Confession, monasticism, welfare, prisons

THE TIME HAS COME

Raymond C. Mann points out that the long lines for confession are gone and no other form of reconciliation has come about (“The Empty Box,” February 29). Although confession has often been considered essential by those interpreting reconciliation as a judicial process, church practice testifies that confession is not essential. The deaf and mute can receive the sacrament by an indication of contrition and the absolution of the priest. They are not obliged to write their sins. Also, soldiers in war receive the sacrament and forgiveness by general absolution. Even if they later transgress by neglecting the church law to confess these sins when there is an opportunity, the sins are already forgiven. The sacrament is not revoked.

In short, it seems the time has come for a change in how the church thinks about administering the sacrament. There is no theological obstacle for optional individual confession and general absolution as the norm. People still hunger for mercy even if they are not in line, and occasional attempts at general absolution have had a tremendous response.

(REV.) CONNELL J. MAGUIRE
Riviera Beach, Fla.

 

NOT DEAD YET

Despite Joel Rippinger’s concern (“Bare Ruined Choirs,” February 29), not all Benedictine monasteries are experiencing the difficulties he describes. Over the past several decades, a period that Rippinger characterizes as one of general decline for North American and European monasticism, the monastery of Notre Dame de Fontgombault has started several new communities. The most recent of these, Our Lady of the Annunciation at Clear Creek in Hulbert, Oklahoma, is flourishing.

When the prior of Clear Creek, Dom Philip Anderson, visited the University of Notre Dame in April 2007 to deliver a keynote lecture on Deus caritas est, some students initially wondered whether a monk could have anything relevant to say to them. As those who attended his lecture can attest, the wisdom and insight gained through the contemplative life can be of great assistance to men and women in all walks of life. But it is not only laypeople who are attracted to this community of Benedictines: Clear Creek’s careful observance of the Rule of St. Benedict is attracting many young men who desire a life of contemplative prayer and manual labor. One of the community’s biggest challenges is constructing a new monastery quickly enough to accommodate their rapidly growing numbers. The dirge for monasticism is premature; perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of its restoration.

PHILIP CARL SMITH
Notre Dame, Ind.

 

FALLING ON DEAF EARS

Thomas Massaro’s “Unfinished Business” (February 29) reiterates how welfare is the program politicians love to hate. There are many informal studies of a great variety of welfare-to-work and welfare-assistance programs. Both local officials and state welfare directors’ organizations have collected statistics, model programs, creative approaches, and incentive systems that have worked quite well. All Congress needs to do is ask them to share their wisdom and experience.

In the “glory days” of welfare reform—from 1998 to 2000—the federal government had many nonprofit partners under contract to provide services to address the many difficulties faced by the poor: illiteracy, lack of housing, substance abuse, lack of connectedness, isolation in remote areas, lack of transportation, inadequate job skills, poor education, GED needs, the need for mentoring from a faith community, insufficient job coaching, and, especially, lack of child care. All these programs ceased or were curtailed when the federal government denied states the flexibility to use incentive funding when welfare rolls began to shrink. Those savings were previously allowed to be “reinvested” in the remaining caseload. At present, most welfare agencies are no longer doing any social work. All they do is eligibility screening, and they seem to be more focused on denying benefits than really helping anyone. Add to that the cuts to welfare allotments and Medicaid coverage, and the plight of the poor is alarmingly increased. The Lord hears the cry of the poor. But politicians seem to be deaf.

(DEACON) MIKE EVANS
Anderson, Calif.

 

THE CRUELER OF TWO EVILS

Cathleen Kaveny asks important questions in her column about capital punishment, “Justice or Vengeance” (February 15). But can’t her points—particularly about “cruel and unusual punishment”—be applied to life imprisonment without parole, as well as to the death penalty?

Surely executions are terrible events with dehumanizing effects on all involved. But many of America’s prisons are little more than “human zoos” full of violence, sexual exploitation, and drug abuse, which also have serious effects on guards and other personnel. Is the vengeance and daily cruelty of guards and fellow prisoners more humane than that of a society that carries out executions? As one “lifer” put it, “We too face execution, but prolonged over thirty or forty years.”

What is the obligation of society to provide even minimally secure living conditions for convicted murderers? There are some 7,500 prisoners currently on death row, but nearly 130,000 are serving life sentences. What is an affordable quality of prison life that avoids cruel and unusual punishment? My point is that “life without parole” sounds easier than it is.

(REV.) JOHN KOELSCH
Jerome, Idaho

 

REMEMBERING ZAHN

In the late 1960s, I was a graduate student in sociology at Loyola University Chicago, where Dr. Gordon C. Zahn (Michael W. Hovey, “A Man of Peace,” February 15) taught the course Sociology of Conflict. Zahn was not a dynamic presenter, but he was forceful in challenging students to see how conflict was destroying the moral fiber of the country and the church. Zahn loved the church and pushed for it to be on the right side of justice, peace, and reconciliation. May he rest in peace.

ROBERT M. KEARNS, SSJ
Prichard, Ala.

Published in the 2008-03-28 issue: 
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