I Need Your Help, by George B. Wilson, S. J., (12/17), presents the imagined situation of a bishop asking for advice on how to cope with the pastoral problems of his diocese in the face of the declining number of priests. While he considers a half-dozen strategies, not one of them proposes general absolution. Even though writers have suggested various ways to deal with the infrequency of confession, nothing has really changed since 20 years or so ago, when one American pastor declared: The sacrament of penance in the form of private confession is dead. This is even more true since 2002 and its devastating revelations for the Catholic Church in the United States, in the wake of which the situation relating to confession has gone from bad to worse.
It appears that the time has come for the bishops to institute general absolution at the start of every Mass without demanding later recourse to individual confession. In this way, we could significantly compensate for the shortage of priests while at the same time enriching the spiritual lives of the faithful.
Vincent A. Lapomarda, S.J.
Worcester, Mass.Willing and Able
In I Need Your Help (12/17), the fictional Bishop Pascal asks for advice in how to address the declining priest population. His traditional solutions include: pray, rethink celibacy, ordain women, close parishes, import priests, change the day of obligation and offer fewer Masses. While many of these ideas beg for further discussion and investigation, none will result in any immediate change.
But there is one out-of-the-box option: What about the over 17,000 ordained ministers already serving in the Roman Catholic Church? What about these fully formed, properly instituted, sacramentally prepared men who are already serving in parishes all over the country? What about tapping into the diaconate community for help?
Deacons who serve the church answer to a sacramental calling when we witness marriages, baptize babies, comfort the sick, distribute Communion, visit the imprisoned and preach the word. With between 500 and 1,000 newly ordained deacons per year, ministering to the needs of their brothers and sisters in the pews, our ranks will outnumber those of priests in just a few years.
(Deacon) Jim Nazzal
Phoenix, Ariz.A Question of Justice
American Catholics and the New Gilded Age, by Daniel J. Morrissey, (1/7) offers an account of C.E.O.s plundering and amassing huge fortunes but falls short of describing the great suffering of millions of American families as a result of the corporate-political alliance. This partnership of top corporate managers and our top political leaders is destroying the country as fast as it is generating mind-boggling wealth for some. One of the scariest scenarios coming out of all this begins with the question: What is the worldview of the children who see their fathers and mothers crushed by a company, to have to imagine at night before they go to sleep how anyone could treat their parents this way? And what must the casualties of the corporate-political alliance who are Catholic think about their church and its silence in the face of great wrongdoing?
Fair Lawn, N.J.Fellow Americans
Daniel J. Morrisseys article, American Catholics in the New Gilded Age, (1/7) raises a conceptual problem. What is this thing called the American Catholic? Assuming it speaks English, what kind of English? What color is its skin, its hair?
The problem lies, I suspect, in that the author really means more a culture (or more precisely a subculture) than either a religion or a nationality. These two words are supposed to carry meanings that are inclusive and universal. To tack these two specific words together and then use the resulting phrase as the label for one category in an essentially anthropological description of contemporary American ethnicities strikes me as just as likely to warp perceptions and distort discussion as it is to enlighten public discourse and catalyze collective action.
San Juan, P.R.A Fathers Wisdom
Thanks to John Hardt for sharing his fathers wisdom with us in Church Teaching and My Fathers Choice (1/21), about the use of artificially supplied nutrition and hydration for those diagnosed in a vegetative state.
What I hear in Mr. Hardts words, as reported so respectfully by his bioethicist son, is that if he were to end up in a vegetative state, there would not be sufficient benefit to be kept alive through artificial nutrition and hydration.
It would be good for us to listen well to Mr. Hardts Catholic wisdom. The teaching from the Vatican on this issue stresses the fact that our physical lives are important. As Catholic tradition has long held, we are to use reasonable measuresordinary meansto preserve health and life. But Hardt is asking us not to gloss over the part of Catholic tradition that affirms that ordinary is a judgment call, made by the patient or those who speak on his or her behalf, about the proportion of the hoped-for benefits and likely burdens of medical treatment.
Russell B. Connors Jr.
St. Paul, Minn.Faithful and Sensible
John Hardts fine article, Church Teaching and My Fathers Choice, (1/21) deserves wide circulation for its grounding in a real conversation and for presenting a faithful and sensible approach to the topic of artificial nutrition and hydration. It is tragic that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its laudable desire to prevent the devaluing of human life, has made this valuable discussion between parents and children into a theological dilemma. We should recognize that we can preserve Christian respect for the body and soul while keeping a common-sense approach to end-of-life issues long supported by the best of Catholic theology.
David E. Pasinski
Fayetteville, N.Y.Out of Our Hands
Regarding Church Teaching and My Fathers Choice (1/21): What bothers me about the whole idea of advance directives is that we really have no idea what we are going to want if we find ourselves in circumstances where we are helpless to express our wishes. We do not know enough about persistent vegetative states or similar conditions to know what is going on in the mind, heart or spirit of the afflicted person. We hear story after story of someone who was in a coma but aware of things going on externally. Plus, making an end-of-life decision like this presupposes that miracles never happen.
If we truly believe in a loving, merciful, all-powerful God, would we not also believe that our life is totally in his hands, even on the matter of when we die? The whole idea that we might decide such things ahead of time, or that we might think that artificial feedings would keep us from heaven when it is our time to go, puts too much control of our lives back in our own hands.
It is so easy for people to say, I know I would never want to be kept alive like that. But we truly do not know what we would want in such a situation. Why not leave the decision up to God?
Union Bridge, Md.Awaiting Springtime
During these winter days, how timely is Margaret Silfs reflection Sacred Space for Transformation (1/7), beckoning all believers to consider how our calling is to be fixed and rooted in the cold soil. Her sentiments are reminiscent of the line in Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend, especially the hopeful, passionate last line, Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain.
(Rev.) Robert Uzzilio