Thursday, August 21, 2014

The three word problem

Since the McDonnell trial began I have studiously avoided even oblique references to it in this blog. But yesterday I witnessed a three word problem in our legal system that I had never before realized.

In the Catholic Church we have the seal of confession. Even the indirect violation of the seal is an offense so severe it is reserved to the Holy See and punishable by dismissal from the clerical state. It exists because we are all imperfect creatures, beloved children of God, but imperfect, and we need to give voice to that imperfection in a safe and secure environment. Every human being has something that they would not like to see made public.

Our American legal system extends that privacy to all religions, in what is still commonly referred to by some as "priest-penitent privilege." But yesterday as I watched Bob take the oath, an oath I had heard a thousand times, I heard three words as I had never heard them before.

I have been a priest for 25 years. One thing I can say with absolute certainty, I have never seen a perfect marriage. Ask any couple married for any length of time and they will tell you. When they say "for better or for worse" most young couples are not even thinking about what "for worse" means. They are in love.

I have also grown up loving legal shows all the way back to Perry Mason. It's why as a priest I became a canon lawyer. I love the law. I can't count the number of times I have heard the question:
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? But yesterday I saw three words, "the whole truth" in an all new light.

When you charge a married couple, especially a couple with a long marriage, and either of them dares to testify it would be impossible for them to tell "the whole truth" and not talk about the marriage.

Being a priest is not my job, it is my identity. The same is true of husbands and wives. The whole truth about any couple by definition includes the marriage. And the whole truth by definition includes the for better and the for worse.

As Catholics we are expected to regularly tell the whole truth. It's called confession. In the confessional we tell the whole truth, knowing that the priest can never in any way directly or indirectly reveal what is said. We have the guarantee of absolute confidentiality.

The media keeps talking about "throwing his wife under the bus." Yesterday, I saw in stark reality how our legal system only gives us a binary choice. You can refuse to testify, which is your right. Or you can tell the whole truth. There is no third option.

Is there any married person reading this blog who would want to stand up in public and tell the whole truth? Is there any person at all who would want to stand up in public and tell the whole truth about their life?

I will not be able to be there this morning because of other pastoral responsibilities. But as this day proceeds I would invite us all to return to the words of John's gospel.

"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone"