Food for Contemplation

Please convey my gratitude and appreciation to James Martin, S.J., for editing What Should the Next Pope Do? (4/25). The compilation from various knowledgeable individuals made me realize the importance of the Second Vatican Council. Curial officials doing hard time on an annual basis made me laugh (gee, ya gotta be kiddin’). The Rev. Richard McBrien’s article spoke to me. I sent him a thank you e-mail for voicing what so many of us faithful know. Special thanks go to Thomas J. Reese, S.J., for the guts to go against the grain by giving some thinking Catholics religious-based food for contemplation.

James N. Letendre
Charleston, S.C.


Trickle Down

The principle of subsidiarity is invoked many times in editorials or articles in America in regard to programs or policies to benefit the poor (5/2). But they then go on to advocate programs that expand the role of the state and are in direct conflict with the principle of subsidiarity. Worse, such programs are ineffective or downright counterproductive. Federal money trickles down through layers of federal, state, county or city bureaucracies, and only about 20 percent gets into the hands of the poor. And that is for the better programs.

Bureaucrats, administrators, grant writers, consultants and the onerous feedback reports consume most of the money. This may be a good jobs-growth program, but trickle-down welfare does little to help the poor. We need to get off these centralized federal programs and truly pursue subsidiarity and support those that get funds directly into the hands of frontline organizations. Involving faith-based charities directly or expanded charitable tax deductions could be solutions.

Jim Collins
Farmington Hills, Mich.

Humbling Power

A recent issue of America disturbed me very much (4/25). That you would publish an editorial telling the new pope how he should conduct the church founded on St. Peter by Jesus Christ himself and entertain further statements by some of the church’s leading dissenters makes me wonder how committed the editorial staff is to the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

I have been reading America for more than 50 years. This recent issue won’t cause me to stop, but I surely hope that you show our new Holy Father the respect he deserves as the choice of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who gifted all priests, Jesuits included, with the awesome and humbling power of holy orders. And I believe you men still take a fourth vow of obedience to the pope. Try to keep that in mind in future issues of America.

(Msgr.) James E. Mortimer
Philadelphia, Pa.

Numbers Matter

In his article The Disturbing Trends Behind Parish Closings (5/2), Joseph Claude Harris states: Dioceses in the Sun Belt region had 71 more diocesan priests available to work as resident pastors between 1998 and 2003. The modest increase in available priests is probably due to migrants who have come to the United States....

In the period 1998-2002, the Archdiocese of Atlanta ordained 43 men to the priesthood. Could it be that our diocese represented over half of the increase in diocesan priests? There were also priests who came in from other areas, but they are in addition to those 43.

Harris also says he calculates the number of new parishes that should have opened thus: an average parish has about 2,500 members. For a rural area or certain parts of older urban areas in Georgia, that might be true. In suburban areas and other parts of older urban areas in Georgia, that is low by more than half. The cathedral has over 10,000 members.

Starting a new parish is a challenge in terms of obtaining land for and building a physical plant. On the north side of Atlanta, usually a parish has over 5,000 members before a neighboring parish is started.

A story of one of those migrant priests may indicate part of the problem. My parish of about 4,000 registered members (2,000 families around the year 2000) is located on the northwest edge of the Atlanta city core. It is served by two or three priests of the Missionaries of LaSalette. Early in this century, a Spanish Mass was started at our parish. After it was established, a priest from Mexico who was visiting family here was recruited to lead the Spanish-speaking community. In three years the community grew by over 4,000 additional registered members (2,000 additional families).

The area is mostly already developed, and the cost of land and a new physical plant would exceed the resources available. So we have become a vibrant two-lunged (to use John Paul II’s metaphor) community that is splitting the seams of its garments.

I think the averages the author is using are hiding significant detail variants across the Sun Belt. While there is no way to deny the shortage of priests, I think it will take a more detailed analysis of the available data at a lower level to draw conclusions about the nature of the problem.

Richard Kuebbing
Kennesaw, Ga.

Not a Ding

In The Disturbing Trends Behind Parish Closings by Joseph Claude Harris (5/2), you highlight the quote, What counts is not demography, but the number of priests. When are you going to learn that all the analytical studies in the world based on statistics are not going to make a ding on the surface of the church? Doesn’t anyone know that this institution is irretrievably entrenched in its divinely inspired theology of the remnant? The number of priests is not important to the church. The Holy Spirit is in charge, remember? I cringe every time I see America fall for articles that claim to have the answer to the crisis of numbers.

Doesn’t anyone want to study the negative impact of our functional fixity on the square-footage concept of parish? Doesn’t anyone want to admit that as a solution to the small, intimate community concept of church, the parish has already failed? Doesn’t anyone want to admit that the consolidation of assets is a good business move? Doesn’t anyone want to admit that the parish is often the only way that a low-productivity, low dynamism C+ human being gets a promotion?

Finally, has Joseph Claude Harris read some of the 6- to 10-page job descriptions bishops use to recruit pastoral coordinators? These descriptions have only one purpose: to keep the number of these people as small as possible, because it is embarrassing that the priests presently in charge of the parishes cannot qualify for these jobs per the official description. Not only that, but bishops go around appointing priests to the job of administrative pastoral coordinator, even though the priests don’t have 45 minutes of exposure to Business 101, let alone a 45-hour semester.

Get your mind off the number-of-priests mantra; it’s not going to get you anywhere. There are other answers out there! All it takes is enough creativity fueled by industrial-strength doses of holy courage quaffed courageously at the feet of Jesus, who came to bring the sword. Read how many times you repeated that the bishops have to persuade or ask priests to do double duty. All I can ask is, What is double-duty for a 24-hour vocation? I think that we should not be counting the numbers of priests, and the priests should not be counting the numbers of hours in a week.

Paul Dion
Moreno Valley, Calif.

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13 years 5 months ago
In response to the letter from Msgr. Mortimer in regards to the suggestions to the pope (Humbling Power). If I am not mistaken, even St. Peter himself had to be corrected on the dogma of circumcision for new Christians. Would you consider St. Paul to be a "leading dissenter"? Perhaps we would do well to listen to the voices of dissention in the church. We had that grace from the beginning. Besides, we had a great teacher who had this voice of dissent, Christ Jesus.

Timothy G. Good Permanent Deacon

11 years 8 months ago
Your May 23 issue carries a letter by Msgr. James E. Mortimer that brings many reactions to mind. He was commenting on your article with advice to the new pope, who had not yet been elected (4/25). He asks for humility and silence from all in view of the fact that the new pope is chosen with the help of the Holy Spirit.

First of all, our fealty is to Jesus Christ before anyone else. What if Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, inspires someone to speak about issues and ideas that might help the church? This happened in the case of St. Catherine of Siena with good effect.

Next, the virtue of respect is a great one, to be sure; but it is not the only virtue. There are others: wisdom, courage, faith, loyalty, insight, to name a few. These can also be exercised, and should be when occasion demands.

Next, the church has a great wealth of genius that needs to be encouraged. The church needs a pontiff who respects this genius and finds ways to make it serve for the benefit of all. This can be done only if the papacy is, first of all, open to the thoughts of others. The article in question seemed to have hope that this openness would be there in the new pope.

Next, there seems to be a tendency among Catholics to confuse disagreement with disobedience. We pray for honest disagreement because that is the way to progress. Naturally, we fear the kind of disagreement that breaks out into disobedience. The history of the church contains many painful examples. But a healthy disagreement, as in the case of St. Paul with St. Peter or the case of St. Thomas Aquinas with theological positions current in his time, has made the church richer and wiser.

Lastly, humility is a virtue of tremendous proportions, no doubt about it. But it has counterfeits, which make us confuse silence and inaction as always in harmony with the greater glory of God.

13 years 5 months ago
In response to the letter from Msgr. Mortimer in regards to the suggestions to the pope (Humbling Power). If I am not mistaken, even St. Peter himself had to be corrected on the dogma of circumcision for new Christians. Would you consider St. Paul to be a "leading dissenter"? Perhaps we would do well to listen to the voices of dissention in the church. We had that grace from the beginning. Besides, we had a great teacher who had this voice of dissent, Christ Jesus.

Timothy G. Good Permanent Deacon


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