Saturday Ethics Respite Before Holiday Madness, 11/21/2020: The Justice, The Pope, The Scouts, And The Chickens

This is annually the last day before everything goes bananas in Marshall World. From now until New Years, its like the Nantucket Sleigh ride, not quite as dangerous, but not as much fun either. November 22 is the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, my generation’s 9-11. It changed everything. The 23rd is my anniversary, #40, which my son is sure to forget and my wife, for various reasons, doesn’t like to celebrate. Next is Thanksgiving, always depressing now because what was once a vibrant table of 7-15 relatives and friends is now at most four and a lot of wistfulness. My birthday comes on December 1, forever tainted because my perverse father chose the date to die on, and fate chose me to find his body. Then it’s the anxious run-up to the Christmas holidays, which always follows in the deadest period for ProEthics, meaning that we are counting pennies at the one time of the year we don’t want to be. (There is also the annual tree drama, since both my family and Grace’s were addicted to real, meticulously decorated trees, and we have a 20 foot ceiling which makes any tree less than 8 feet look silly. The thing takes about 2500 lights, which I have the responsibility of hanging, and then over a hundred mostly unique ornaments, beginning with the yarn Santa my mother made for Jack Sr. and Eleanor’s first scraggly tree in their new Cape Cod-style home in Arlington, Massachusetts. It was 1948. Getting our tree up and decorated to family standards takes about twelve hours and multiple First Degree prickle wounds. I can’t wait.

On the plus side, I’ll finally finish the Ethics Alarms Ethics Guide to “Miracle on 42nd Street”…

1. No, I’m not surprised that the Catholic Church sexual abuse cover-up went straight to the top. Are you? I’m not even disappointed. This is what organizations and institutions do: they protect themselves, and sacrifice the victims of their misconduct.

The Vatican this month released a report that showed Pope John Paul’s role blame in allowing the disgraced former prelate Theodore E. McCarrick to continue in the Church’s hierarchy.

The investigation, commissioned by Pope Francis, who canonized John Paul in 2014, reveals how the Pope ignored a wave of accusations of sexual abuse and pedophilia against McCarrick. Three popes participated in the cover-up, but one of them, John Paul, has been canonized. So Catholic saints are now accessories to rape.

A reversal of the canonization, which may never have happened, is unlikely, but it may slow the rush to canonize future popes.

2. And speaking of organizations facilitating sexual abuse…The Boy Scouts were not prepared for this. When the organization sought bankruptcy protection as sexual sexual abuse lawsuits reached an ominous level the BSA said feared that at least another 1,400 claims from men and boys were on the way. On Monday of this week, the deadline set by a federal bankruptcy court for filing claims, the number had reached a bit more than anticipated: 95,000. That exceeds the number of known accusations by abuse survivors in the U.S. Catholic Church. Bankruptcy protection may not be enough to save the 110-year-old youth group that was once synonymous with all-American virtues.

As I have noted before, this development would have deeply wounded my father, a fatherless only child forced by the Depression to change neighborhoods repeatedly. He believed that scouting saved his life while providing the ethical bearings and skills that allowed him to become the remarkable man he was. I can’t see any way the Boy Scouts can come back from this, and maybe they don’t deserve to survive. As with the multiple scandals in women’s sports, the astounding lack of due diligence and care taken by leaders of an organization like the Boy Scouts, which anyone could see (one would assume) is like a flame to a moth in its attractiveness for pederasts, is difficult to comprehend. Was everyone really so naive, so out of touch with reality? Is that possible?

3. A Rationalization #30 case study. The Prospective Repeal, or “It’s a bad law/stupid rule”got a workout at Yellowstone National Park. Eric Romriell, 49, and Eric Roberts, 51, both of Idaho, and Dallas Roberts, 41, of Utah, got themselves banned from the park, sentenced to two years’ probation, and fined for cooking chickens in a hot spring. It is illegal to go off the designated trails and to throw objects into hot springs or other hydrothermal features at the park. It’s also dangerous, since the water in the hot springs can exceed 400 degrees Fahrenheit and thus can cause severe or fatal burns.

Romriell, a scout master for several years (oh-oh!) , says he wasn’t aware that he was doing anything wrong, and interpreted the prohibitions against “tossing, throwing or rolling” items into the thermal features as “don’t be destructive.” No, it means don’t put “toss, throw or roll” anything into the hot springs. Even chickens.

“The way I interpreted it was don’t be destructive,” Mr. Romriell said, “and I didn’t feel like I was.”

On the bright side, the men say that the chickens they cooked in the spring were “fantastic.”

4. Did Justice Alito cross a ethical line? Justice Samuel Alito, arguably tied with Clarence Thomas as the Supreme Court’s most conservative jurist, told the Federalist Society a week ago that progressives posed a growing threat to religious liberty and free speech. Nothing in Alito’s remarks would be a shock to anyone who had read his opinions, but they were quickly attacked by some on the left. Was Alito unethical? The sainted RBG made public statements on her favorite issues equally pointed, and had criticized President Trump in an interview during the 2016 campaign for refusing to release his tax returns. Then she went on to rule on cases concerning their disclosure.That was clearly worse, but it doesn’t justify Alito’s conduct. Predictably, Alito’s ideological foes went overboard.

Alito began by arguing that the pandemic “has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” though he added that he was “not diminishing the severity of the virus’s threat to public health.” Alito criticized the Supreme Court’s July decision to reject a Nevada church’s challenge to state-imposed social distancing restrictions, arguing that Nevada “blatantly discriminated” against houses of worship because its restrictions on casinos were less strict. He pointed to recent court opinion on same-sex marriage and abortion as threats to the First Amendment, suggesting that “now it is considered bigotry [to] say that marriage is the union between one man and one woman,” and that Americans who don’t approve of gay marriage are facing restrictions on their free speech.

Objections to the speech broke down along predictable lines. Erwin Chemerinsky, the progressive dean of Berkeley Law, said that he could not “think of any speech like this one that discussed so many issues and in a clearly ideological, partisan way.” Constitutional law professor Daniel Epps said that Alito’s speech made a strong argument for court reform, because it demonstrated that there is “no good justification for a system that gives an angry partisan like this a veto on legislation.”

But Ed Whelan, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote on National Review’s Bench Memos blog, “It’s one thing for a justice to speak publicly about an open issue on which the justice hasn’t yet ruledIt’s a very different — and much less remarkable — thing for a justice to restate positions that he has already formally adopted.” In the same vein, lya Shapiro of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said that he doesn’t think that “we should keep judges out of the public sphere,” especially because the justice didn’t express views in his speech that were not covered in previous writings.

I tend to fall in the middle camp with Vikram D. Amar, the dean of the University of Illinois College of Law, who said,

“There’s a difference between what a justice can do and what a justice would be well advised to do. Other than an ethical line about prejudging cases and avoiding the appearance of bias, it’s a matter of what you think a good judge should do and the image a judge should cultivate.”

A judge should cultivate the image of being forever open-minded and above political and ideological battles. His or her opinions, and those alone, should do the talking.


Sources (#4): New York Times, Brennan Center

20 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Respite Before Holiday Madness, 11/21/2020: The Justice, The Pope, The Scouts, And The Chickens

  1. 1. and 2. Given my belief the Roman Catholic church’s hierarchy has been a pedophile enabling operation for centuries, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find out the Boy Scouts of America has been rotten all the way to the top as a similar operation. My brother is an Eagle Scout. I checked out at Life. Our parish’s troop leader was a strange guy, an ex-Marine cook who lived with his mother. It was just weird, some of the times he spent with my brother kind of playing mind games with him. Nothing really bad ever eventuated, but I suspect other kids might not have been as well supported as my brother an I were.

    Creepy. It’s a good thing Jack’s dad died before all this stuff came out. I’m glad my mother died before all the endless ugliness of the Roman Catholic hierarchy came out.

  2. FYI Cardinal McCarrick either lied in his reporting to Pope John Paul II and/or left out important info due to the Cardinal’s friendship with the Pope.
    Pgs. 7,8 and 9 []
    Happy Holidays!
    Mark O.
    A Catholic and EWTN viewer

    • I know I’m days late at this point, but I would like to add my comments about Pope St. John Paul II.

      Not that I’m surprised, given the historic antipathy of the paper of record towards the Catholic Church, but the article from the New York Times was appalling. The Vatican report did not have very much to say about JPII, but the Times article made it seem as though the document excoriated the failures of the pope in extensive detail. It remarks,

      The Vatican…released an extraordinary report this week that laid at the saint’s feet the blame for the advancement of the disgraced former prelate Theodore E. McCarrick.

      If you read the report, it details why JPII promoted McCarrick when he did, and it did not cast blame, but merely noted the circumstances. And what were those circumstances?

      1. Allegations about McCarrick did not rise up until the 1990’s. JPII first assigned McCarrick to Metuchen in 1981 and to Newark in 1986. This is well before any accusations had been made.

      2. The first set of allegations against McCarrick stated that McCarrick would take seminarians to a beach house, where limited beds led to the Archbishop sharing a bed with one or another of the seminarians. Everyone at the time stated it that nothing inappropriate happened. Though this is a red flag, and though later it was revealed this was not purely platonic, at the time no one had any evidence anything of a sexual nature occurred.

      3. The second set of allegations were that McCarrick engaged in pedophilic acts, but these were set forth in anonymous letters. Because they more threatened that McCarrick would be exposed as a pedophile and did not lay out any specific charges, they were not taken seriously.

      4. The third allegations came from a priest who alleged that he witnessed McCarrick engaging in sexual activity with another priest while the group of them were lodging together. The testimony of this priest was suspect, though, because he admittedly engaged in sexual relations with two teenaged boys in his parish and subsequently spent a great deal of time receiving psychological help.

      5. In 1999, McCarrick was a candidate for being moved to a new archdiocese, where he might then become Cardinal. JPII wished to do this for McCarrick because the man had an enormous reputation for excellent administration, fundraising for the Church, energetic involvement in a great many Catholic circles and efforts, and in general was well thought-of and well-liked. But to be sure, JPII asked for an inquiry into the chargers. He first inquired of Cardinal O’Connor, who laid out all the above allegations. His conclusion that McCarrick should not be transferred or made a Cardinal, though, did not rest on the validity of any of the allegations, but that McCarrick’s promotion would probably stir up these accusations and bring scandal. Since these allegations were isolated events, separated by significant periods of time, and that McCarrick had changed his habits to avoid sharing beds with anyone because of how it was being perceived, and that there had been no new allegations, most likely the allegations were not substantial. But whatever JPII chose to do, O’Conner would support.

      5. Additional sources were contacted, and some agreed with O’Conner’s conclusion that it would not be prudent to promote McCarrick. Others noted that even O’Conner spoke of McCarrick with glowing praise, that no bishop mentioned ever witnessing anything that suggested McCarrick’s behavior was improper, that previous quiet inquiries had not revealed any wrongdoing, and all the allegations O’Connor mentioned were hearsay, anonymous accusations, or from unreliable sources. Furthermore, no victim had actually come forward with a claim. Finally, McCarrick had never been given the opportunity to make a formal defense.

      6. McCarrick did write personally to JPII, and he had emphasized many times over his career that he never had engaged in any sexual relations with anyone.

      7. Given JPII’s experience with false accusations levied against the clergy, especially in Poland, JPII was someone who required very firm evidence to believe accusations levied against the clergy. This is an admitted failing of his, a blindness that did not serve him well when so many abusive priests had worked their way into the Church all across the globe. But to accuse him of being complicit with McCarrick’s abuses is to grossly distort reality.

      8. JPII decided that McCarrick was deserving of being raised to a Cardinal because McCarrick was such a hard worker and had such a high reputation. He dismissed the allegations against McCarrick largely because he felt they were baseless, and that many people who hated the Catholic Church made accusations against priests all the time. (This also contributed to the Church’s slow response to the sex abuse scandal overall — it took time before the Church realized these were not the typical false accusations, but a tsunami of real cases of abuse.)

      The idea that JPII would have been complicit in McCarrick’s abuse also runs aground one of the Pope’s greatest works, the Theology of the Body, in which he expounded week after week for years the importance of the body, of how God made humans male and female, and what this means for proper sexual relations. The whole thought process behind the Theology of the Body is antithetical to the conduct of the abusive priests. The level of cognitive dissonance one would have to have to proclaim the Theology of the Body and to deliberately cover for abusive clergy is untenable.

      Finally, as a note about canonization. Regardless of the process, regardless of the deeds (good or bad) of the saint, canonization is a declaration by the Church that a particular soul is in Heaven. The canonization process is a means by which the Church seeks clarity on the matter, but the Church also believes that the formal moment of canonization is an infallible declaration by the Pope. In other words, if the soul is not in Heaven, the Holy Spirit would prevent the Pope from uttering the declaration of canonization. It may be that the Church canonization process leads us to erroneously claim agnosticism about a soul being in Heaven. And it may be the process is flawed and recommends a soul for canonization on bad data. But once a soul is formally proclaimed a saint, there’s no going back.

      • I read your in-depth reply with a much joy, thank you. I could not have responded the way you have.
        I believe that Mr. Marshall’s view on the priest scandal is superficial, but the Catholic Church is often misunderstood when someone looks at it from the outside in so it’s not only Mr. Marshall. I must say I have had the same thoughts about it all but with just a little reflection on Pope John Paul II and how good a man he was, I cannot accept any passing derogatory remark about him /

        • Cliffordfiscal,

          Thank you. I have to admit, the New York Times article infuriated me. Not only did they continue to show a shallow understanding of things Catholic, but the content of the article was almost completely lifted from an article at National Catholic Reporter that was practically hysterics.

          That article accused JPII of calamitous decision making, knowingly promoting McCarrick when people on both sides of the Atlantic warned him against it. It is true that JPII had people prompting him not to promote McCarrick, but he also had as many or more people supporting McCarrick who claimed to have observed him and found nothing wrong with his behavior. The known accusations at the time were, again, anonymous, vague, or without any charge of illegal behavior. JPII had bishops look into the accusations, and nothing substantive came out of it.

          If anyone emerged form the report with a black eye, it was Vigano. The report stated multiple times that while Vigano had later claimed to have called attention to McCarrick’s wrongdoing, the actual paper record showed something different. Instead of reining in McCarrick, Vigano (while Papal Nuncio to the US) largely let McCarrick do as he wished, travel where he wanted, engage in whatever projects, conferences, etc he desired, despite several archbishops in the Curia requesting that McCarrick fade away into the background, stop traveling, stop speaking, resign from all the positions he held in various groups, etc. Documents that Vigano claimed to support his accusations did not actually do so. Bishops that Vigano cited denied that Vigano ever spoke anything but praise for McCarrick.

          Worse, the first victim to come forward with a credible accusation against McCarrick sent a detailed letter to Vigano explaining all that had happened to him, that he was filing a civil suit against McCarrick and another bishop, and that he desired Vigano take this accusation to the Holy See and start digging into McCarrick’s past. Vigano merely filed the letter away and did not act on it. Later, the civil suit was denied with prejudice. Still later, Vigano claimed he was raising the alarms against McCarrick at the same time this civil suit was going on.

          My point isn’t blast Vigano. My point is that the document was far worse for Vigano than JPII, and yet JPII is taking a great deal of heat when he had far less information and took stronger investigative steps. Indeed, the first victim to file suit didn’t do so until 2013, 8 years after JPII died, and even then, the first criminal charges against McCarrick did not come until 2018 (when finally the floodgates opened). My general feeling is that the people writing articles against JPII maybe reading the first couple of pages with their summaries, and never bothered to look into the rest of the document in detail.

          In fact, if you read through the document, up until the very end it looks like a story of a bishop that had been unjustly dogged by false accusations for most of his career. Perhaps the most stunning part about the document is that after the Boston Globe 2002 report, McCarrick weathered the storm with barely any scrutiny. Because of McCarrick’s works and reputation, the bishops around him were mainly concerned that a public thirsty to pull down Catholic clergy would try to latch onto old, vague accusations that no one believed carried any merit. Indeed, it is shocking to me that in the aftermath of the revelation of such awful behavior in the Catholic clergy, McCarrick’s victims did not immediately step forward.

  3. “My birthday comes on December 1, forever tainted because my perverse father chose the date to die on, and fate chose me to find his body. ”

    Sympathies. Condolences. Many happy returns.. oh heck, those are probably impossible, aren’t they? Well, may you have a decrease in pain if joy isn’t on the table.

    Re Alito : no worse partisan than RBG. If one is not impeachable, neither is the other.

    Re Popes: – The investigation, commissioned by Pope Francis..
    While ideally, there should be no murder, rape etc if you can’t prevent it, you may have to settle for prosecuting it. Maybe the Church is getting its act together.

    As with the multiple scandals in women’s sports, the astounding lack of due diligence and care taken by leaders of an organization like the Boy Scouts, which anyone could see (one would assume) is like a flame to a moth in its attractiveness for pederasts, is difficult to comprehend. Was everyone really so naive, so out of touch with reality? Is that possible?

    You have to be joking, Mr Feynmann. It’s Inevitable. Over 20% of the US population voted for Trump. Gegen die dummheit die Goetter selbst kampft vergebens.*


    A Psychotic, 2 Fanatics, and a (Wheelchair bound) Nazi. All elected. (Ok, I think one Fanatic has some good ideas, but so does the other, a difference of degree not kind, and neither should ever be considered electable)

    They were all elected by, in the main, large numbers of rational, reasonable people.

    Re unconventional chicken broiling techniques ; the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the “crime”. Coming up with a set of rules that prevents damage while not resulting in the criminalisation of inadvertant errors is hard, so I can’t criticise the prosecution overmuch, just the punishment. A $20 fine and “next time you know better” would be appropriate.

    * For the Teutonically challenged, ” Against stupidity, the Gods themselves strive in vain”

    • “A Psychotic, 2 Fanatics, and a (Wheelchair bound) Nazi.”
      They are “nascent leaders dominating the media narrative”, per the article, that from a left-leaning media outlet which claims they represent Trump’s legacy.
      Well, just a bit of a stretch there.
      Four out of 207 Republican representatives elected (with a few races still undecided), selectively chosen to feed a media narrative, hardly represent Trump’s legacy.
      Four out of 40 new Republican members of the House, about half of whom are either women or minorities. Does that represent the Trump legacy?
      Eleven Republicans, all either women or minorities, defeated 11 incumbent Democrats. Does that represent the Trump legacy?
      A media narrative is just that, a story using selected facts to promote a point of view. Those four no more represent Trump’s legacy than do Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib represent Obama’s legacy.
      Nachrichten oder kaffeeklatsch?

      • Ignore the commentary and conclusions, just look at the reported facts.

        I admit I did that automatically. A Q-Anon cultist who believes all Democrats are Satanic Pedophilic Globalists who drink Christian children’s blood, someone who famously wrote “The visit to Hitler’s house did not disappoint ” while festooning his website with White Supremacist symbology… and both get elected…

        Truth Decay.

        • Perhaps Greene believes those conspiracy theories, but I could not find evidence of that. There are reports that she expressed support of “Q” in 2017 (one site said 2018), which would have been at the very beginnings of that group, before much was known about it. There also are reports that she has backed away from that support.
          Boebert also seems to have supported QAnon and then backed away from it.
          Cawthorn did say his visit to the Eagle’s Nest, a heavily-visited tourist site, did not disappoint, but the same Instagram post provides clarification (which ABC conveniently ignores) as he says, “It was strange to hear so many laughs and share a good time with my brother where only 79 years ago a supreme evil shared laughs and good times with his compatriots.” Calling Hitler a ‘supreme evil’ does not exactly make one a Nazi.
          Why Bush, a Democrat, whose views ABC humorously refers to as “non-centrist” is included, or why any of these four actually reflect Trump’s legacy is not clear at all.
          Ah, yes, facts. ABC says this of about half of Trump supporters: “… they believe that high-ranking Democrats are engaging in satanic rituals and cannibalism, not to mention running an international child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington DC pizza parlour.” For support of this ‘fact’ they link to a YouGov web page. That page says about 48% of Trump supporters have heard of QAnon, and of those, about 15% believe it’s true. What “it’s true” means is not clear at all, but, even assuming the survey is accurate (which I doubt) it’s unlikely that even the claimed 7.2% of Trump supporters were saying they believe the claims of cannibalism were true.
          For me, there is no point in spending any more time on an article which can make an obviously false claim while pointing to data that proves the claim is false.

    • I guess I’d be one of those who has no idea what QAnon is, but I’ll say this:

      After the past decade, it seems to me that to rely on just about any poll on almost any subject is, shall we say, unwise. They keep saying they’ve corrected their methods and yet they keep getting it spectacularly wrong time after time.

      Perhaps they’re trying to outdo the pollsters of 1948.

  4. I’m no expert on hot vent cooking, but I would’ve thought the chemicals that make that rotten-egg smell (sulfuric acid?) and the discoloration of the rocks around each hot spot, would get into the food.

    And I think you meant “protect themselves” for #1? Though an organization with heavy corruption should be protesting itself.

  5. “On Monday of this week, the deadline set by a federal bankruptcy court for filing claims, the number had reached a bit more than anticipated: 95,000. That exceeds the number of known accusations by abuse survivors in the U.S. Catholic Church.”

    Call me cynical but given that law groups around the country had an open casting call for victims of scout leaders in the media I wonder how many of those victims told someone at the time, made a contemporaneous note or tried to get out of scouting because they were abused.

    We live in a world of opportunists and narcissists who find victimhood a worthwhile endeavor. This looks like an easy payday in which one can make a claim without providing any factual basis whatsoever (Where have I heard that before) and get something for nothing. There is no longer a stigma attached to being abused it is a badge of honor. They are “Survivors”.

    This is not to diminish the fact that some boys were probably abused sexually. I would be interested in knowing how that 95,000 person figure relates to all scouts. My experience in scouting was nothing but camping and working on badges.

    When government workers and others who never missed a paycheck during the pandemic are screaming for more stimulus checks I would not put it past a great number of those “victims” to simply be looking for a quick payday.

    • I considered this, too. Every time I turn around, I see legal firms advertising for victims of Catholic Church and Boy Scouts abuse. I have no doubt that there are real victims out there…95,000, though?

  6. 1. Catholic saints have been accessories to a lot more than that, but no one ever gets deleted, although some feasts, like those for St. Christopher and St Ursula, who probably never existed, get taken off the liturgical calendar. St. John Paul II, who’s been dead 15 years now, probably did look the other way on a lot of the abuse going on, partly because he was concentrating on being the moral leader of the west in the Cold War, partly because he probably didn’t realize the problem was as widespread as it was (the abusers did their best to cover their tracks and had many higher-ups covering for them).

    2. Color me unsurprised. The Norman Rockwell scouting probably never existed. An organization that is lax about and even encouraging of bullying, fighting, sophomoric pranks, open racism, and so on, as was my experience, is going to be lax about other things too.

    3. Idiots. You can’t fix stupid.

    4. Not as bad as RBG, but different standards seem to apply depending on whether the justice is left or right of center. Either Slate or Vanity Fair, I forget which, called RBG a heroine for cashing in her legacy early in an attempt to prevent a Trump presidency.

  7. The freakout around number four is a false dichotomy–it is true that the courts held that married persons should be afforded the same protections under the law regardless the composition of their genders.

    It can also be true that there are negative implications on freedom of speech and freedom of expression that occur with labeling religious groups and individuals as bigots for expressing foundational beliefs in that religion. Neither idea conflicts with the other. Religions prescribe all kinds of common legal things, from activity, time, manner, and place, to clothing, coffee and bacon. This doesn’t stop anyone from meeting their next hookup over breakfast sandwiches on a Saturday morning in their favorite cotton-poly blend shirt.

    That other groups feel emboldened to point at people who choose these things voluntarily or culturally and yell bigot… That brings to mind the adage about pointing a finger and having three point back at you.

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