More on the Zero Tolerance Machine
A reader sez:
I have been heartened to read your stand against zero tolerance. I have been equally amazed by how many people attack you for it. Any lawyer in the crowd should understand that zero tolerance is just a variation of an automatic sentencing system. We have had that in our federal criminal justice system for some time. Generally, everyone complains about it. For some cases, the minimum sentences required seem wholeheartedly unjust, but the judge is constrained in his ability to impose a sentence outside of the guidelines. In other ways, the system just perverts the way in which people are charged: gamesmanship of the charges and pleas in order to shift someone into a more or less favorable sentencing range.
The same will apply to zero tolerance. I realize it is difficult for some people to accept, but removal from all priestly ministry can be an unjust punishment. People need to remember that the definition the bishops came up with for the prohibited conduct was very broad and encompassing. If it was tailored to just serious offenses or those that don’t rest a lot on people’s subjective interpretations of things, I would be less concerned. Given that isn’t the case, I think it is wise to ask that a human look into the matter and render a judgment. I’m amazed that so many people are hung up on reaching a pre-determined ruling for every case. They are misguided if they think that is possible. All of our jurisprudence history suggests that novel cases arise and that there is no getting around the need for a person empowered to judge the case and a person of integrity to exercise that power. This desire to create a master rulebook that tells you the punishment for every case strikes me as a defeatist position and one that is unwilling to recognize the legitimate authority of the bishop or the possibility of bishops not being corrupt. (We have the same problem in the law today as well. Someone behaves badly and everyone is clamoring for new laws as if the creation of a law itself leads to good behavior.) If people want to set a minimum floor to make sure that serious offenses don’t escape some minimum punishment, I suppose I could accept that if it was narrowly tailored and well thought out. But that isn’t what we have here. I wonder if these people would like to see the same setup for annulments or matters affecting them. Would they like a tribunal to review their case and render a decision? Or would they prefer some automatic rule that classifies their situation as falling into category A or category B?