeks calling for Obama to stand up to the bishops. Everyone knows that even minimum-wage earners can afford contraceptives, so this issue hardly explains the heated rhetoric. What mandated contraceptive services accomplishes is that it greases the slide towards abortion coverage.

Those who do not ascribe to the vision of sexuality entertained by "progressives," but are nonetheless not terribly bothered by the push for contraceptive services in healthcare plans, need to wake up and smell the odor before the "progressives" start racing for home. We're at the top of the stretch right now, which is why this hearing is critical.

Cardinal Burke reflects on his first year in the Sacred College

Rome, Italy, Nov 28, 2011 / (CNA/EWTN News)

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, one of the Catholic Church's top U.S.-born clerics, is marking the first anniversary of his November 2010 elevation to the Sacred College of Cardinals.

"Well, it’s been a very fast-moving year," Cardinal Burke told CNA in his Roman apartment just yards from the Vatican, where he serves as head of the Church's highest court.

"But, it’s been a very good year, I'd have to say. And I’ve certainly come to understand more fully what it is to give this service to the Holy Father and hope that I am doing it better."

The College of Cardinals consists of the men considered the Pope’s closest aides, giving counsel and assistance to the pontiff when needed. It currently has under 200 members, with only 115, those under age 80, eligible to elect a future Pope.

Cardinal Burke, 63, has had a remarkable journey from America's rural Midwest—where he grew up as the youngest of six children—to his current post as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

"I never dreamed of it, to be honest with you," he said, reflecting on God's guidance of his path to the Vatican.

"I grew up, thanks be to God, in a very good Catholic home," he recalled. "We were small dairy farmers in Wisconsin, which was a very common situation in that part of the world. But I see how God has been at work all along, and I marvel at it."

While much has changed since those days, his life as a cardinal is "not unrelated to what my parents were trying to teach me from the time I was little."

"And, the truth of the matter is that the older I get, the more I appreciate those first lessons that were taught to me, that early formation in the faith."

After 14 years leading dioceses in Wisconsin and Missouri, Cardinal Burke was chosen in 2008 to head the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, often called the "Supreme Court" of the Catholic Church.

"Whenever I've done whatever's been asked of me," he said, "I’ve always found a happiness in my work as a priest, and I continue to find that today."

A patriot with an obvious love for the United States, the Rome-based cardinal remains invested in the struggle for his country's culture.

"It is a war," he stated, describing the battle lines between "a culture of secularization which is quite strong in our nation," and "the Christian culture which has marked the life of the United States strongly during the first 200 years of its history."

He says it is "critical at this time that Christians stand up for the natural moral law," especially in defense of life and the family.

"If Christians do not stand strong, give a strong witness and insist on what is right and good for us both as and individuals and society," he warned, "this secularization will in fact predominate and it will destroy us."

Cardinal Burke favors realism over pessimism, and believes "things are getting better" in America, particularly among the young.

"I think that sometimes the young people understand much better the bankruptcy of a totally secularized culture because they’ve grown up with it," he observed.

Many youth "have seen their families broken" and "have been exposed to all the evils of pornography," leading them to conclude that the secularization project "is going nowhere and that it will destroy them" if left unchecked.

But the cardinal also thinks persecution may be looming for the U.S. Church.

"Yes, I think we’re well on the way to it," he said, pointing to areas of social outreach - such as adoption and foster care - where the Church has had to withdraw rather than compromise its principles.

This trend could reach a point where the Church, "even by announcing her own teaching," is accused of "engaging in illegal activity, for instance, in its teaching on human sexuality."

Asked if he could envision U.S. Catholics ever being arrested for preaching their faith, he replied: "I can see it happening, yes."

The Vatican's top judge takes a dim view of self-professed Catholic politicians who oppose the Church on key moral issues.

Among them is U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, currently seeking to force most of the country's employers, including Catholic institutions, to cover contraception and sterilization in employee health plans.

"To the degree to which (Sebelius) proclaims herself to be a practicing Catholic, she is very wrong," said Cardinal Burke. He sees it as "simply incomprehensible" for a Catholic to "support the kind of measures that she is supporting."

The cardinal says America’s 2012 election will be "very significant."

Catholics, he said, "have a serious duty to vote and to try and find the best candidate to elect." And some "good and solid, right-thinking individuals" may even be called to run for public office themselves.

Above all, the cardinal hopes for a "new evangelization" of the United States - starting with faithful families, strong religious education, and reverent liturgical worship.

The family, he noted, is where a child "first learns the truths of the faith, first prayers, first practices his or her life in Christ." But the Mass itself is the "source of our solid teaching, of our solid witness," and also "the most beautiful and fullest expression we give to that teaching."

Cardinal Burke is also responsible for overseeing the Church's liturgy as a member of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship.

He is grateful to Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for giving the Church "a font of solid direction" regarding worship, based on the Second Vatican Council's vision of a "God-centered liturgy and not a man-centered liturgy."

That intention was not always realized, he said, since the council's call for liturgical reform coincided with a "cultural revolution."

Read more here...

Cartoon of the Day - occupy santa

Today on Kresta in the Afternoon - November 29, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Nov. 29

4:00 – Has Newt Changed?
Questions about the past: Did Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich have secret meetings prior to Clinton’s impeachment hearings? How wide was the knowledge of Gingrich’s extramarital affairs? Did Clinton know? Did Clinton’s knowledge affect Gingrich’s actions? The question for the present: What does Gingrich’s conduct then, and the way he has dealt with it, tell us about him today? Marvin Olasky analyzes the rise of Gingrich and we take your calls on Newt and the GOP primary.

5:00 – Catholic University of America: Single-Sex Dorms, Muslims, Lawsuits and the Idea of a Catholic University
At his inauguration as President of the Catholic University of America on Jan. 25, 2011, John Garvey delivered and address entitled “Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University”. It was only a few months later that he announced a return to single-sex dorms on campus and faced two lawsuits over the dorm policy and Muslim students’ “religious freedoms”. He joins us to discuss the lawsuits, the campus reaction, and his vision of Catholic higher education.

5:40 – Girls / Catholics Equal in British Throne Succession
Sons and daughters of any future UK monarch will have equal right to the throne, after Commonwealth leaders agreed to change succession laws. The leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state unanimously approved the changes at a summit in Perth, Australia. It means a first-born daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would take precedence over younger brothers. The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic was also lifted. We talk with Catholic British journalist Joanna Bogle.

Conception to birth -- visualized

An astounding new video is drawing rave reviews from pro-life advocates around the world for its depiction of the fetal development of an unborn baby.

The new video on YouTube features Alexander Tsiaras, the author of From Conception to Birth: A Life Unfolds, presenting a video he helped develop which shows a visualization of the unborn child’s development from conception to birth. The video already has nearly 213,000 views even though it was only uploaded to YouTube on November 14.

Congress’ approval problem in one chart

It’s no secret that people don’t like — ok, loathe — Congress.

The latest Gallup monthly survey pegged Congressional approval at just 13 percent, the second straight month it has hit that all-time low.

“The 2011 average is on track to be the lowest annual rating of Congress in Gallup’s history,” wrote Gallup’s Frank Newport in a memo on the results.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who has taken on the unpopularity of Congress as something of a pet cause, said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” that “for the last year or so this town has effectively come the land of flickering lights, where the standard for success is somehow you kept the lights on for the month where the rest of the world isn’t waiting for us to figure out how we’re going to meaningfully participate in the 21st century economy.”

Bennet has also taken to the Senate floor to make his case — and he brought charts! This one chart that tells you everything you need to know about the depths of congressional unpopularity.

Notice that Hugo Chavez has the same approval rating as Congress. The US becoming Communist has 2% MORE support than Congress. And the IRS is 4X as popular as Congress.

Two Michigan Abortion Clinics Shut Down for Good

Citizens for a Pro-life Society run by Dr. Monica Miller was at the heart of a 21 month-long effort to bring legal action against the Womans Choice Abortion Clinics located in Lansing and Saginaw, Michigan. And our hardcore pro-life activism works! THESE ABORTIONS MILLS ARE SHUT DOWN!

On Nov. 21st in a hearing before Judge Calvin Osterhaven of Eaton County, Richard Remund, owner of the Womans Choice clinics entered into an agreement with the Michigan Attorney General to dissolve his clinics. Moreover, Remund is forever barred from being part of any incorporation of a Michigan medical facility. On Nov.7, Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schutte, brought a motion against Womans Choice clinics, citing the clinics for illegal incorporation.

Watch the interview with Monica below.

Patience with new translation expected to pay dividends


November 27 was a historic Sunday for English-speaking Roman Catholics, who began using a long-awaited and more accurate Mass translation. The change, however, involved its share of awkward moments.
“I think everybody experienced some awkwardness or stumbling,” said Father Daniel Merz, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Divine Worship, noting a common thread in the reactions he received from across the country.

But those who “had either received some catechesis” in advance, “or had catechized themselves and were prepared for it, seem to have had a fairly positive reaction to the changes,” he told EWTN News on Nov. 28.
Many priests, he said, were trying to take the learning process “with a good sense of humor,” while encouraging parishioners to deepen their understanding and appreciation of worship through the newly-rendered prayers.

“We're all going to be learning our way and stumbling for a little bit here, and that's okay,” Fr. Merz said.
He expects the learning process will take “a couple of months” for those who attend Mass only on Sundays. Meanwhile, priests and daily Mass attendees may learn new habits – like giving the response “and with your spirit,” or confessing their “most grievous fault” in the penitential rite – more quickly.
“After Christmas, or by Lent hopefully, we'll be in very good shape,” Fr. Merz predicted.
During the run-up to the translation's debut, the U.S. bishops' conference hailed it as a chance for Catholics “to deepen, nurture, and celebrate our faith through the renewal of our worship and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.”

But even Chicago's Cardinal Archbishop Francis E. George, past president of the conference, admitted that he “tripped up a couple of times,” due to the persistence of old liturgical habits. “I found myself reverting back, and therefore I was a little bit upset at myself,” Cardinal George said in a Nov. 27 homily, according to the Chicago Tribune. Many in the pews had a similar experience, even with the assistance of handouts spelling out the changes. Even Fr. Merz acknowledged being caught off guard by one major change. “The most noticeable and common change is from 'And also with you,' to 'And with your spirit,'” said the liturgical director, who has been “gearing up for this (new translation) for a long time.”

“When I participated in Sunday Mass as a concelebrant, I gave that response back. But it's a whole different feel. So it's going to take a little getting used to.” “I'm happy with that change – but nevertheless, it's a change. It'll take some adjustment.” Many companies and publishers, he noted, have produced materials explaining the changes that bring the English-language Mass more closely into line with the original Latin text. Fr. Merz also welcomes feedback on the translation, even from those who might be feeling surprise or confusion.

“The response I've been giving is, if there are specific things that you didn't understand or that disappointed you, let us know,” said the associate director for worship. “We can work together to try and come to a better understanding.” While it is not yet familiar, the new translation offers much to appreciate.
“People have said that they really appreciate the greater fidelity that the new prayers embody, and they like the more formal or 'higher' tone that it carries across. There is a sense of reverence and poetry there.”
Fr. Merz indicated that the learning process itself can be an opportunity to find out more about the faith, and grow closer to God.

“Whenever I've given workshops, it's not just been 'Here are the changes,' but 'Here are the reasons behind the changes, and here's some additional information about the meaning of this place in the Mass.'”
Several priests have told him that they intend to spent more time preaching about the meaning of Catholic worship, as a participation in Christ's death and resurrection. “It's an incredible opportunity to do that,” he pointed out. “And I think that will make a big difference for people.”

Fr. Merz said the new translation also shows the continuity of Catholic tradition before and after the Second Vatican Council. “Chuch historians have often said that it takes close to a century to fully implement an ecumenical council,” he noted. “As time goes on, we're starting to understand the Second Vatican Council more fully.”The norms guiding the translation were spelled out in the 2001 Vatican document “Liturgiam Authenticam,” which was itself inspired by the council's decree on the liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium.”
“The real vision of Vatican II, for us today, is a deepening and 'interiorizing' of our experience of liturgy,” Fr. Merz reflected.

He described the new translation as one part of the larger effort to “really deepen our interior engagement in the liturgy, and our interior participation,” in keeping with the council's intentions.
The improved translation, he expects, will draw some estranged Catholics back to the Church.
“If there are people who were disappointed, or felt discouraged, that the translation before was less faithful, I think they have been encouraged to come back with this new translation,” he said.

Urban Meyer Named New Ohio State Coach

China to ordain Vatican-approved bishop

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BEIJING (AP) — China plans to ordain a pope-approved bishop Wednesday, but the Vatican and the Chinese government-controlled Catholic church are fighting over the guest list.
The ordination of Peter Luo Xuegang as coadjutor bishop of Yibin diocese has the blessing of the Vatican, a recent point of agreement in its decades-long rift with the state-backed church. The source of friction this time is the possible presence of an excommunicated bishop at the ceremony. AsiaNews, the Vatican-affiliated news agency which closely covers the church in China, reported Friday that Paul Lei Shiyin was almost certain to take part because the government "will want to impress a 'patriotic' and 'independent' character on the ceremony."
Church officials from the Yibin diocese and Sichuan province, where Yibin is located, on Tuesday declined to confirm whether Lei was invited. Lei is the president of the Catholic Patriotic Association, and a diocese official said unspecified members of the association would attend the ceremony. "There were oral decisions made, but I'm not sure whether Father Lei Shiyin will attend," said the Yibin official, who only gave his surname, Yang. He said: "The Vatican has not talked to our diocese about the specifics."

The affair strikes at the heart of the dispute between the Vatican and the state-backed church since their split a half-century ago: the right to appoint bishops. The prerogative has been a key to the Vatican to ensure control and orthodoxy over far-flung communities of believers for centuries. In the same vein, China's communist government wants to make sure Catholics remain loyal to Beijing, not a foreign power.

China says about 6 million Catholics worship in official congregations across the country, although millions more are believed to worship outside the official church. Many of China's Catholics remain loyal to the pope, and on the ground many clergy minister to both officially sanctioned and unauthorized congregations. Over the last decade, Beijing and the Vatican have attempted quietly in fits and starts to work out an agreement on clerical appointments. Lei's ordination in June in defiance of the pope was a setback, and a month later the standoff deepened after China unilaterally ordained another bishop. The Vatican released a statement saying Pope Benedict XVI "once again deplores the manner in which the church in China is being treated."

China is sincere about improving relations with the Vatican and recent ordinations of bishops in China "promotes the healthy development of Chinese Catholicism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday in response to a question about the planned ordination.
AsiaNews reported that with the threat of Lei's attendance, several bishops in neighboring dioceses were now afraid to participate in the ordination. At issue is not necessarily whether Lei will attend but the level of his participation, said Anthony Lam, a researcher at the Roman Catholic church-affiliated Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong. 

If Lei sits in the audience that would be fine, but if he actively takes part in the consecration "that would be a scandal," said Lam. It might, he said, render the ordination illegitimate. "He is forbidden according to the papal statement earlier in the year from carrying out any ministry or office so it would be a scandal if he joins as a co-consecrating bishop or a principal consecrator," he said.
The pope's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that he hopes the faithful will be told that the Holy See has approved the candidate and that during the ceremony "no illegitimate bishop participates."
Lombardi said that he had not been informed about the ceremony and Rev. Luo has a papal mandate. If all goes well, "the event would be encouraging for the Catholic Community," Lombardi said.
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

Legal Battle Ignites Over Jesus Statue in Montana


DENVER — They call him Big Mountain Jesus: a six-foot statue of Christ, draped in a baby blue robe and gazing out over the majestic Flathead Valley from his perch along a ski run at the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana.
He has been there for more than 50 years, erected by the local Knights of Columbus chapter in honor of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who told of seeing similar shrines in the mountains of Italy during World War II.

These days, though, Whitefish’s Jesus statue is at the center of an increasingly bitter battle over the legality of such symbols on federal land.

An atheist group says that because Big Mountain Jesus stands on United States Forest Service property, it is in violation of the constitutional principle separating church and state.

After receiving a complaint about the statue in the spring, the group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, has been urging the Forest Service not to reauthorize the Knights’ special-use permit for the memorial, which is up for renewal.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the group. “A violation doesn’t become less egregious because it’s gone on a long time.” Ms. Gaylor said she would have no problem if the statue stood on private property.

But the statue’s supporters argue that it should be viewed as a military memorial, not as a religious shrine, and they point out that the Forest Service has renewed the permit over the years without issue.

Hiram Sasser, a lawyer for the Liberty Institute, a conservative legal advocacy group, said that because the ski resort is already leasing much of the mountain from the Forest Service, the federal government has no right to ban the statue merely because some people might not like it.

“When the government allows its property to be used for various purposes, like a ski resort, then they open it up to public expression, and they can’t exclude a memorial based on religious grounds,” said Mr. Sasser, whose group is representing the Kalispell chapter of the Knights of Columbus in the dispute.

Caught in the middle of the controversy is the Forest Service, which initially denied the Knights’ renewal application in August, on the grounds that it no longer allowed private memorials of any sort on national forestland.

But after the ensuing outcry, and a determination that the site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, it decided to reconsider and is taking public comments on the statue.

“This is a pretty unique situation,” said Jim Peña, acting deputy chief for the national forest system. “Because of the historic and cultural significance of the statue, we’re going to have to relook at it and figure out the right way to go.”

Meanwhile, United States Representative Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican, has hurled himself into the debate, speaking at rallies for the statue and proposing swapping the 25-foot-by-25-foot piece of land for a parcel owned by the ski resort.

“Would we take the crosses and Stars of David out of Arlington Cemetery?” Mr. Rehberg, who is running for the Senate seat held by Jon Tester, a Democrat, said in an interview. “I don’t think so.”

Riley Polumbus, a spokeswoman for the Whitefish Mountain Resort, which technically is on Big Mountain and is near the town of Whitefish, said the resort was amenable to the swap.

“In addition to this being a dedication to World War II soldiers, it’s a landmark on the mountain,” Ms. Polumbus said. “People say, ‘Meet at Jesus at 11.’ Skiers take pictures with him, wrap him up in clothing and put Mardi Gras beads on him.”

But Ms. Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation called Mr. Rehberg’s proposal “absurd,” saying the Forest Service’s parcel is owned by all Americans and should not simply be traded for the sake of a religious shrine.

She said her group had received a flood of threatening e-mails over its stance on the statue.

“It’s terribly important that the religious right not be allowed to manipulate this situation,” she said.

Both sides are vowing to go to court depending on what is decided.

A Facebook site, “Save Big Mountain Jesus Statue,” has sprung up, and an “Occupy Big Mountain” rally recently took place, with supporters hiking up to the statue in solidarity.

“We wish the people of Wisconsin would take care of their own business and leave us, and this statue, totally alone,” said Michael Shepard, commander of American Legion Post 108 in Whitefish, which has helped organize the recent rallies.

Mr. Peña said the Forest Service expects to make a decision on the statue in early 2012.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Today on Kresta in the Afternoon - November 24, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Nov. 24

4:00 – Why Catholics Are Right
Columnist, television host, author, and Canadian Catholic Michael Coren is here to examine four main aspects of Catholicism as they are encountered, understood, and more importantly, misunderstood, today. For some Catholicism is the only permanent, absolute body of truth, while for others it is the last permanent, absolute body that has to be opposed and stopped. Coren then traces Catholic history, with a discussion of the Crusades, Inquisition, Holocaust, and Galileo. He looks at Catholics and theology, explaining what and why Catholics believe what they do — Papal infallibility, Immaculate Conception, and Tradition vs. Bible alone. Finally, Coren outlines the pro-life position and why it is so important to Catholicism. Michael draws on history, politics, and theology to present the arguments for the truth of Roman Catholicism. He is with us today.

5:00 – Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope
Though the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima took place nearly a hundred years ago, Our Lady's call to prayer and penance for the salvation of souls and peace in the world is as relevant now as when first delivered to three Portuguese peasant children in 1917. Much of what Our Lady of Fatima said was revealed soon after her appearances, but the third and final "secret", which was not a message but a prophetic vision seen by the children, was not unveiled by the Vatican until 2000. Pope John Paul II, who read the third secret while recovering from the attempt upon his life in 1981, believed the vision signified the sufferings the Church had endured in the twentieth century. Because of the prophetic nature of her messages, Our Lady of Fatima has been the subject of much controversy and speculation. Father Andrew Apostoli is here to carefully analyze the events that took place in Fatima and clears up lingering questions and doubts about their meaning. He also challenges us to hear anew the call of Our Lady to prayer and sacrifice, for the world is ever in need of generous hearts willing to make reparation for those in danger of losing their way to God.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Today on Kresta in the Afternoon - November 23, 2011

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Nov. 23

The Best of Kresta in the Afternoon

4:00 – Collin Raye: Catholic Convert, Country Music star, and Defender of Life
“I would just worship the ground that she walked on,” said country music legend Collin Raye, talking about his firstborn grandchild Haley Marie Bell. “Then eventually she didn’t walk. Then she couldn’t crawl. Then she couldn’t hold her hands up. She would fall over. She couldn’t control her head. She lost the ability to speak.” Haley had a neurological disorder that the best doctors in the country could not diagnose. Raye, a Catholic convert who has recorded five platinum albums sold eight million and has been nominated five times as country music’s Male Vocalist of the Year, is here to talk about his granddaughter, his faith journey and his new album of sacred music.

5:00 – The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood
Boys need heroes to embody the everlasting qualities of manhood: honor, duty, valor, and integrity. Without such role models, boys will naturally choose perpetual childhood over the rigors of becoming a man-as many women, teachers, coaches, employers, and adults in authority can quickly attest. Too many boys and men waste time in pointless and soulless activities, unmindful of their responsibilities, uncaring in their pursuits. Have we forgotten how to raise men, how to lead our boys into manhood? William Bennett joins us to answer that question.

5:40 – Animal rights group's lawsuit alleges Sea World is keeping orcas in slavery and violating their 13th Amendment rights
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a lawsuit against Sea World for allegedly violating the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- which bans slavery -- by keeping orcas at parks in San Diego and Orlando, Fla. Part of the lawsuit also asserts that it is illegal to artificially inseminate the females and then take away their babies. We talk to bioethicist Wesley Smith about this case and while ridiculous, why it is also very dangerous.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Debate: Occupy Wall Street: Representative of Catholic Social Teaching?

Occupy Wall Street is a movement that began on September 17 in Manhattan's Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions globally. We ask if the movement has a coherent message, if it is effective, and most importantly, does the Occupy Wall Street movement have a basis in Catholic social teaching? We debate it with Dr. Max Torres and Tony Magliano.

Cartoon of the Day: Black Friday

Catholic Tastes: The Vatican Enters the World of Contemporary Art

TIME Magazine
By Stephan Faris

It wasn't the type of gift you would normally think of for an 84-year-old Pope best known for conservative theology and critiques of secular culture. And indeed, as Benedict XVI moved through the exhibition of contemporary art that had been installed in his honor — one work for each of the 60 years he has been a priest — there were times when he looked more than a little bemused: pausing, say, in front of a flat blue canvas broken by a raised geometric pattern, or staring up at a metal etching of a face with a thin tree branch sprouting from between its eyes.

And yet, the Pope was clearly pleased with the project — the first incarnation of an effort he has championed to reconnect the Catholic Church with the world of art. It was a realm the Vatican once dominated, but one in which it has had little presence for more than a century. "Make the truth shine in your works — never separate artistic creation from truth and charity," Benedict urged the assembled artists, who had joined him at the show's opening in Rome in early July. They ranged from Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui to American painter Max Cole.
The Vatican's undertaking is by any measure ambitious. The modern church's influence in the world of art is all but non-existent — a far cry from the time when the Pope could commission Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the papal chapel or when Cardinals could call upon Caravaggio to ornament the churches of Rome. Depending on who is talking, it's been at least a century — and maybe a couple more — since the Vatican was an important patron of the arts. Certainly, in the 20th century, the schism between the two worlds yawned larger than ever. Popular culture swerved toward the secular, modern art fled sacred spaces for the world of galleries, foyers and museums, and the church retreated into tradition.

There's little question that church grandees, left to their own devices, would prefer to tread the safe ground of figurative religious art. But there's also a recognition that if the Vatican is to reassert itself among the artistic class, it will have to learn the vocabulary of modernity. "It's another language, something completely different," says Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who has been leading the effort.
For the Pope's exhibition, "The Splendor of Truth, the Beauty of Charity," Ravasi and his assistants chose a broad theme and asked a selection of artists to contribute a new or previously completed piece. Benedict seemed drawn by those that made tentative steps toward common ground. He examined a score the Italian composer Ennio Morricone had drawn in the shape of a crucifix, and paused to speak with a young German photographer, Christoph Brech, who had contributed a series of photographs taken in the Vatican museum showing nested doors leading to a brightly lit wall. "He told me, 'Despite the wall, you are led toward the light,' " says Brech.

However, even if the Pope and other church officials are willing to hold out their hands, persuading the art world to accept them won't be easy. After all, much has changed since the times when an artist's patron was a King, Emperor or Pope. Today's patrons are more likely found in the boardrooms of Moscow or Hong Kong than in the decaying palaces of Europe.

Ravasi, knowing any effort by the Vatican will be greeted with suspicion — perhaps hostility — has proceeded with caution. The Vatican expressed interest in contributing a pavilion to the Venice Biennale in 2009 and '11, but then decided to aim for '13. "It takes some courage," concedes Paolo Baratta, president of the biannual event. "The choice to come to the Biennale is the choice of being within the waves of the world. It's saying, 'I want to be on a boat in the open ocean,' not 'I want to build a monument to the relationship between the church and contemporary art.' "

For the Holy See's eventual entrance into the Biennale, Ravasi would like to ratchet up the religion a step further than that conveyed in the exhibition for the Pope. He intends asking no more than 10 artists to draw their inspiration from the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which span the history of creation — from "Darkness upon the face of the deep" through the felling of the Tower of Babel. In Ravasi's view, contemporary artists have, with few exceptions, become severed from the spiritual themes that motivated their predecessors. "They've lost the great stories, the great narratives," he says.
And yet, according to Ravasi, even blasphemous works like Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, or the Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka's depiction of the Last Supper as a gay bacchanal, are illustrations of the enduring power of transcendental and religious themes and their place in the world of art. "It shows they have the desire to come back to the big symbols," he says. For a church looking to reconnect with artists, that would be a gift indeed.