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Our readersNovember 11, 2000

Maine Modesty

I read with interest Of Many Things (10/21), which mentions my native city and tells the story of a golden boy by the name of Ian Crocker. I recently heard another amazing story about this ordinary Olympian. It seems he was working before he left for Australia this summer and mentioned to one of his co-workers that he was leaving for vacation time before school started in the fall. Are you going to do anything special? he was asked. Maybe a little swimming, was the typical Maine laconic response.

Barbara Smith

Portland, Me.

Culture of Life

Regarding the editorial RU-486 (10/14), we would for the most part say, well done. You identified precisely the dangers that F.D.A. approval of the abortion pill herald, particularly the further removal of the termination of a life to the anonymity of thousands of doctors’ offices. It is indeed a discouraging and depressing signal, if any were needed, of our nation’s willful abandonment of an ethic of life.

We must, however, take issue with your recommendation that the bishops make clear that their opposition to the RU-486 pill and abortion is quite different from their opposition to birth control pills and other contraceptive measures. The opposition of the church to both abortion and contraception is, as far as we can tell, identical, for both are life issues. We must be careful not to fool ourselves by saying that contraception is the lesser of two evils and ought to be accepted as a means of preventing abortion. Artificial contraception is a fundamental denial of the life-producing aspect of our sexuality. We cannot lose sight of this and still credibly speak out against abortion. They are cut from the same cloth.

It is certainly tempting when faced with the horrific specter of partial birth abortion and the sinister silence of RU-486 to look upon the contraceptive pill as relatively benign. To make peace with artificial contraception is no solution, but only a poor bargain and a retreat from the culture of life to which we are compelled.

Adam and Jody Rewa

Ionia, Mich.


While I generally agree with your editorial on RU 486 (10/14), there are some additional points which I think need to be addressed.

It is important not to ignore the scientific facts regarding use of Mifepristone, also known as RU 486. The common belief (espoused by the American media) is that Mifepristone will terminate a pregnancy in a one pill, one day procedure. Mifepristone causes a detachment from the uterine wall, not expulsion (removal). A second required medication called Misoprostol is taken within 24 hours after Mifepristone to prevent stomach ulcers. The side effects from consumption of Misoprostol include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. If the woman has negative type blood, another drug, Rhogam, is injected to prevent antibodies from harming future pregnancies. These facts must be made clear to the American public. The physical, emotional and psychological effects of an abortion will take years to heal. All of us need to be aware of that.

Anthony Mirante

Philadelphia, Pa.

Unique Gift

With the wisdom of an expert at Vatican II, the acuity of a civil and canon lawyer and the breadth of a theologian, Ladislas Orsy, S.J., (10/21) grasps the church’s past in light of the present, and he articulates a vision for her future in terms of both. He gives the reader a panoramic, as well as a detailed, view of the church’s protestation that all may be one. Father Orsy writes with moral authority, clarity, balance, depth and, most of all, devotion to the papacy for an ecumenical age. A renaissance man, he is a unique gift to and for the church.

Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Scranton, Pa.


Ladislas Orsy, S.J., (10/21) focused for me the trend in the U.S. church that is being driven by papal - I do not know what to call it - blindness, intransigence, narrowness. The church is blessed to be a sacramental church. But Father Orsy quotes Cardinal Godfrey Danneels: We’ll become a Protestant church without sacraments. And what will cause that? Danneels: Without priests the sacramental nature of the church will disappear. We are seeing that in the United States today, as parishes lacking a priest periodically are not able to celebrate Eucharist.

Several years ago, during a papal visit to the United States, the papal spokesman (an American bishop) admitted to Cokie Roberts on national television that the ban on married priests was a church rule, not a doctrine, and could be changed immediately.

The only comparison that I can think of to the attitude the pope and the Curia have toward the United States is Feodor Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. However, I can think of no immediate parallel to the U.S. bishops (with a few exceptions)except perhaps the image of Nero fiddling while ancient Rome burns.

John F. Ahearne

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Greater Reality

As one who over the past 10 years has directed our local adult initiation program, through which over 90 catechumens and candidates have passed, I take exception to categorizing R.C.I.A. people into baptized and non-baptized. Although this is an important theological distinction, especially for the rites, it does not apply in real-life R.C.I.A. sessions. Besides the variations Bishop Wilton Gregory pointed out (10/21), it is not unusual to have a church-going unbaptized person side by side with a baptized Catholic who has absolutely no knowledge of religion. The unifying base is psychological; all are one in their intense desire to join the Catholic community.

No one has ever been or ever could be insulted by our Scripture based approach. It only complements and extends whatever some might have in their background. And as far as their traditions are concerned, strong or weak, we build on what is there.

In my opinion, the powers that be will be making a big mistake to look narrowly through a theological prism; they will miss the greater reality.

James P. Brady

Guilford, Conn.

Amazing Growth

I think that Bishop Wilton Gregory jumped to a conclusion not supported by data when he referred to the five-year average of 166,000 adult baptisms and receptions into full communion as an amazing number coinciding with the reinstitution of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (10/21). In fact, the impact of adult entrants on Catholic Church membership has always been quite modest, and only slightly less so in recent years. In 1990 infant baptisms accounted for 88.7 percent of all new members; the infant baptism effect declined to 86.3 percent of all growth by 1998.

In addition, Bishop Gregory stated that the American Catholic Church has found a potent vehicle for evangelization and, since the rite’s reinstitution, has drawn more new members than any other religious group in the nation. Since membership in the American Catholic church dwarfs all other denominations, raw numbers of new Catholics will normally exceed population increases in other churches. I suggest we look at a measure called a growth ratenew members per 1,000 present membershipto evaluate properly changes in totals of Catholics.

The growth rate of the American Catholic Church has been modestly receding in recent years. The 1990 net growth rate of 12.03 new members declined to a growth rate of 11.3 new members for 1998. A shrinking Catholic birth rate accounted for the entire drop in growth. A modest decline in the Catholic death rate from 8.34 to 7.83 partially offset the negative impact of fewer births. Dramatically fewer Catholic deaths show up in areas like the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where the Catholic death rate is a truly startling 4.3. Either it is very safe to live in L.A. or there is something quite different about the population mix. The latter conclusion is more reasonable. The very young Hispanic population has had a dramatic impact on population patterns in some areas of the American Catholic church.

Without negating in any way the positive effects of the R.C.I.A., it does seem premature to pronounce that a revolution has happened. The Rite of Infant Baptism has persistently contributed enormous membership growth to the American Catholic Church. This fact has not changed in recent years.

Joseph Claude Harris

Seattle, Wash.

Underestimated Evil

I am moved by Cat Fights (10/21), Valerie Schultz’s account of the bullying of her seventh grade daughter. The mother’s intuition that something was terribly wrong and had to be corrected is accurate. In pursuing it, she encountered several spins on the conventional wisdom that bullying is a passing phase of adolescence. I missed only one usual suspect: Fight back.

Fighting back bullies on one’s own is often futile. Nor is bullying always transient: some recidivists nurture a lifelong talent. This story yields an important counterpoint: intervention works. But Ms. Schultz had to press to get it, and everyone seems dissatisfied only because those bullies would find new prey. That’s not good enough! I believe bullying is an underestimated evil. It can create vulnerabilities that plague those who have been taken advantage of for the rest of their lives. Intervention needs deterrence. Correction should be embedded in a plan of prevention, prohibition, intervention, rehabilitation and, for incorrigible bullies, probation. Universities’ proscription of hazing in athletics is a model that principals in middle and high schools could study and adapt.

Ms. Schultz sought justice, not vengeance, and rightfully so. Christian living does not require the sufferance of bullying.

James E. Reagan

Enfield, N.H.

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