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An Archbishop Responds

I write to express my strong disagreement with the article “Confirmation Bias,” by Michael A. Marchal (4/27). I believe that the best time for confirmation in our time and in our country is in the high school years. I understand that some want the traditional sequence of the sacraments to be baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. However, I believe pastorally that it is insensitive to teenagers when they are deprived of the important sacrament of confirmation in a time in their life when they really need a boost in their Catholic faith formation.

I tried the approach presented in the article when I was bishop of Lubbock, Tex., in the late 1980s. The rector of the cathedral wanted to have the confirmation at the same time as the children were making their first holy Communion. He promised me that he had trained the children very well to understand both sacraments. But when I celebrated Mass and was talking to the children about holy Communion and confirmation, they didn’t seem very interested. In fact, they were more interested in the roach that was racing down the center aisle of the cathedral than in the sacraments of our church! I decided then that I would never be in favor of putting confirmation and holy Communion in the same liturgy for young children.


Mr. Marchal says that we need to create an alternative, nonsacramental rite for personal reaffirmation of baptismal vows later in life. Well, good luck with that! I confirm over 3,000 teenagers every year during the weeks between Easter and Pentecost. I doubt that this new nonsacramental rite that is referred to would draw more than a few teenagers. I believe that it is important for high school students to have an opportunity to recommit themselves to their faith. They go through a one- or two-year program of formation, depending on the parish. They go through a retreat with confession. They write the archbishop a letter asking to be confirmed and why. They attend the confirmation practice. They personally meet the archbishop or his delegate just before the confirmation.

These are experiences that they would be deprived of if they were receiving confirmation as children when they were making their first Communion. It is difficult enough for the children to understand the basic teachings about holy Communion, but to toss in confirmation and the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit is asking too much of 7-year-old children! If the children have already been confirmed at age 7, you certainly aren’t going to have a large number of them coming back for religious studies when they have already received those sacraments.

The point is made that some teenagers will choose to not be confirmed. Certainly that is their choice. In the Archdiocese of Santa Fe we always offer two adult confirmations in the fall for those who missed it for any reason earlier in their lives. We get about 300 adults between the two confirmations.

I believe it is pastorally important in our age, when there are so many distractions in a very secular world, to have a significant sacramental event for Catholics as they are becoming young adults. I certainly hope that the majority of our dioceses will continue to celebrate confirmation when the young people can appreciate what it is all about—in their high school years!

(Most Rev.) Michael J. Sheehan
Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M.

People, Not Process

The fact that Robert Ellsberg worked alongside Dorothy Day for a couple of years, experiencing her humanity and her brokenness, gives his piece, “Called to Be Saints” (5/4), an authentic prospective. It was a delight to read about this hero of mine who had to fend off attacks from the right and the left while she sought justice for those to whom she administered charity. Nonetheless, Dorothy Day is already a saint for a lot of us, and John XXIII has been one for about a half century.

I would add some others who are Lutheran and Jewish, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Simone Weil. There are many more in all of our lives whose good deeds and transgressions have sunk into oblivion and who are remembered only in the memory of people in the small circle of their lives. Bottom line, Dorothy Day does not need a burnish from the Curia, and the whole process of canonization should be put in the storage locker where we keep Limbo.

Ernest C. Raskauskas Sr.
Potomac, Md.

RFRA Reactions

“Bridging Our Divisions” (Editorial, 4/27) is a very good statement. It stands in contrast to the earlier blog post, “Indiana Gets Unwanted Attention From its Kick to the Shins of Gay Marriage,” by Robert David Sullivan (4/3), which on my reading comes very close to questioning the good faith of many supporters of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. For example, he uses scare quotes around the words religious freedom. It would be nice to have seen a greater diversity of views on this issue, in keeping with America’s editorial position.

Joshua DeCuir
Online Comment

Preserving Hope

Thank you for Gerard O’Connell’s column “The Quality of Mercy” (4/13), with his quotes of Pope Francis calling for the abolition of the death penalty and life imprisonment, “the hidden death penalty.” Inspired by several articles by the “lifer” Jens Søring in America (2004-5), I have argued for years that we can no longer see life imprisonment as more humane than execution—“We’re still killed, just over a longer time.” Limited sentences (like 30 years, as in Mexico and elsewhere) preserve hope, which we are now seeing as basic to the human dignity so stressed in all of Pope Francis’ messages.

(Rev.) John W. Koelsch
Jerome, Idaho

Going Further

Re “A Space for Women” (Editorial, 3/30): I think the editors can do better than this to open the discussion of the future of women in the church. I would suggest a few topics.

1) Ministry and the sacrament of ordination. John O’Malley, S.J., has argued that each new form of religious life brought with it new forms of ministry and that ordained religious today function quite differently than the vision of the diocesan priesthood. Since St. Ignatius and St. Francis of Assisi developed their charisms before ordination, there seems to be a powerful historical argument for grounding ministry in baptism rather than in ordination.

2) An apology by the bishops for their history of mistreatment of women religious. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., had the courage to say the recent investigation of women religious was a “disaster.” It would be great if a bishop would have the boldness to issue such a call in these pages.

3) Lay preaching by both men and women. Francis has sparked great interest with his daily homilies and set a high standard. From my three decades of participating in small faith-sharing groups, I know almost everyone has a story to tell or an insight that is much better than the average weekend homily.

Jack Rakosky
Online Comment

Status Update

Readers respond to “In Defense of Altar Girls,” by Kerry Weber (5/4).

Wonderful article! Being an altar server has been one of the most formative experiences of my life. Through it my love for Christ and for the Eucharist grew to the point that I have now given my life totally to Christ and to the service of our church as a Carmelite nun. In my opinion, the most important quality an altar server must possess is that he or she must feel called to serve in that way. In this Year of Consecrated Life, we need to wake up the world to the many ways we can all serve at the table of our Lord.
Celia Ashton
Being an altar girl in the 1970s and early ’80s had a huge effect on me. I was a little girl with divorced parents and was not only allowed but often asked to serve. It was a very important message to me and to the church at the time.
Emily Barr
Is this still really an issue within the church? I wrote a letter to our parish priest when I was 12 in 1982 asking to be an altar girl and then to the archbishop, and I was told it wasn’t appropriate for girls to be on the altar. It was the beginning of the end for my relationship with the church.
Kelly O’Keefe
I guess I’ll pretty much end up being the lone dissenter. I’ve read in recent articles that 80 percent of newly ordained priests said they felt the call to the priesthood while serving Mass. With the crisis of vocations, we should be doing all we can to encourage religious life as a viable vocational option. Many parishes that have gone back to all boy altar servers have seen an increase of servers. One local parish made the change a few months ago and has also provided ways for girls to participate and serve the church through a sacristan society. Because, yes, women are important to the church, and we have an extraordinary voice.
Lucinda Allen
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julie pasteur
3 years 8 months ago
I am a 68 year old cradle Catholic. I find it inspiring and heart warming to see altar girls at Mass. I always pray their journey as a Catholic will encounter more open doors than my generation experienced. Girls, I admire you !


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