Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sargent on SNAP and vengeance

Fr. Neuhaus discusses here Mark's recent Commonweal essay, "Vengeance Time," which is critical of some of the tactics employed by advocates for victims of sexual abuse by clergy.  Here's an excerpt from Mark's (excellent) piece:

It is not enough to say, however, that bishops, priests, and the church are finally getting what they deserve. The vengeance game is a dangerous one. When the original offense is terrible, we feel empowered to do terrible things in response. Blinded by our righteous rage and convinced of our moral superiority, we may do things we later regret.

The consequences of the terrible assault of 9/11 on the innocent serve as an example. The moral horror of 9/11 provided, for a while, the sense that we were entitled to transgress our own moral boundaries. Torture seemed reasonable. Equally important, it made the rule of law seem a trivial charade. Why bother with the constitutional rights of Guantánamo prisoners? Why not enact legislation invading the privacy rights of millions of Americans, if that would make it easier to punish our enemies and protect ourselves from harm? In the “war on terror,” it seems that anything goes. In the purity of our victimhood, we can do no wrong-or so we think until wrong has been done.

Our self-righteousness makes us impatient with the law. The law’s careful balancing of rights and interests, its goal of evenhandedness, and its insistence on due process seem to be pettifoggery, mere “technicalities,” and an obstacle to achieving the justice we know in our hearts. This impatience with the law, however, can lead to injustice. The nauseating image of rich white jocks at Duke drugging and raping a black woman at a party led a prosecutor to abuse his prosecutorial discretion, violating the most basic rules for deciding whether to prosecute. The terrible nature of what could have happened made the prosecutor and many members of the Duke and Durham communities indifferent to the legal obligation to prove what actually happened. Who needs the rules of evidence when we somehow know that something awful took place?

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Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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