The Letters

True Reconciliation

Re “Protecting the Confessional Seal” (Our Take, 9/18): I take issue with this editorial, which makes a number of questionable and incomplete assertions. The editorial makes a facile argument that any violation of the confessional seal will lead down a slippery slope to further violations.

In my work as a psychiatrist, confidentiality is of utmost importance, but the law mandates exceptions for disclosures of child abuse and homicidal intent toward a specific party. These laws do not lead to confusion or further erosions of confidentiality because they are clear, specific and harmonious with natural law, which indicates that the privilege of confidentiality does not override the safety of innocent and helpless persons.


The editorial correctly states that the purpose of confession is “to communicate God’s forgiveness and free the penitent of the burden of sin,” but fails to further specify that forgiveness is not overlooking or excusing serious sin; rather, true reconciliation involves restoration of justice, a process which may involve civil authorities in cases of grave crime.

Tracey Hoelzle
Online Comment

Full Disclosure

Re “After Harvey’s Rage Across Texas, Catholic Charities Ramps Up Its Response,” by Kevin Clarke (9/18): Many thanks for the extensive list of aid routes, with some explanation of where the aid is going. I hope the national U.S.C.C.B. collection will supply figures of where the donations came from and where it is going. There must be transparency.

Joe McMahon
Online Comment

Property and the Common Good

Re “How Communists and Catholics Built a Commonwealth,” by Nathan Schneider (9/18): Mr. Schneider’s article brings us squarely to the dilemma faced by St. Thomas Aquinas and every pope and commentator on economic justice. If the ultimate destination of property is the promotion of the common good, then there must be some method for allocating some portion of today’s property toward the promotion of the common good.

The downfall of communist, collectivist, socialist societies lies in their focus on allocating goods among members, citizens or participants. There can even be economic growth, which can be achieved by simply increasing the population and raising production apace.

But that is not the same as promoting—improving—the common good. For this, someone must allocate some of today’s product (wealth) to development of new products and services. That involves risk and possible failure. Committees are inherently risk-averse.

For those content with the status quo, collectivism is fine. But for those who hope for tomorrow’s new medicine, a more efficient energy system, better building materials, more drought-resistant grains or better education tools—for some promotion of the common good—capitalism at least provides a method of saving, investing and allocating for risky experiments, for covering the cost of the inevitable failures and flops and for bringing new products and services to humankind.

Joseph J. Dunn
Online Comment

Solutions for Today

Re “Did the Erie Canal Help Put an End to Slavery?” by S. Brent Rodriguez Plate (9/18): How interesting that technology brought with it a religious group that was both intense yet open to diversity. Jobs, human dignity and close communities seem to have won the day back then. Are these the answers today?

Tom Corrigan
Online Comment

Root Causes of Sin

Re “The Road to Mercy,” by Sonja Livingston (9/4): It occurs to me that a major reason for the decline of Catholics’ use of the confessional has to do with practices around the sacrament. Most Catholics were taught to confess a laundry list of sinful actions, which were often repeated each time a person took advantage of the sacrament.

This approach primarily dealt with the symptoms of evil behavior rather than with its true causes. How many Catholics have ever accused themselves of being bigoted or racist? How many admit to being selfish, narcissistic or misogynistic? Do we admit that jealousy, envy or revenge are the true sources of our sinful behavior?

Thomas Severin
Online Comment

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Robert Killoren
6 months 2 weeks ago

Tracey, I appreciate what you are saying, but it seems to me that true reconciliation and restorative justice does not happen unless it is the penitent who tells the police. That is why a priest will always encourage that action. Breaking the seal IS a slippery slope that priests should never attempt for the sake of thousands and millions who might hesitate to go to them for confession and forgiveness for fear of having their sins made public.

Also, while the seal must be kept, there are other ways in which a priest can direct police in the right direction without violating the seal, if the penitent won't go to police.

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