OTTAWA - Children yearn to have a close relationship with their biological parents and they thrive when they are raised by their own mom and dad, an American sociologist told a family conference.

Contrary to popular belief, the gender of parents is relevant to a child’s outcomes in life, he said.

“Everything I have to say would have been common sense to my grandma,” Brad Wilcox from the University of Virginia told the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada annual conference.

“Now we have elaborate social science to prove grandma was right.”

Wilcox, a marriage and cohabitation researcher, said children do best when both parents participate in child rearing. He describes that as a counter-cultural and sometimes controversial statement in a society that endorses several different parenting models.

Cultural changes are undermining marriage

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OTTAWA - Cultural changes in recent decades have caused marriage and fertility rates to plummet, according to an American professor.

University of Texas at Austin professor Mark Regnerus told the recent Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) conference that young people are told “there’s no rush,” and that one must “be your own person” before marrying.

As a result, marriage rates have dropped in all age groups, but precipitously in the younger age groups. The percentage of men aged 20-24 who have never married “has just exploded” since 1970 when only 35 per cent of men in that age group had never married. Now almost 89 per cent have not married. The next age group, 25-29, has also jumped from 10.5 per cent never married in 1970 to 62 per cent.

Among men who marry under the age of 24, religion is “most important” to 44.7 per cent  and “very important” to 25.1 per cent, he said. Fidelity and monogamy are also rated highly.

Regnerus noted the ages of 20-29 are years of peak fertility for women.

Property sales are key to settlement

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ANTIGONISH, N.S. - For those looking for property in northern and eastern Nova Scotia, there are deals to be had.

The agent representing the diocese of Antigonish, the Chaisson Group, lists 58 properties at www.churchpropertysales.info, 16 of which have already sold. Most of the properties are lots or acreage.

If the diocese got its asking price for every property it would make $7,775,600. The asking prices for the properties already sold comes to $1,604,000.

Selling the properties is a key part of the overall strategy to raise $18 million by November 2012 in order to satisfy settlement agreements with victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The diocese is asking $264,900 for a waterfront home in Iona on Lake Bras d’Or, two hours drive from Antigonish. But a more typical property is 2.5 acres on Bayfield Beach Road in Antigonish for $125,000.

From bereavement to a new plan

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ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Since arriving as the bishop of Antigonish in November 2009, Bishop Brian Dunn has spent a lot of time listening and he’s learned how important listening is to his job.

“We need to discern the movement of the spirit,” he said. “We need to revitalize the concept of consultation.”

This agonizing, slow process of listening to as many people as he can — hearing their anger, disappointment and grief — isn’t just a practical strategy for building consensus and making sure as many Catholics as possible feel they’re part of the diocese’s future direction. Dunn believes listening is a spirituality that provides insight into what the Church is.

“I’m convinced that consultation and a spirituality of communion is it. I think that’s the only way,” he said.

It’s not the approach everyone expected from the canon lawyer whose administrative past has included stints as a member of the college of consultors and associate judicial vicar of the marriage tribunal in Windsor-Grand Falls, Newfoundland. But 20-months in, nobody in Antigonish can credibly accuse Dunn of narrow, rule-bound legalism.

Yarmouth’s Church suffers with town

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YARMOUTH, N.S. - On Norbert LeBlanc’s street there are three houses for sale. They’ve been for sale long enough for the realtor’s signs to start fading and growing rust. House prices in Yarmouth dropped 11.9 per cent between the first quarter of 2010 and 2011, said the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

Southern Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate was 12.7 per cent in April, down from 15.9 per cent a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

What’s left of the diocese of Yarmouth — a diocese that hasn’t had a bishop since Bishop James Wingle was appointed to St. Catharines in 2001 — now has to raise money to pay for sex abuse settlements past and future by selling real estate.

But it’s not as grim a prospect as you might think, LeBlanc told The Catholic Register.

The Church’s new reality reveals the same old divisions

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ANTIGONISH, N.S. - As Catholics of Antigonish ponder their post-Raymond Lahey life of faith, duelling groups are holding discussions about what a rebuilt Church should look like.

A left-leaning group fired the first salvo last October with a conference featuring academic theologian Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University. A right-wing group will respond later this month with a conference featuring Michael Voris, a conservative apologist and commentator with a dedicated Youtube following.

“We don’t think the Lakeland conference was really a conference that is in conformity with the true teachings of the Catholic Church,” said Wayne Murphy of Port Hood, organizer of the June conference, titled For the Beauty of the Church.

For Murphy, the only good Catholics are right-wing Catholics.

Nobody likes talking about sexual abuse in the Church

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I hate this story.

I don’t hate it because some people fear stories about sexual abuse by priests could tear apart the Church. Journalism can’t destroy the body of Christ.

All men who use sex to dominate the weak, the vulnerable and the innocent are evil. Men who camouflage predatory sex behind the Gospel, who preach mercy, justice and forgiveness by daylight and consume young souls in the dark, they’re worse.

The unfolding of this story ever since Mount Cashel hit the headlines in 1989 is still news. There is still evil to be unmasked. As a journalist in the Church, I should embrace that challenge. Unmasking evil is part of what journalists  do. What could be a greater service to the Church? But I hate it.

When I worked for The Guelph Mercury in 1990, editing the crime page for our weekend edition, I always put the arrest of priests on sex charges at the top of the page with the biggest headline. That was an easy decision. Predatory priests are bigger news than desperate addicts robbing gas bars. Unexpected reversal is what makes a story news.

Extending God’s kingdom for 130 years

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TORONTO - When Gerard and Basil Breen were in the seminary, Cardinal James McGuigan, then the archbishop of Toronto, said to all the seminarians, “What’s this I hear about priests having business hours?”

Priests, he said, were to be available to everyone all the time.

The Breen brothers took the cardinal’s words to heart. At 94 and 84 respectively, Msgr. Gerard and Fr. Basil have been “open to the people” for a combined 130 years. This year, the brothers are celebrating the 70th and 60th anniversaries of their ordination to the priesthood.

The brothers were born in Toronto nine years apart. Together with their middle brother, Bill, they were a living example of the famous words of the iconic Canadian short story, The Hockey Sweater: “We lived in three places — the school, the church and the skating rink.”

Prevention of trafficking begins with education

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TORONTO - Traumatized, guilt-wracked victims of human trafficking don’t often disclose what’s happened to them. Despite the reluctance to talk, Toronto’s Covenant House deals with a constant stream of both international and domestic victims, said social work manager Helen Winters.

“We don’t know how many youth who come in here have been involved in trafficking. We know they come through here with trauma, with addictions,” Winters said of the downtown Toronto agency that aids young street people. “The tip of the iceberg are the ones who actually reveal to us.”

Lately, many of the international victims turning up at its doors have come from Africa. There have always been aboriginal girls off reserves and runaways from small towns. In some ways it’s an old story. Men who hang around shopping malls, hostels and bus stations offering a little kindness and attention to vulnerable, lost young women.

“Often the pimps will act like a boyfriend. They’re special. They (the pimps) will wine and dine them. Then they use and abuse them,” said Winters.

Commodification of human beings

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TORONTO - Though she escaped more than a year ago, it’s still difficult for Irais Martinez to hold back tears when she recalls how she was trafficked into a sweatshop in Brampton, Ont.

It’s hard for the 27-year-old psychology graduate from Mexico to think of herself as a victim.

“I feel like I hurt myself without my permission,” she told The Catholic Register.

She hasn’t explained to her parents what happened to her since she came to Canada.

“It’s not easy to tell them, ‘Oh, I was involved in human trafficking.’ ”

Her case to stay in Canada is before the Immigration and Refugee Board, and she knows she faces extra scrutiny because she is Mexican. The IRB has rejected the vast majority of Mexican cases in recent years. The situation makes Martinez “really, really angry.”

‘Little champion’ a Mother’s Day gift

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TORONTO - Cassandra Davis cradles her four-month-old son, Ayomide, and smiles at her “little champion.”

For Davis, this Mother’s Day will be one of celebrating the gift of motherhood, thanks in part to the Sisters of Life.

Davis is one of the many success stories of the Sisters of Life’s ministry for pregnant women in crisis in Toronto. Doctors had counselled Davis to end her pregnancy early because they feared the baby would be a burden to the 25-year-old, and that he wouldn’t survive long. His troubles began 16 weeks into Davis’ pregnancy when doctors found fluid in more than one part of his body. His stomach was larger than his whole body, his head and arms had water under the skin above the bone and his skull bone had water under the skin wall. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t have long to live after delivery and if he did survive, they said he would have severe health problems.

But with the “motherly love” and support of the Sisters of Life, Davis said she was able to stick to her convictions and go through with the pregnancy, despite the pressures from those around her who said she was “selfish” for wanting to “burden” the world with a sick child.