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. BCM welcomes letters from readers. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and must be signed to be published. Our fax number is (617) 552-2441; our e-mail address is birnbaum@bc.edu.



Regarding James M. O'Toole's article "Hear no evil" (Fall 2000): I believe the sacrament of confession is lost on my (post-Vatican II) generation due to the weak catechesis we received in the 1970s and '80s. The average young American Catholic doesn't even understand the concept of a sacrament, much less the necessity of repenting from mortal sin.

At 28, I decided to study Catholicism myself, and I was blown away by what I had never been taught. I returned to confession after a 15-year absence, and the graces are indescribable.

Apostolates like Catholic Answers www.catholic.com have been instrumental in helping poorly instructed Catholics discover what we never learned in CCD.

Phoenix, Arizona


Since I'm not Catholic, I wasn't all that familiar with the history of Catholicism, nor was I aware that confession was disappearing. O'Toole did a fine job of conveying the story in a lively and interesting way.

Norwich, Vermont


Being one of the two sacraments that can be received often, confession, like the Church, will always be with us.

People go to psychologists looking for justification. In confession we lay down our defenses and humbly say, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner," and we are forgiven, by the only One who has that power, the One we have offended. How wonderful to be rid of our guilt by acknowledging it. What peace! It is ours for the asking.

Willowdale, Ontario


Anyone who neglects any opportunity to share in the sublime and ineffable joy of a deepening and more perfect union of the soul with God is a fool.

Farmington, Connecticut


O'Toole seems to emphasize the predominant role of the laity in the closing of the penance box. However, he fails to mention the silence of the clergy on matters dealing with sin in the first place.

When was the last time we heard from the pulpit the words sin, devil, Satan, Hell, eternal punishment?

The American Catholic Church is adrift in a sea of confusion where the captain is no longer the Church hierarchy but the laity. This leads to a reticence on the part of the clergy to use controversial words in public. Now that the magisterium of the Church has been all but eliminated among Catholic theologians, my guess is that the watering down will get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.

Andover, Massachusetts


As a Catholic priest/liturgist for more than 40 years, I appreciate O'Toole's statistical analysis of the decline (death) of confession in recent years. I'd like to add a sacramental view that needs much more publicity than either Rome or most priests provide.

As is true of all our formal sacraments, the rite of Reconciliation is supposed to be primarily a celebration of God's merciful, unconditional love in our lives, in this case, through reconciliation -- not the cause of reconciliation.

Having talked about the sacrament with hundreds of laity, I'm convinced they understand this. Unfortunately, most clergy, including Roman hierarchy, haven't broken out of a very dysfunctional causal mentality.

O'Toole offers several reasons for the decline in the use of the sacrament. I think the greatest reason is that both priests and laity have an inner sense that the purpose of the rite, as explained in past years—to "get" your sins forgiven -- just doesn't make sense.

Lakewood, Colorado


Once Saturday evening Masses became the norm, little or no emphasis was put on setting aside convenient, frequent, and sufficient times for the faithful to go to confession. Hearing confessions, I am sure, is boring and tedious -- but what an honor and a privilege to take the place of Christ in people's lives!

When parishioners noticed priests becoming lax regarding homilies stressing the necessity of being free from serious sin before receiving our Lord in Holy Communion, they were only too happy to omit the sacrament of Penance from their lives. I am praying this will change.

Rockville, Maryland


I was most interested in the article by my BC classmate and fellow historian, James M. O'Toole. But I think Jim overlooked one important aspect of confession, with a small c.

During the liturgy of the Mass, immediately before communion, we say "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." This, to me—and I think to many Catholics -- implies that we can receive God's forgiveness for sins during the Mass itself. If so, then why go to confession unless one has committed some really serious (mortal) sins and has a very serious need to discuss these sins with a priest?

The idea that confession as a sacrament is meant only for mortal sins was reinforced for me this past summer when my 80-year-old aunt told a story from her childhood:

One Saturday afternoon, when the whole family was going to confession, as families did in those days, my aunts and uncles were going into the confessional booth one after the other.

Being among the youngest, my aunt was one of the last of the 11 Herlehy sisters and brothers to go to confession, and by the time she got to the old Irish priest, Father Ryan, he was apparently tired.

When my aunt started her confession, the priest said, "Wait, wait, my dear. You wouldn't be one of the Herlehys, would you now?" She said, "Yes, Father." And then he bellowed at her in a loud voice, "Well, go on, away with you! I've had enough of you Herlehys and your sins today. And don't you come back here till you've murdered someone."

Bethesda, Maryland


James M. O'Toole replies: That some still find the traditional practice of confession meaningful is reassuring. That most Catholics do not, however, emphasizes the need for different forms. Meanwhile, let's not pretend that all would be fine if only the clergy hadn't gone soft. Let the good-faith conversation continue.



Around this time 23 years ago, I sat in a makeshift rehearsal room, desks pushed out of the way and masking tape marking out the bare outlines of a stage on the floor. I was terrified, a geeky freshman who'd auditioned for the Dramatics Society's production of "As You Like It" on a dare, never dreaming I'd be cast as a secondary lead. But then Joseph M. Larkin, SJ [Deaths, Summer 2000], made his entrance. And as he walked through the play, mugging through the comic bits, dancing around to illustrate the verbal sparring between Rosalind and Orlando, I, like every other member of the company, began to feel part of something special.

We were. All 20 fledgling Shakespearean actors had instantly joined the thousands of others who'd been adopted as Fr. Larkin's kids.

When Larkin landed at Boston College as an assistant professor in the late '50s, there was no theater department and no theater in which to perform. Through sheer tenacity, combined with his disarming comic skills, he convinced the University to establish a Department of Speech Communications and Theater (now the Communication Department), talked the administration into renting a theater in downtown Boston for student productions, commandeered Campion Auditorium for Dramatics Society productions (he even took on the role of Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" in the '60s), and lobbied continuously for the Robsham Theater Arts Center, which was completed just before his retirement.

Larkin was like a doting parent, who followed his "kids'" progress after graduation. It never mattered to him if your stage was in a law firm or a classroom or a kitchen. What was important was committing yourself so completely that you earned a bow at the curtain. Larkin has earned a standing ovation.

Woburn, Massachusetts

Editor's note: Terry Byrne is the theater critic for the Boston Herald.



I would really appreciate some coverage of BC athletics in every issue. Football and men's basketball are my main interests, but I could easily read about other teams, as long as it was in addition to those two.

Lilburn, Georgia

Editor's note: See Fast times for a story on BC's top-ranked fall team. Detailed coverage of all BC sports teams is available at www.bceagles.com.



I read with interest about Frank B. Campanella ("Transitions," Fall 2000). He is not an ex-marine. Once a marine, always a marine. Semper fi, Mac.

Nashua, New Hampshire



Re "Notorious," by Katherine A. Powers (Fall 2000): Society is not perfect. Neither is Boston College. Printing the Capano story shows that BC understands that there is life outside the world of capital campaigns. Capano included, the fall issue featured a wildly eclectic mixture of good reading.

Rye, New York

Editor's note: Due to an editing error, Thomas Capano's graduation dates were misstated. Capano earned his B.A. in 1971 and his J.D. in 1974.

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