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Just Asking

Re the Signs of the Times item “Church Membership Trends Downward” (9/12): Total births from 2000 to 2009 in the United States did not fall, but rose slightly during the first decade of the century to 4,131,019 from 4,058,814. But the statistics are not broken down according to parents’ religious affiliation. Some dioceses have reported dramatic drops in marriage rates as well, even though the average marriage rate in the region has remained stable or gone up.

Have baptized parents decided not to baptize their children in the church? Is it possible that parents as well as teens are not attracted by a return to the church of the 1950s? Are they dismayed by the church’s increasingly obstructionist role in civil society—especially on health care or priests telling parishioners that voting for a certain person is immoral? Have parents heard that parish priests increasingly tell girls they may not serve at the altar? Do families with daughters question raising children in a church with so little respect for women and girls?

Sophia Weiss

Richmond, Va.

Almost a Member of Our Family

The review of “The Help,” by Michael V. Tueth, S.J. (9/12), reminded me of my early years in Louisiana and the “servants” who worked at our family home. I remember the black “outside servant” who seemed to me at that age to be almost a member of our family. I could never understand why black people had to step off the sidewalk when whites passed by.

Like the child cared for by Aibileen, I experienced caring from the help and did not seem to notice their different color. No wonder Jesus said, “Unless you become as little children you will not enter the kingdom of God.”

(Rev.) Jim Schexnayder

Pachecon, Calif.

Child Starves, Penguin Saved

My God is not an angry God! But when I saw the picture of the malnourished 7-month-old boy (“Somalia Famine,” Signs of the Times, 8/29) and then learned from this morning’s news that Happy Feet, the penguin found wandering in New Zealand, was taken some 2,000 miles back to the South Pole, I presume my God is a puzzled God, saying, “What are my people thinking?” We have money and interest for feel-good projects, while our brothers starve from our inattention.

Larry Donohue

Seattle, Wash.

No Rest for Flannery

In response to your editorial “The Universal Call” (9/19), I have no criticism of the process by which saints are canonized; I just don’t know enough about it. But as someone who has devoted much of his life to studying the work of Flannery O’Connor, I wonder why her cause is not fast-tracked. The iconography is easy: her attribute will be a peacock. And while she can share in the work of being patron of writers and the handicapped with other saints, she can herself take on another class of people who need an advocate in heaven: adults who live with their mothers.

Brian Abel Ragen

St. Louis, Mo.

No Watered-Down Saints

Your editorial “The Universal Call” (9/19) smacks of the modern practice of making sure every little kid on the soccer team gets a trophy or of college-level grade inflation. Some achievements are simply hard. It costs a lot to attend medical school or to become an Olympic champion or to excavate dinosaur bones. Some things are simply difficult and expensive, and should probably remain so, in order that they not be watered down to insignificance.

John Drake

Columbus, Calif.

Join the Movement

The report in Signs of the Times, “Cardinal Meets With Reform-Minded Priests” (9/19), reminds me of the song, “The Spirit is a-movin’ all over this land.” Our mother church is witnessing a similar call to reform and renewal in so many countries. In Austria, Australia, Ireland and now in United States as well, we are experiencing a call to deeper dialogue and genuine renewal.

Recently I was part of a group of 27 priests who met at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago to began our nationwide group called the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests. We stress that we are canonical priests wishing to stay within the bounds and disciplines of the church, but we likewise call for a more open spirit of dialogue. We uphold the vision of the Second Vatican Council and prepare for its 50th anniversary in 2012. We hope that more witnesses will come forward, because the Spirit wills genuine renewal, not just institutional stubbornness of “Oh, we will have to build bigger churches.”

(Rev.) Bob Cushing

Coredele, Ga.

Immature Breeding The Immature

Re the Signs of the Times report “Vatican Calls Claims of Irish Interference ‘Unfounded’”(9/19): The Vatican said the report brought to light serious failings in the accusations of sexual abuse but said the local bishop and his vicar general were to blame. Here again Pope Benedict XVI and his bishops refuse to take responsibility for the sexual abuse flourishing worldwide. Do these celibate men in the Vatican have any sense of shame at all?

As a Catholic physician who has met with many abuse victims, I am appalled that the Vatican is not willing to be held accountable for these abuses. There have been at least 19 bishops documented as abusers in the United States, according to bishopaccountability.org. It is sad to be a Catholic today and see our bishops acting as adolescents. Instead of allowing priests to marry, they keep seminarians in a psychosexually immature state. This has produced immature leaders who put protecting their fellow priests above protecting innocent children.

Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D.

Chicago, Ill.

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