Justice For None

07-17-2016Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

My years as a prison chaplain brought me into close contact with the criminal justice system and gave me a lot of firsthand knowledge of how the system works. Sadly I discovered that the justice system was often unjust. While the virtue of Justice is blind, human beings who administer that justice often are not. The system is often tilted in favor of the politically connected, economically advantaged, and educated. Probably the biggest corruption of our legal system is caused by the fact that it is so often politicized and reduced to serve partisan viewpoints. That is seconded by the imbalance of power that loads up prosecutors with unlimited resources and virtually no accountability for misconduct and political bias. No matter how fair on paper and how many safeguards are in place including ethical standards in our legal system, no average Joe, yet alone, a poor minority can really compete with the power that a Prosecutor, District Attorney or Attorney General has.

Even with this sober understanding of how the system actually works in the real world I still found the statement of the FBI Director in regards the conclusion of the Clinton E-Mail Investigation jaw-dropping in its naked honesty. This was the part of the statement that really got me:

To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.

Please reread that statement. I had to read it several times. What the FBI Director is saying is that there are two sets of rules: one for the powerful and one for the rest of us slobs. He made no attempt to pretend that justice is blind, fair or impartial or even hide the duplicity of the application of justice. In a nutshell he was saying, whether he realized it or not that there really is no rule of law, it's just what the powerful decide it is.

This is like a weird episode of adults behaving badly. Dad sits around in his boxer shorts but when his son does it he tells him to put some clothes on. What a joke the kid will think and Dad loses credibility. And so the FBI Director declares no consequences for a high public official but don't the rest of you dare think you can get away with it. What are the rest of us to think but that the whole system is a joke? More and more we are seeing that the emperor really has no clothes not even a fig leaf. So it really is true that politics is the last refuge of scoundrels.

A timely concurrence is that our daily Mass readings have been from many of the 8th century B.C. prophets of Israel. As Israel became a very prosperous nation the prophets were quick to point out the moral rot that was quickly growing within the nation. The prophets were biting in their pronouncement of what the nation was becoming. The Kings had committed outrage upon outrage as they violated the law with impunity. This trickled down throughout the society. The temple priests became hostile guardians of the faith, the moneychangers and tax collectors became extortionists, the business people perfected the art of cheating and embezzlement and soldiers abused their power.

The prophetic message was simple: the nation will collapse under the weight of all the injustice. God does not take injustice lightly. The prophets were despised, run out of town and often stoned. When you are getting away with violating the law and living off the spoils of your injustice you really don't want to hear otherwise. The prophets were dismissed as doomsday preachers, unpatriotic disloyal scolds. But history proved them right.

Still the prophets would offer a way forward. Micah would instruct those who would listen: "act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." And there's the message for our moment. Even if those in power or charged with the administration of justice pervert justice and demonstrate mercilessness to the rest of us, we who walk humbly with our God must not act in kind.

Fr. John B.